Before you saute, know your ‘shrooms

Mushrooms pop up everywhere along the North Coast. These were photographed near Fern Canyon by Deidre Pike.

By Jessica George
Flapjack Chronicles staff

Shrooms, shrooms and more shrooms.  Not the kind you’re thinking of though.
Ever been roaming around the forest among the beautiful redwoods, run across a group of mushrooms and wondered if they were poisonous or edible?

“Yes, I have come across mushrooms and wished I could eat them,”  wildlife major Megan Scherer responded. “I learned about poisonous mushrooms when I was a little kid and I would see those little brown ‘shrooms on my lawn and my dad would tell me not to touch them because they were poisonous.”

Mushrooms are everywhere outside your door. They are dependent on moisture, so they can especially be found after a substantial amount of rainfall.
Curious to where a majority of edible ones are found?  Meadows, manure piles, snow banks, and even sandy deserts.

Knowing the difference between poisonous and edible though can be tricky.
“I know that most mushrooms found in the wild are poisonous,” Scherer answered.  And she’s correct, but there are a good amount that are edible, such as the Boletus which has fleshy colored caps and thick stocks.

“I know locally the majority are poisonous, so I would never go out in the forest and just pick one up and eat it,”  ecological restoration major David Zwick quickly answered.
“Most of my knowledge came from taking Botany 105,” he said, “A lot of that class focuses on mushrooms.”
So what if you don’t have any background knowledge on mushrooms?  Could an uneducated person about mushrooms spot whether one was sickly or healthy?

“I do not think an uneducated person would know the difference, so they should probably just stay away from all wild mushrooms,”  outdoor enthusiast Dan Mariani said.

So how do you identify them in the wild?  This is no doubt a question that pops into anyone’s head while spotting a group of mushrooms.  There are some rules to identifying the difference between poisonous and edible mushrooms such as:

  • Just because an animal eats it, doesn’t mean you can.
  • Don’t go off of anecdotes like “If it has a brown cap and grows under a pine tree, it’s okay to eat.”  This is not always true and can get you into trouble.
  • Always use more than one reference to whether or not the mushroom is edible.  Double checking is a good way to be 100 percent positive it’s safe to consume.

“Some differences between poisonous and some of the local edible mushrooms is if is has tiny, tiny white spots on its cap,” Zwick stated.
“A quick way just by glance to know whether or not a mushroom is poisonous is if it is red or orange in coloring,” he warns.  Bright colors usually indicate warnings such as “Hey don’t eat me!”
Another good question is what happens if someone bit into a mushroom without knowing if it was poisonous or edible?  Would they be able to tell by the taste that it wasn’t meant to be in their mouth?
“Specific species have specific tastes but in general if they were poisonous they would be very bitter or sour tasting,” Zwick said.
Symptoms of mushroom poisoning can take up to 12 hours and sometimes longer.  Scarier is that symptoms of some poisonous mushrooms can go away but the toxins stay in your system, causing things to go very badly days later.
So word to the wise.  If ever mushroom hunting or hiking in the woods, always keep an eye out for poisonous or edible mushrooms.  Not only do they vary in beauty, but the bright colors indicate something you don’t want to eat.


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