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Posted by on Oct 28, 2009 in Commentary | 0 comments

Mushrooms in my yard, not on my plate

Mushrooms in my yard, not on my plate

I found these growing in one of the common areas of my housing development last week after a few days of intense rain. The recent rains had given them something to drink, and they had quite the growth spurt.

I don’t know what kind of mushrooms they are. I didn’t pick them and I certainly won’t eat them. I left them where I found them.

My motto is, “If you don’t know what it is, don’t put it into your mouth.” Eating a poisonous mushroom by mistake can either be very uncomfortable or very deadly. Some mushroom toxins have no antidote.  From the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Bad Bug Book:

Mushroom poisonings are almost always caused by ingestion of wild mushrooms that have been collected by nonspecialists (although specialists have also been poisoned). Most cases occur when toxic species are confused with edible species, and a useful question to ask of the victims or their mushroom-picking benefactors is the identity of the mushroom they thought they were picking. In the absence of a well-preserved specimen, the answer to this question could narrow the possible suspects considerably. Intoxication has also occurred when reliance was placed on some folk method of distinguishing poisonous and safe species. Outbreaks have occurred after ingestion of fresh, raw mushrooms, stir-fried mushrooms, home-canned mushrooms, mushrooms cooked in tomato sauce (which rendered the sauce itself toxic, even when no mushrooms were consumed), and mushrooms that were blanched and frozen at home. [emphasis added]

The most common mushroom poisonings come from confusion of edible and poisonous varieties, particularly by novices, recent immigrants who mistake toadstools in their new country for safe lookalikes in their home countries and those seeking psychotropic varieties, according to the Bad Bug Book.

My advice? Look but don’t pick. If you touch them, wash your hands thoroughly and completely afterward to avoid even a hint of toxin. Four categories of those toxins and human havoc they wreak are, according to the Bad Bug Book:

  1. protoplasmic poisons — generalized destruction of cells, followed by organ failure
  2. neurotoxins — cause neurological symptoms such as profuse sweating, coma, convulsions, hallucinations, excitement, depression, spastic colon
  3. gastrointestinal irritants — produce rapid, transient nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea
  4. disulfiram-like toxins — generally nontoxic and produce no symptoms unless alcohol is consumed within 72 hours. In the latter case, a short-lived acute toxic syndrome is produced.

It should be clear by now that wild mushroom picking — and eating — is not for novices. However, for those of you living in North America, if your curiosity is getting a hold of you and you want some help discovering what’s growing in your backyard, here are a few sites to check out.

  • Mushroomexpert.com has a list with lots of good photos to help give you some clue about what’s growing on that dead tree stump you found on your recent nature hike.
  • Gourmet Mushrooms Inc. sells commercially grown exotic mushrooms. They even sell spawn stock if you want to try to grow your own safe mushrooms.
  • Simply Fungi has information about the lifecycle of mushrooms and fungi.

Koreans and Japanese are famous for their mushroom-picking cultures. For more information about their mushrooms, check out these sites.

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