Remember all those college parties with friends, loud music, beer, and meals upon meals full of mushrooms? Yeah, me neither. Perhaps I was never invited to the mycological fraternity parties, or perhaps all the mushroom dishes were always eaten before my arrival. Whatever the reason, it’s probably a good thing that two of these variables – alcohol and mushrooms – weren’t included in the same setting.
Now, it’s not that all edible mushrooms should never be consumed with alcohol. Many are absolutely harmless with or without the accompanying beer, wine, or liquor. There are, however, a few mushrooms that have been shown, both through personal accounts and in the scientific literature, to cause rather unpleasant symptoms only when consumed with alcohol.
Interesting, isn’t it? Mushrooms that contain toxins, that are generally only toxic when combined with another toxin.
That’s a lot to wrap our heads around, so let’s see what’s going on here with the select mushrooms that made the list.
Common inky cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria)
With an additional common name like Tippler’s Bane, a description hardly needs to be given. Aptly named, this mushroom (pictured above) is the fungus most often associated with the negative symptoms experienced when consuming mushrooms with alcohol. The tippler’s bane, it turns out, contains a naturally occurring compound that inhibits the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol.
You see, ethanol (alcohol) is essentially a toxin (the dose makes the poison, wouldn’t ya say?) that needs to be metabolized properly in the body in order to be eliminated. The most common pathway looks like this:
- Alcohol is converted into acetaldehyde by an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase.
- Acetaldehyde is further broken down into acetate by an enzyme known as acetaldehyde dehydrogenase.
- Acetic acid is ultimately broken down into carbon dioxide and water in the citric acid cycle.
*Note: this is an oversimplified description of alcohol metabolism. Numerous additional enzymes and steps are involved, though for this article’s sake, only these three main steps are mentioned. Chemists, accept my apology.
The inky cap exerts its effects during the second step by way of a compound known as coprine. This non-protein amino acid, when ingested, is converted into its metabolite, 1-aminocyclopropanol (ACP) – a potent inhibitor of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (1).
If we look back to the second step, we can already predict the problem that the combined effect of tippler’s bane and alcohol would create inside the body: a buildup of acetaldehyde (2). What’s the deal with too much acetaldehyde? Well, for starters, this compound is a potent carcinogen in the upper digestive tract of humans, associated with both esophageal and gastric cancers (3). It’s also the main carcinogen found in tobacco smoke.
Now, this isn’t to say that consumption of inky cap mushrooms with alcohol on a single occasion will significantly increase one’s risk of cancer (I suppose it is a possibility, though no studies to my knowledge have addressed this hypothesis). Unpleasant symptoms in the acute setting, however, may let you know your acetaldehyde levels are escalating.
*Note: not everyone will experience negative symptoms, though caution should still be taken.
When consuming inky cap mushrooms with alcohol, symptoms include tachycardia (rapid heart rate), palpitations, nausea, flushing of the face, tingling of extremities, and headaches (4). These symptoms are very similar to Antabuse (disulfiram), a prescription drug given to individuals experiencing chronic alcoholism in an attempt to discourage consumption of alcohol. Antabuse works in a similar manner to coprine, inhibiting acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and forcing a buildup of the carcinogenic compound, acetaldehyde (…you’d think there would be a better way).
There are a few important pieces of information to keep in mind. The severity of symptoms depends on several factors, including the amount of mushrooms consumed, the amount of alcohol consumed, and the duration between the two. The symptoms may appear within 15 minutes to 2 hours, and generally occur between 3 – 6 hours after consuming the combination. Recovery is usually spontaneous.
Symptoms usually manifest when alcohol is ingested after mushroom consumption, though in sensitive individuals the reverse can also be true. Because sensitivity can persist, recommendations include abstaining from alcohol for 2 – 3 days after mushroom ingestion.
Coprine, the causal agent in the buildup of acetaldehyde, is reported to be present somewhere between 160 – 360 milligrams per kilogram of fresh fruiting body material. It is not destroyed by cooking. The level has been found to be more concentrated in older mushrooms, with half as much occurring in younger specimens (1). Remember, though, that the Antabuse-like effects are not experienced when inky caps are consumed without alcohol. Some authors report that inky caps should never be eaten, while others consider it a good, meaty edible.
The common inky cap is found quite readily in grass and wood debris throughout North America. A defining feature of its genus includes the deliquescence of the gills and cap – the ability to auto-digest and turn into an inky black goo (hence the name “inky cap”). I see no reason to forgo this edible mushroom when approaching it with the usual foraging precautions (be positive of your identification, consume only a small amount the first time, understand its contraindications, etc.).
The tippler’s bane, therefore, is indeed edible … with caution.
Shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus)
The shaggy mane is closely related to the tippler’s bane and, not surprisingly, possesses gills and a cap that deliquesces (auto-digests into an inky black goo). These mushrooms are fairly common in grass and wood chips, and are rather easy to identify.
Shaggy manes may present unpleasant symptoms when consumed with alcohol, though these symptoms are not as common as those presented by the tippler’s bane. Coprine has been reported to be present in much lower levels, at around 10 – 15 milligrams per kilogram of fresh material in the shaggy mane, compared to 160 – 360 mg/kg in the tippler’s bane (5).
