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Fungi - common sense please

7th September 2015

The recent rain has brought up a number of fungi in recent times, and they are a theme that will probably occur regularly in my posts through the next few months. Even for those with little interest in fungi identification, the sight of something spectacular like a Fly Agaric or perhaps a large Parasol is enough to make many people reach for their camera. 

This post however, is not about a particular species, it is something of a plea for people to be sensible with regards to eating fungi. The catalyst was a post on the internet, that went something along the lines of "I've picked these, do you think I should eat them?" The answer (thankfully given by many people who commented) is of course NO! Whilst there are a number of edible fungi in Britain, if you are going to eat something you have picked then you need to be sure what it is. In addition to that, you also need to know how to identify any poisonous species that might look similar. In short, if you have to ask on the internet if something is edible, clearly you do not know exactly what it is and shouldn't be eating it.

Another issue, one that applies to internet identification in general, is that of course anyone can offer an opinion. The person answering your query could be a national expert, or someone with extensive knowledge of the particular subject. However, they could just as easily be someone who has no idea what they are talking about, or who has just made a guess. Even comments like "I ate something like this before and was fine" could give undue confidence to an uncertain ID. There are no consistent features that will tell you whether a fungus can be eaten or not - you have to identify it.

Around Norwich there are several poisonous species. Yellow-stainer Mushrooms (Agaricus xanthodermus) looks like any other mushroom until it is cut, and causes severe stomach problems. The Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) occurs at several locations nearby, including Whitlingham, and as the name suggests is fatal. Anyone picking mushrooms to eat who doesn't know how to recognise either of these species needs to have a serious think about what they are doing. Even if you are sure what you are eating, make sure you keep one back in case you do fall ill, as people can react in different ways to some species.


Back to more light-hearted posts from next week...

6 comments:

  1. Wise words, James! In France, the chemist shops will identify fungi for you for free!

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  2. That is a very useful system for foragers, and eating wild mushrooms does seem more common in mainland Europe. Despite that, a quick search suggests that despite being able to get advice from chemists, each year in France there are around 1000 fungus-related poisonings and 30 deaths!

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  3. Very good, and timely post!
    However, what it is an example of is.....
    Darwin's Law....
    yes, ici en France, 'tis true...
    the chemists are the fount of all knowledge fungal....
    but foraging is only allowed at the w/e...
    and most id-d-diotz want to eat them NOW!!
    Carnt be assed to wait until Monday to get a strange one assessed!
    More fool them...

    That said, in the main it tends to be the older foragers who fall...
    probably on a basis of "familiarity breeds contempt"...
    The most common fungi on our 6.7 acres...
    Death Cap!!

    There are only three wild fungi I will willingly eat...
    Giant Puffball, Shaggy Ink Cap and Parasol...
    and even with those I always make sure it is what it looks like...
    the Smooth Ink Cap can look slightly shaggy when dry....
    and contains Antabuse... and I happen to like my beer, cider and wine.
    The Shaggy Parasol can disagree with many a stomach...
    BUT, we do have one mushroom growing here...
    I've had it identified...
    Wood Blewit... very tasty... it grows, tho' under our lime tree...
    where we park the cars... so no go at the moment...
    fungi are great at getting nasty metals, etc. from the ground and accumulating them!
    I've tried to move them by casting the heads in more suitable places...
    but, as yet, no luck!

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    1. Thanks for that, good to get some first hand information from France. I have eaten Wood Blewit amongst others, but slightly embarrassingly for someone interested in fungi, I don't really like the taste of any of them!

      For anyone who doesn't understand the antabuse comment, a fungus called Coprinopsis atramentaria is nominally edible, but then becomes poisonous in combination with alcohol. The effect is like that for medication provided to chronic alcoholics to discourage relapses.

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  4. Hi James, I recently ordered some new fungi books from Somerfield, but I was not going to be in come the delivery date so arranged to collect them from the nearest drop-off point which happened to be a pharmacy near the old Bentwaters Air Base. Turned out the chemist had an interest in fungi and he mentioned his colleague in France and that he is often asked to say if a fungus is edible or not. But he restricts his knowledge to ONLY 6 SPECIES he is comfortable with - any others and he will say do not eat. Apparently, most chemists do the same thing as they are simply not prepared to take the risk. So those mycophagists planning to go to France to do some foraging will be in for a bit of a shock if they hope to eat all they find. Common sense really.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Neil, I did wonder if they received extensive training as part of the qualification, but perhaps they are just taught to identify the commonest/most distinctive edible fungi, which would still be useful for many people!

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