Monday, March 26, 2007

Silly Article About Mushroom Foraging

A promising-looking article about mushroom hunters in northern California focuses mostly on the "dark side" of the activity -- fines and possible poisonings. While these, particularly the latter, are real threats, people go overboard over them. One spectacularly silly quote, from the director of the Sacramento division of the California poison control system: "If you're going to eat mushrooms, buy them from the store." (Such a kicker sentiment!) Um, how about, "Don't eat anything you haven't positively identified and have an experienced forager accompany you if you're a beginner".

Another paragraph in the article is flat-out dangerous. "Serious hunters eat only what they can identify. Keller said once he learned to identify the distinctive color and sheen of death caps, he noticed them everywhere."

First, it's not just "serious hunters" who eat only the mushrooms they can identify, it's anyone who would rather not be poisoned. Many poisonings occur among immigrants who eat mushrooms that look like edible species from the old country. If you eat wild mushrooms, identify them. To species. And save a sample in case you do get sick.

The second sentence of the above pernicious paragraph is almost as bad as the first. The death caps are members of the genus Amanita and are actually quite easy to identify. In addition to having a fairly distinctive shape and a white spore print, Amanitas have a volva (an underground cup surrounding the stem) and, very often, scales on the cap and a ring around the stem. Maybe some species do have a distinctive sheen, but I wouldn't rely on that for ID.

If you're interested in getting out into the field to study (and eat!) mushrooms, check out the North American Mycological Association.