The Long-lived Wild Mushroom Eater’s Golden Rules
Regular readers of this blog (and newcomers who put “mushrooms” in the search field) know we are enthusiastic wild mushroom collectors and consumers, and that one of us – Bill – is an expert who writes and lectures on mycology and is a consultant for the New York and New England Poison Control centers.
Calls are coming in almost daily, mostly concerning pre-verbal children exploring things before their parents can stop them, most of them, thank goodness, turning out fine. But as the recent Leccinum Warning shows, sometimes not so fine and that led Bill to ask me whether we’d ever posted the elementary rules of safe mushroom eating. Now we have.
Rules for the Eating of Mushrooms
By Bill Bakaitis
There are old mushroom eaters, and there are bold mushroom eaters, but there are no old and bold ones!
Here are 5 rules that the prudent Mycophage might employ:
2. TEST YOUR OWN REACTION TO EACH MUSHROOM BY EATING ONLY A SMALL PORTION OF A SINGLE SPECIES AT A TIME. REPEAT A FEW DAYS LATER TO TEST FOR DEVELOPED ALLERGIC REACTIONS.
3. MAKE SURE THE MUSHROOM IS THOROUGHLY COOKED BEFORE YOU EAT IT.
4. WHEN TESTING YOUR TOLERANCE FOR A NEW SPECIES, DO NOT CONSUME ANY ALCOHOL WITH THE MEAL OR FOR A FEW DAYS AFTER.
5. KEEP A FEW UNCOOKED MYSHROOMS IN THE FRIDGE FOR IDENTIFICATION SHOULD A TOXIC REACTION DEVELOP.
Why do these rules work?
Consider for a moment that there are thousands of species of fungi that fruit in any given area. Some may appear nowhere else in the world. Some are edible, some toxic, and some are so variable that they are at times edible and at other times toxic. Often there is no good way to differentiate between species without hours or days of long tedious chemical and microscopic work. Furthermore, the toxicity of mushrooms is unknown until they are actually eaten by fellow mushroom collectors. There are no good animal models.
Consider also that the edibility of mushrooms is often contingent upon the particular biology of the mushroom eater. Some mushrooms are edible to some but poison to others. And being like meat in composition, mushrooms are subject to rapid bacterial decay. While the heat of cooking will destroy some of the toxins, other toxins will survive, especially if the cook attempts a delicate presentation, such as a light sauté or stir-fry!
Consider further that some mushrooms, edible in themselves, contain substances that interact with other foods making them poison! Perhaps the most well known interaction of this type is the way certain mushrooms interact with alcohol. Alcohol consumed for up to a week or two after the meal cannot be fully metabolized and toxic metabolites accumulate in the body in amounts sufficient to cause extreme discomfort or death.
Mushrooms also differ with regard to the speed with which their toxins operate. Some go to work immediately, while others have reactions delayed by hours, days, weeks or months. In addition carcinogenic compounds which presumably would not show their true effect for years are known to be present in mushrooms, even in the common store-bought variety.
POISON CONTROL EMERGENCY: 800-222-1222