Many people are interested in fungi because they are edible. But everyone also knows that wild fungi can be both delicious and deadly poisonous. Unfortunately, there is no simple way of saying what is edible and what is poisonous. The best way of sensibly eating wild fungi is to follow the guidelines below and to stick to a small number of easily recognisable, but tasty, species. Many poisonings occur when people are experimenting with odd species.
If you think you or someone you know has been poisoned but eating a wild fungus, please contact the Irish National Poisons Information Centre immediately (or equivalent in your country). If possible keep a specimen of the fungus you ate. You will need to describe it as well as possible. In the Northern Ireland Fungus we are only amateur mycologists and may not be able to help. Fungi are difficult, sometimes impossible, to identify from a photograph alone and we may not be immediately contactable.
There has also been some concern about the concentrations of metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper and lead in wild fungi. MAFF (the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) organised a survey of wild fungi. The conclusions of this survey were that the consumption of wild fungi in normal quantities did not pose any significant health risk.
The Northern Ireland Fungus Group cannot accept responsibility or liability for a poisoning incident based on the contents of this page. Each case of cooking for the pot is an unique event and the identification of specimens is the responsibility is the person doing the cooking. Different individuals may also react to species that are described in the literature as "edible". It is thus prudent to be careful and follow the guidelines below.
How to avoid mushroom poisoning (adapted from Shelley Evans' guidelines in "Guides for the Amateur Mycologist - No.4 Guide for the Kitchen Collector: Preservation and Cooking of Fungi. BMS, 1994)
1. Unfamiliar Species: Check and re-check your identification, especially looking out for a similar poisonous species. If still in doubt, ask an expert or throw it away.
2. Examine each specimen. Always check each specimen in case a different species has got in amongst your collection of edible ones.
3. Keep your collections separate. Do not mix edible and non-edible species in a collecting tray if you are collecting for the pot. It is a good idea if collecting for the pot to only collect edible species and not other species for identification purposes.
4. Check the spore print. A simple operation, leaving a cap on some paper and covering for an hour or so. This will help check your identification.
5. Do not eat raw wild fungi. Some wild fungi are poisonous if eaten raw, e.g. Wood Blewit, Lepista nuda, the Blusher, Amanita rubescens or species of Helvella. Always cook your collections.
6. Retain an uncooked specimen. This is a very sensible idea. Keep one example of what you have eaten in the fridge. In case, you do poison yourself, this will help others identify what you have eaten and therefore know how to treat you. Different species contain different toxins, therefore treatments will vary.
7. Only eat good specimens. Many poisoning cases occur when edible species are eaten in poor condition. Only eat good specimens!
8. Keep your collections in the fridge. This keeps your specimens in good condition.
9. Experimenting. If experimenting and eating a type for the first time, only eat a small amount. Different people react to fungi in different ways and it is safer to test your own body out gently!
10. Alcohol. Avoid drinking alcohol with species you haven't eaten before and with certain species, e.g. the Common Ink Cap, Coprinus atramentarius.
11. Fear. Do not feed wild mushrooms to people who don't want to eat them. Fear can make people sick.
12. Susceptible people. Do not serve wild fungi to young children, old or sick people. Their resistance may be lower.
13. Greed. Do not large quantities of wild mushrooms in one sitting. This alone can make you sick.
Stick to these species and you should not go too far wrong. However, remember that different people react in different ways and you must be careful. Eating a species on this list does not necessarily mean that you will not react to it. Do not identify any of these species from these photographs alone. Always use a good field guide to make your identification.
Note that these photographs are thumbnails. If you click on them, the full photograph will be displayed.
These are a few of the most poisonous species. They can kill you, taking about 3-6 days to do so if you do not get treated very early.
These are only a few of the poisonous fungi. There are more and for this reason, as previously stated, do not experiment with wild fungi unless you are very sure about your identification.
There are many books on this subject. To keep it brief, these ones can be recommended:
Antonio Carluccio: "A Passion for Mushrooms" Pavilion Books
Patricia Taylor: Patricia's Mushroom Cookery: Vegetarian Dishes. Available from MycoNova@btinternet.com
Roger Phillips: Wild Food. Pan Books
British Mycological Society: Guides for the Amateur Mycologist, No.4: Guide for the Kitchen Collector - Preservation and Cooking of Fungi by Dave Shorten. Available from the British Mycological Society.
On the web, just do a search on a species, e.g. searching on "Morel" or "Cep" brings up lots of recipes!
If you're really into edible wild fungi, why not buy a log on which the Oyster Mushroom or Shitake will fruit for three years in your own garden? Why not buy a sapling already "infected" with Lactarius deliciosus or the Black Truffle? Or buy some Shaggy Ink Cap, Parasol Mushroom or Field Mushroom in a patch that you put into your lawn for autumn fruiting? It is possible to buy these from various internet sites - google them!
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