Eating Wild Mushrooms
5 Important Rules
- Always be 100% sure of identification.
- Always cook your mushrooms thoroughly.
- Only eat a small amount when trying a new type of mushroom.
- Only try one type of mushroom at a time - and wait 24 hours for any reactions.
- Only eat mushrooms that are in good condition.
A Word About Edibility
One of the big questions people have about mushrooms is whether or not they are edible. There is no short answer to this question. Fungi make up a Kingdom of living organisms just as Plants make up a Kingdom and Animals make up a Kingdom. The number of diverse fungi are as similarly complex as the number of diverse plants. Just as the answer to the question "Are plants edible?" is, "Yes and no and everywhere in-between." this is the same for fungi. Some mushrooms are deadly poisonous while others are being hailed for their now-scientifically documented ability to stimulate the immune system and fight cancer.
Some delicious edibles are notorious for absorbing and concentrating heavy metals. Although these mushrooms are delectable they should be avoided when found growing next to busy roads or areas that contain high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic etc. The familiar button mushroom on store shelves contains a volatile hydrazine that is a known carcinogen. Although these mushrooms are delicious raw, once you've learned that they contain this hydrazine and that it is volatile and leaves the mushroom upon cooking you know to avoid them raw.
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The cell walls of mushrooms are constructed with chitin (ki-tin), the same material from which crab shells are constructed. This makes it easy to understand that all mushrooms can tend to be hard to digest. Cooking mushrooms helps break down the chitin and makes them easier to digest.
Every mushroom will have some people that are either allergic to it or will have stomach upset from eating it. For this reason it is advisable to sample a small amount of any mushroom and wait to see how it affects you before indulging in larger amounts. It is also advisable to limit the number of different mushrooms eaten while determining your reaction to them so that you will know which mushroom it is that disagrees with you. In any case it is always advisable to eat moderate servings of mushrooms and not to over-indulge. Never eat any mushroom unless you are sure that it is edible. "When in doubt, throw it out!" is an adage to live by. Make sure that you are confident that the person serving you mushrooms knows that the mushrooms you are about to eat are edible. Some tasty mushrooms have some very similar look-alikes that are either poisonous or inadvisable to eat for one reason or another. The good news is that almost all edible mushrooms are fairly easy to positively identify once you become familiar with them. Never take any chances! The deadly Amanitas that kill people every year reportedly taste very good and by the time symptoms appear (up to 24 hours later) the damage is done and without a liver transplant the person who ate them is probably a goner.
Of the thousands of mushroom species in North America the ones that are deadly are few in number, probably between 15 to 20 species and these are usually fairly easy to identify. These are the mushrooms that one should definitely learn to identify. There are many other species that either are unpalatable or may make you ill but won't kill you. The world of mushrooms offers us a diverse array of delicious and healthy foods and effective medicines. A mushroom club such as PSMS, the Internet and the library are some of the avenues that can open this world up to you.
"Is this Mushroom Edible?" Poster
View and download an educational poster by Dick Sieger, Olympic Peninsula Mycological Society, 2003
If You Suspect
Contact a physician
or Washington Poison
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