Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to Avoid Eating Deadly Wild Mushrooms

(from top to bottom) laccaria amethystina, slippery jack, shiitake, and pine spike

Two of the questions I get most as a mushroom hunter are "Aren't you scared?" and "How do you know they are not poisonous?" The answers are "No." and "I took my time to learn from experts before picking on my own." I started learning about wild mushrooms after attending a fungus fair more than five years ago. Since then I have attended several more fungus fairs including the one in Santa Cruz.

I have attended two of David Aurora's mushroom workshops, taken many of Master Ken's courses including Mushroom Cultivation twice, participated in Point Reyes mycoblitz and Mendocino Mushroom camp. I would learn 2-4 edible wild mushrooms each year and pick as many as I could, so I could become completely familiar with their smell, appearance, and texture. Until I become completely familiarize with a particular mushroom, I would not go pick it on my own. I used to ask the experts a lot of questions, and now I found others asking me mushroom questions. I guess I have learned quite a bit over the years, but I am no expert. I stick to what I know and don't act carelessly. I clean all of my wild mushrooms one by one and toss out anything ambiguous even if I was sure earlier. Sometimes they get squashed or broken in the basket, and I become unsure. There is no reason to eat anything that I am not certain of.

An oyster log in mushroom cultivation area on campus

Sunday was the last day of Mushroom Cultivation class for this semester. We went on a foray around the campus as a group. The rain season has just started, so candy caps weren't quite ready. I spotted a bunch of tiny candy cap babies that need a couple more weeks and rains to grow. Last year there was an abundance of black elfin saddles but none spotted on Sunday. Instead, we found an abundance of beautiful purple laccaria amethystina, which is a tasty edible. This one was new to me, but I quickly learned their characteristics. The purple color makes them stand out. I also picked a bunch of pine spikes, another new edible for me. Both of them have very distinctive looks. 

laccaria amethystina

Death Cap (Amanita phalloides), one of the most poisonous mushrooms that kill more people than any other mushroom, is very common in the Bay Area near oak trees, same environment where chantrelle and candy cap grow. We found one huge classic looking Death Cap on Sunday. It just sat there in the middle of the meadow all by itself. As you can see below, it looks very different from all the other wild mushrooms I picked. You can't mistake that from chantrelle or candy cap. In addition to the good edibles, we mushroom hunters, also familiarize ourselves with deadly mushrooms so we know not to pick them by mistake. Death Cap is only poisonous when ingested. You can touch it, rub it against your face, put it in your basket with other good edibles (the spores are harmless), even take a little piece, chew it up and spit it out (DO NOT SWALLOW), and nothing will happen to you; therefore, you should not be afraid of it. I stay away from any kind of Amanita since most of them are poisonous. One of their unique characteristics is that they have an "egg" at the end of the stem when you pull them out of the ground. You can see that in the photo on the wikipedia page.

One enormous Death Cap

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