Poisonous Species

When learning to forage, it is more important to familiarise yourself with poisonous than edible species. Though truly dangerous species are much rarer than some people think, there is no room for complacency as there are a dozen or so seriously toxic plants and fungi that are common in the UK. The most dangerous of these resemble or grow alongside good edible species. These should be at the forefront any forager’s mind when harvesting.

hemlock water-dropwort leaf

Hemlock water-dropwort is probably the most common seriously toxic plant in W Scotland

 

Poisonous is a moveable feast (don’t feast!) and the toxicity of plants can vary hugely according to several factors:

  • Part of the plant – seeds and roots often contain higher concentrations of toxic substances
  • State of growth of the plant – for example, a plant leaf may contain higher levels of toxic compounds in the spring
  • Age, health and biological make-up of the person consuming the poison
  • Quantity ingested
The hairless, purple-blotched stems of hemlock are quite distinctive

The hairless, purple-blotched stems of hemlock are quite distinctive

Remember – “edible” and “toxic” lie on a spectrum. Our shops and supermarkets are full of both harmful and nourishing substances, many of which are packaged attractively. Wild plants and fungi are much the same!

Related pages:

Foxgloves are virulently toxic to humans. Most people know this and can recognise them by their flowers. But foragers need to be able to recognise them by their basal leaves alone.

Foxgloves are virulently toxic to humans. Most people know this and can recognise them by their flowers. But foragers need to be able to recognise them by their basal leaves alone.

Please do not be put off foraging by fear. Deadly nightshade is part of the potato family and hemlock is closely related to carrot, but we don’t disregard tatties and carrots because of their disreputable relatives. It is all about taking an interest in all you encounter and learning to recognise the features that differentiate them.

Here are the plants and fungi you should learn to recognise first based on toxicity, similarity to edible species and your likelihood of coming across them.

Browse poisonous species on the foraging guide

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

LETHAL – ingestion of even small amounts potentially deadly.

Hemlock water-dropwort

Hemlock

Foxglove

Death cap

Funeral Bells

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

HIGHLY TOXIC – Potentially life threatening

Cortinarius Speciossimus

Fools Parsley

Yew

Deadly Nightshade

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

TOXIC – Likely to cause serious discomfort or illness but seldom fatal

Lords and Ladies – Arum maculatum

Lords and Ladies leaf

Lords and Ladies berry spike

A fairly common plant in old shady woodlands, scrub and hedgerows. Strong irritant. Young leaves can be mistaken for sorrel, but lacks sharp backward-pointing lobes on leaf base and is much more glossy and veined.

Dog Mercury – Mercurialis perrenis

Typical trooping, upright colony

Dog mercury

Large colonies common in verges, hedges and woods – recognisable from upright growth. Similar to Good King Henry. Take care not to pick it along with ramsons.

Suphur Tuft

Yellow Stainer

Panther Cap

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

WORK IN PROGRESS – This is by no means an exhaustive list.