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The Dangers of Foraging

Death Camas VS Wild Onion plant comparison
Wild Carrot left vs Poison Hemlock right root comparison
Photo credit courtesy of The Northwest Forager

If you believe you or someone else has eaten a poisonous plant while foraging, call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

Foraging is the act of searching for wild fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms as a food source. For the avid and not-so-avid hiker and backpacker, foraging may seem tempting. It is free, provides variety to meals, and seems like a lot of fun. Regardless of your reason for foraging, use extreme caution. Accidentally eating any amount of a poisonous plant or mushroom can cause you a lot of pain and can even be deadly.

4 Foraging Mistakes Common in Utah

Death Camas

Species: Toxicoscordion venenosum

Look-alikes: wild onion, ramps

Poisonous effects: tingling mouth, slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, and possibly death

Poison Hemlock

Species: Conium maculatum

Look-alikes: wild carrot, wild parsnip, and wild parsley

Poisonous effects: weak muscles, breathing difficulties, and possibly death

Water Hemlock

Species: Cicuta maculata

Look-alikes: wild turnip, wild parsnip, and wild parsley

Poisonous effects: seizures and possibly death


As is often said, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters”. This is because mushrooms are difficult to identify correctly even for trained experts. Many mushrooms look similar and telling the difference between toxic from non-toxic mushrooms requires extensive training. Depending on the mushroom ingested, poisonous effects can vary from a severe upset stomach to liver failure, seizures, and possibly death.

Click here for more information about what to expect when eating toxic mushrooms.

Tips for Staying Safe
  • Only eat a wild plant or mushroom if you are 100% sure you know what it is. Even small amounts of a poisonous plant or mushroom can cause big problems. If new to foraging, always consult a mentor or expert who is more experienced. For example, the Mushroom Society of Utah is an excellent resource.
  • Never forage alone. Fellow foragers can double-check your food source and make sure it is safe.
  • Recognize that plant identification apps are not always accurate. One study evaluating the accuracy of three different plant identification apps found that the apps accurately identified poisonous plants only 5.8% to 59% of the time.
  • If you are having any symptoms from eating a wild plant or mushroom, call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for quick, free, and confidential help from a trained medical professional.
  • When in doubt, leave foraging to the experts!
  3. Otter J, Mayer S, Tomaszewski CA. Swipe Right: a Comparison of Accuracy of Plant Identification Apps for Toxic Plants. J Med Toxicol. 2021;17(1):42-47. doi:10.1007/s13181-020-00803-6
Author: Joseph E. Lambson, PharmD, Clinical Toxicology Fellow, Utah Poison Control Center