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AMANITA MUSCARIA.– VARIETIES OF FLY AMANITA.
Class XXIV. CRYPTOGAMIA.—Order IV. FUNGI.
Gen. CAAR. Pileus furnished with a stem and volva, and bearing on its inferior surface straight sporuliferous lamellæ. Stem either with a ring-like veil, or naked.
Spec. CHAR. Margin of the pileus striated, shining, warty, rarely naked; warts and lamella white; volva vanishing, scaly; stipes bulbous.
The pileus is from three to six inches in diameter, convex at first, striated at the margin, varying very much in colour, being mostly bright red, orange, or green, but sometimes liver-coloured, yellowish, or even whitish, and beset with downy, angular warts. The warts are white, or yellowish, prominent, pretty regular, scattered over the surface, but sometimes wanting. The lamellæ are flat, adnate with the stipes, very numerous, broad, and whitish. The flesh is thick, and white, partaking to a small depth of the colour of the pileus. The stipes is cylindrical, smooth, white, very straight, subsolid, from four to eight inches high, and bulbous at the hase. The volva, according to Dr. Greville, is perfect only in extremely young plants, cracking immediately into pyramidal warts, which become less elevated, and more distinct, as the pileus expands, and generally leave a few traces upon the bulb, at the base of the stem.
Withering believed the A. cæsarea and verampelina to be one, or merely varieties, of the same species. From this opinion, however, Dr. Greville dissents. From a mere verbal description of this Agaric, it is evident that its appearance must be rich in the extreme. The stipes is columnar, slightly tapering upwards, about five inches high and half an inch in diameter, of a rich buff colour shaded with red; the pileus is about twelve inches round, convex, and bossed in the centre, with the circumference bent down. The upper surface is at first of a beautiful carmine, which changes after a time to a rich orange, and ultimately becomes buff; the hymenium is of a bright golden yellow, tending to orange at the extremities of the gills, where they meet the red tunic of the pileus.
Amanita nivalis, which Dr. Greville says is the most alpine fungus he is acquainted with, and which grows on the bleak summits of the Grampians, enlivening by its symmetry and extreme whiteness the few turfy spots that occur in those desert regions, is found also in Italy, according to De Candolle, who quotes from Michelli, and says that it is eaten by the Tuscans, and by them called Fungo marzuolo, or dormiente. Amanita ovoidea is also said to be delicious; and A. vaginata is fed upon by the poor in Muscovy: but cases are on record in which it has proved poisonous.
The Amanita imperialis has long been notorious for its intoxicating and poisonous properties. It has sometimes been eaten by mistake, and the results have proved fatal. Linnæus tells us that in Denmark the natives cut it in pieces, which they steep in milk, and it then proves as destructive to flies as arsenic; hence it has received its present specific name, Muscaria. Dr. Johnston corroborates this fact, by stating that he has observed flies which sip the dirty yellow liquor into which the Amanita dissolves die almost immediately. Haller mentions the cases of six Lithuanians, who perished at one time by eating this Amanita. And Christison, among other instances, relates those of four French soldiers, who were killed, and others who were much disordered, by a similar fatal repast. Orfila likewise records similar examples of its virulence, in one of which a whole family was poisoned, and although some were recovered by speedy remedies, two died. The Amanita is nevertheless employed by the Ostiacks of Siberia, the Kamtschatdales, and Koriacks, for the purpose of producing intoxication. These infatuated people “sometimes eat it dry, sometimes immersed in a fermented liquor made with the epilobium, which they drink, notwithstanding the dreadful effects that inevitably follow. At first they are seized with convulsions in all their limbs, then with a raving, such as attends a burning fever; a thousand phantoms, gay or gloomy, according to their constitutions, present themselves to their imaginations; some dance, others are seized with unspeakable horrors. They personify this mushroom; and if its effects urge them to suicide, or any dreadful crime, they say they obey its commands. To fit themselves for premeditated assassinations, they take the Mouchomore, the Russian name of this Agaric; and, such is the fascination of drunkenness in this country, that nothing can induce the natives to forbear this dreadful poison.”—(Pennant.)
The most complete and satisfactory account of this fungus, and its extraordinary effects, will be found in a German essay, by Dr. Langsdorf, in Annalen der Wetterauischen Gesellsrchaft fur die gesammte Naturkunde. This essay has been quoted by Dr. Greville, in his treatise on the esculent Fungi of Great Britain, and from his translation the following are extracts.
“The variety of Amanita muscaria, called Kamtschatica, is used by the inhabitants of the north-eastern parts of Asia in the same manner as wine, brandy, arrack, opium, &c. are by other nations. These fungi are found most plentifully about Wischna, Kamtschatka, and Mitkowe Derewna, and are very abundant in some seasons, and scarce in others. They are collected in the hottest months, and hung up by a string in the air to dry; some dry of themselves on the ground, and are said to be far more narcotic than those artificially preserved. Small deep-coloured specimens, thickly covered with warts, are also said to be more powerful than those of a larger size and paler colour.
“One large or two small fungi, is a common dose to produce a pleasant intoxication for a whole day, particularly if water be drank after it, which augments the narcotic effect. The desired effect comes on from one to two hours after taking the fungus, in the same manner as from wine or spirits : cheerful emotions of
Ssine used freely by the commonly regarded asy, some individuals which they are gathe properties of
the mind are first produced; the countenance becomes flushed ; involuntary words and actions follow, and sometimes, at last, an entire loss of consciousness. It renders some remarkably active, and proves highly stimulant to muscular exertion : with too large a dose, violent spasmodic actions are produced.