Symptoms of the combined shaggy mane and alcohol ingestion in susceptible individuals generally include gastric distress. Antabuse-like effects (those seen with the tippler’s bane) are usually not experienced with the shaggy mane. It’s also worth noting that David Arora, in his book Mushrooms Demystified, reports cooking shaggy manes in wine several times without experiencing any unpleasant side effects (6).
Freckled dapperling (Lepiota aspera)
Known in many field guides as Lepiota acutesquamosa, this mushroom is commonly found in eastern and southwestern North America on the ground in leaf litter from late summer through autumn.
A study from 2011 reported on the effects of L. aspera consumption in combination with alcohol in five patients (7). All had mistaken L. aspera mushrooms for Amanita rubescens or Macrolepiota procera. Before consumption, the mushrooms were sautéed, and presented no problems until alcohol was ingested. Within a few minutes, symptoms developed, including facial flushing, tachycardia, headaches, and shortness of breath. The effects persisted for a few hours. Recovery was spontaneous, though symptoms could be reactivated by consuming alcohol up to 48 hours later. While these symptoms were very similar to those presented by the tippler’s bane, the toxin in L. aspera has not been identified.
Lepiota aspera is listed in field guides as edible, though not recommended for consumption. Aside from the ill effects observed when consuming this mushroom with alcohol, L. aspera can be mistaken for deadly Amanita mushrooms, in addition to other poisonous mushrooms within the Lepiota genus.
Fat-footed clitocybe (Clitocybe clavipes)
This mushroom is widely distributed in North America, and can be found under conifers and hardwoods in the autumn and winter months. Like Lepiota aspera, C. clavipes has been shown to cause ill effects when consumed prior to alcohol consumption, though the exact toxin has not been identified.
In the scientific literature, it is reported that on three separate occasions, ingesting alcohol 7 hours after consuming four to six C. clavipes fruiting bodies produced Antabuse-like effects (8). These included a feeling of warmth in the face, puffiness in the hands, and headaches. Symptoms could be re-provoked the next day after subsequent alcohol ingestion, though these effects were usually milder than the previous day’s.
Clitocybe clavipes is listed in the field guides as an edible mushroom, though it is not recommended for consumption as it resembles several toxic species.
Lurid bolete (Boletus luridus)
The lurid bolete is a blue-staining European bolete species. Three cases of mild intoxication have been reported when combining the lurid bolete with alcohol, though unlike the tippler’s bane, the main toxin has not been identified (9).
Morels (Morchella spp.)
Is there any mushroom more desirable than the morel? They’re delicious, nutritious, and medicinal, and while they are considered some of the safest edible mushrooms to identify, there have been reports that eating cooked morels while imbibing alcohol can produce gastrointestinal distress in some individuals (10).
Few, if any, studies exist regarding this subject, and the exact mechanism of intoxication has not been identified. Still, a bit of precaution wouldn’t hurt before consuming morels (if you happen to be a susceptible individual who wishes to part with your morels, I can give them a good home … email me if this is the case: email@example.com).
Scaly Pholiota (Pholiota squarrosa)
The scaly Pholiota is commonly found in clusters on logs, stumps, and at the bases of trees. Unlike the other mushrooms described in this article, the scaly Pholiota is considered a poisonous mushroom (though some older field guides list it as edible with caution). When combined with alcohol, this reportedly poisonous mushroom may become even more toxic. At least three cases of intoxication have been reported when combining the scaly Pholiota with alcohol, with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, and shock (10).
My advice? Keep the scaly Pholiota off the dinner plate, with or without alcohol.
Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
The oyster mushroom is a choice edible that can be found year round growing on wood throughout North America. According to the North American Mycological Association, the oyster mushroom may produce unpleasant side effects in some individuals when consumed with alcohol (11). I have not been able to find any additional research on this subject.
Honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea)
Honey mushrooms are part of a species complex (Armillaria mellea complex), incorporating at least a dozen distinct species. According to the North American Mycological Association, honey mushrooms may produce unpleasant side effects in some individuals when consumed with alcohol (11). The exact mechanism has not been identified.
King bolete (Boletus edulis)
Chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus)
Wait a second, what’s going on here? Another prized edible mushroom best to be avoided while engaging in adult beverage consumption? Well, before you start throwing puffballs at me, consider that most of the information on this subject is anecdotal, and no mechanism has been identified. The chicken mushroom, combined with alcohol ingestion, seems only to be an issue in rare instances (10).
Phew. I’ll stop there before I create any more teetotalers.
Looking back, we have at least ten mushrooms that may produce undesirable side effects when consumed with alcohol. Now, I understand that an infinite amount of exceptions exist. Not everyone will react the same way; some may be hit harder than others, and some won’t feel a thing. This information is simply provided to help you make responsible and conscious decisions when foraging and consuming wild mushrooms.
And I’ll end this post the way I end most of my mushroom posts: always be 100% sure of a mushroom’s identity before ingesting it in any form. There are numerous field guides, online forums, mycological clubs, and experts available to help you in your mushrooming quest. Use them all, they’re great!
Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!
1. Gry, J. and Andersson, C. (2014). Mushrooms traded as food Vol II Sec. 2. Copenhagen: Nordic Council Of Ministers.
6. Arora, D. (1986). Mushrooms demystified. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
10. Ammirati, J. (1985). Poisonous mushrooms of the northern United States and Canada. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
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