Most of us purchase mushrooms from the supermarket because we know that they are safe to eat. However, an increasing number of people enjoy foraging, finding, identifying and eating wild mushrooms. While this practice is intriguing, it can also be deadly, and only those who are knowledgeable in the identification of wild mushrooms and which are edible versus poisonous should take part in this activity.
During the hunting and gathering period in the Earth’s history man foraged for fruits, nuts, berries, mushrooms, and other edible material. They soon learned what was poisonous, and they also found that they could use some of the materials for medicinal purposes and in religious ceremonies. During the Middle Ages mushrooms were associated with the supernatural. This association was made because of their quick growth–it seemed that they appeared magically on the forest floor almost overnight--and perhaps because of the psychoactive properties of some of them. Some mushroom species were named after this mystical association, such as the fairy ring mushroom and the witches butter mushroom.
If you are collecting mushrooms it is important that you have an illustrated guidebook to refer to for identification. Examine each specimen you have collected. If you cannot easily identify it, and you are doubtful as to what type of mushroom it is, you should discard it. Never eat raw wild fungi (certain species that are edible cooked are actually poisonous when raw). Keep one raw sample of the mushrooms that you have cooked and eaten–just in case you have eaten a poison mushroom you will be able to identify it for treatment options.
What is presumed “edible” for most people may not in fact be edible for everyone, as we all react differently to the foods that we eat. Some edible mushrooms are Agaricus arvensis or horse mushroom; Agaricus campestris or field mushroom; Boletus badius or bay bolete; Boletus edulis or penny bun; Calocybe gambosum or St. George’s mushroom, and Coprinus comatus or shaggy ink cap.
If you eat a poisonous mushroom you need to get treated immediately. Poisonous mushrooms can kill you within three to six days after ingestion. Amanita phalloides or death cap mushroom can be fatal; ingestion causes breathing problems, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. This mushroom destroys the liver. Another poisonous mushroom is Amanita virosa or the destroying angel. Symptoms are the same as with the death cap mushroom. Amanita muscaria or the fly Agaric and Cortinarius rubellus are both deadly.
How to Avoid Poisoning
You must use extreme caution when collecting and eating wild mushrooms. Always be certain as to your identification. Use a field guide and when in doubt do not eat the mushroom. Another form of identification is to make a spore print. Never mix edible mushrooms with those that are non-edible. Never consume an edible species that appears damaged–only eat the edible mushrooms that have a good appearance. Refrigerate your edible mushrooms. Never serve wild mushrooms to anyone who is sick or elderly or to children, due to a possibility of low resistance.