“ Poisoning by Mushrooms” says Professor Taylor, (on Poisons, p. 768) “is by no means unusual as the result of accident. Modern writers on this subject have described no less than forty species, of which only a few can be safely eaten in this country. Among them the Agaricus Campestris and Esculentus are perhaps most commonly employed as articles of food. It is a curious fact, that the poisonous properties of mushrooms vary with climate, and probably with the season of the year at which they are gathered. Another circumstance deserving of notice is, that by idiosyncrasy, some individuals are liable to be seriously affected even by those species which are commonly regarded as innocent. Some species which are poisonous in this country, are used freely by the Russians; although it appears they are in the habit of salting, boiling, and compressing them before they are eaten ;—this may in some instances suffice to account for their having no noxious effects. Dr. Badham states that the Agaricus Compestris or common mushroom, which is largely eaten in England, is regarded as poisonous in Rome, and is accordingly rejected; while many varieties, which in this country would produce symptoms of poisoning, are eaten with impunity. There do not appear to be any satisfactory rules for distinguishing the mushrooms which are wholesome from those which are poisonous. The best test is that assigned by Dr. Christison-namely, that the poisonous vegetable has an astringent styptic taste, and perhaps also a disagreeable, but certainly a pungent odour. All mushrooms that are highly coloured, or grow in dark and shady places, are generally poisonous.
" The noxious species of mushrooms act sometimes as narcotics, at others as irritants. It would appear from the reports of several cases, that when the narcotic symptoms are excited, they come on soon after the meal at which the mushrooms have been eaten, and that they are chiefly manifested by giddiness, dimness of sight, and debility. The person appears as if intoxicated, and they are singular illusions of sense. Spasms and convulsions have been occasionally witnessed among the symptoms where the case has proved fatal. Dr. Peddie has related three cases of poisoning by mushrooms, in which the poison acted as a pure narcotic; there was no pain in the abdomen, nor irritation in the alimentary canal. The narcotic symptoms began in half an hour with giddiness and stupor; the first effect with one patient was, that every object appeared to him to be of a blue colour. The three patients recovered, two of them rapidly. When the drowsiness passes off, there is generally nausea and vomiting; but sometimes vomiting and diarrhæa precede the stupor. If the symptoms do not occur until many hours after the meal, they partake more of the characters of irritation ;-indicated by pain and swelling of the abdomen, vomiting, and purging. Several cases, in which the symptoms did not appear until after the lapse of fourteen hours, are reported in the Medical Gazette (vol. xxv. p. 110.) In some instances the symptoms of poisoning have not commenced until after the lapse of thirty hours, and in these narcotism followed the symptoms of irritation. It might be supposed that these variable effects were due to different properties in the mushrooms, but the same fungi have acted on members of the same family, in one case like irritants, and in another like narcotics. In most cases recovery takes place, especially if vomiting be early induced. In the few instances which have proved fatal, there has been more or less inflammation in the stomach and bowels, with turgescence of the vessels of the brain. Balardini states, that of sixty-eight cases of poisoning by mushrooms, which occurred in the province of Brescia during a period of twenty years, twenty proved fatal. The principal symptoms were nausea, uneasiness in the abdomen, vertigo; a state resembling intoxication; vomiting and diarrhea; loss of power of locomotion, with convulsions. In six cases which occurred to Dr. Keber, in which the Helvella esculenta had caused symptoms of poisoning, the patients became jaundiced as soon as the vomiting had ceased. The principal symptom was urgent vomiting, but one girl, age 18, fell into a state of coma, from which she did not recover for three days. It was probable that in this instance the noxious effects were due to season. The common truffle (Morchella esculenta) has been known to give rise to severe symptoms of irritant poisoning. In some cases lately reported (Ed. Med. and Surg. Journ., Oct. 1845,530), it is probable that the truffles had undergone decomposition before they were eaten.
“Ketchup, a liquor made from mushrooms, has occasioned faintness, nausea, and severe pain in the abdomen, disappearing only after some hours. (Dub. Med. Press, Sep. 24, 1845, 195.) There are two ways of explaining this effect: 1st, either that the individual labours under an idiosyncrasy with respect to mushrooms in general; or 2ndly, that noxious, have been gathered by mistake for esculent mushrooms. A case is on record which shows that a medical jurist may be easily misled when any active poison is mixed with and administered in a dish of mushrooms. A servant-girl poisoned her mistress by mixing arsenic with mushrooms. This person died in twenty hours, after suffering severely from vomiting and colicky pains. On dissection, the stomach and intestines were found inflamed. Death was ascribed to the effects of the mushrooms, which were considered to have been unwholesome, and the fact of poisoning only came out many years afterwards, by the confession of the prisoner. This shows with what a watchful eye such cases should be examined; in the absence of poison from the stomach, it would be extremely difficult to develope the truth.
ANALYSIS.—The discovery of portions of the fungus in the matter vomited, or the description of the food eaten, will commonly lead to a diagnosis of this form of poisoning. The poisonous principle contained in mushrooms is called Fungin; it appears to be of a volatile nature, and soluble in water, for some varieties of noxious mushrooms may be eaten with impunity when they have been well boiled in water and afterwards pressed. One of the most poisonous in this country, Amanita muscaria, or Fly-mushroom, renders the water in which it is boiled so poisonous, that animals are killed by it, while the boiled fungus itself has no effect upon them.