I think that anyone who forages for wild mushrooms has been approached by interested bystanders and there is undoubtedly one question that comes up every single time
” can you really eat them are they not poisonous”
It often makes me wonder exactly what people think I’m doing with a basket of mushrooms is there a use that I’m in aware of ? .
Even close friends and family will shy away from excepting your harvests in fear you may of picked a Bunch of nasty’s as It seems that for generations mushroom picking in the uk has carried a unseen hazard sign, kids and adults alike are of the understanding that mushrooms growing wild will kill you ,
And from a conversation I’ve had recently it seems it’s not a new Perception a very pleasant retired couple who approached me happily told me about there parents warning them that the spores from mushrooms make you go blind !
In all honesty mushroom phobia is not restricted to non foragers I know many foragers that point blank refuse to include fungi in their foraging due to the fear of poisoning.
It seems hard to shake off the sociological interpretation of safe food ,
I often ponder over the origin of the fear as we don’t seem to have the same impression of wild plants and there are plenty of those that will make you pretty sick and even cause death , I wonder if it is because fungi are more complex to identify or if it’s simply due to the small amount of deaths that occur due to mushroom poisoning that the hype created by the media is so over the top that we are programmed to be wary .
I’d love to see the reaction if the media compiled the same coverage of the thousands of death caused by paracetamol and yes many of these are accidental as all cases of death from mushroom poisoning are.
I’m not trying to make light of the danger of foraging for mushrooms I just see so much wrong information about that it makes my brain boil yes there is a risk when foraging wild food but approached in a simple and intelligent way the risk can be removed .
Some of the dangerous myths that circulate offer more risk than the real danger , I’ve had people tell me they have been informed that all mushrooms when cooked are safe or that peeling the skin from mushrooms removes the poison and my favourite if bugs eat them they must be edible , every single myth I’ve been told is complete and utter fabrication based upon generations of scaremongering .
I believe that if you want to start collecting mushrooms the first thing to do rather than trying to validate any maybe myths is to start over with a clear head forgetting any childhood fables and scarytales and focus on the facts . We know for fact there are some good edible mushrooms that have no poisonous lookalikes and are relatively easy to learn . I mention in my recent post ..the magic of mushroom
That Forays are great knowledge builders and I recommend anyone who intends to take up this hobby to find your local foray host and book a session as the knowledge shared will prove a valuable stepping stone for your own learning but your new best friend will be your field guide and learning how to use it to its full potential is really important it’s not simply a photographic guide they are full of information that will enable you to gain positive identifications they will guide you through growing seasons , habitat and then physical features and with the golden rule about 100% certainty of identification you will need all of these boxes to be ticked one or two aspects are never enough to have absolute certainty .
So many people flick pages hoping to get a glimpse of there find relying on similarities and then making a guess and this only ends with poor knowledge base and miss information remember trying to name every fungi you see is pretty much an impossible task many fungi require microscopic aids or chemical reactions to identify as visual aids simply fall short ,
learning the prize edibles that are common throughout the Uk and indeed your local area is not as daunting as it first seems we have many many edible mushrooms but in all honesty only a handful of these are nice to eat and many of these are unmistakable when you have had actual contact with them , by this I mean their touch , smell and visual attributes and even for the most wary of us once you have had a successful hunt that ends in you eating your finds your confidence will increase .
Many people have asked me if I have a favourite field guide and I have changed from one to another and have several go-to books and if I am asked the question from someone who has the goal of foraging mushrooms I have to say the River cottage No1 handbook written by John Wright , it’s without complication giving easy to understand information and covers the main foragable mushrooms and has the obvious style of a well practiced forager that is unique as most guides are written by non foragers You will also find having home based books valuable to double Check you finds when home please never try to gain an identification from search engines as many online pictures are wrong and dangerous .
Mushroom foraging is also very much a social activity when foraging with a friend your ids will be confirmed or questioned from a individual other than yourself which will help massively in cases of uncertainty ,
Mushrooms are not something to be afraid of they can add flavours and textures unrivalled by any other wild food and if approached with a level head and educated information will reward you with childhood excitement and sights only imaginable in fairy tales .
I look forward to seeing you in the woods .
After a very valid point by Mark Williams at Galloway wild food I’ve decided to share a personal story that could of ended very differently with dire ramifications ,
I was camping with a group of people who also had a high interest in fungi some novices some at a higher level of knowledge when we came across a large group of mushrooms , I had previously been in the same area with another friend and picked the miller and almost immediately professed to the group the find was the same ,
In the excitement I had convinced myself and most of the group I was correct , one member was not 100% sure so they were left alone , on further inspection at a later date they were identified as a poisonous lookalike .
This could have ended very badly and has given me a very hard lesson never presume anything check , double check and then check again group identification worked in my favour but could quite easily of gone the other way with my own mistake costing others who I had taken my over confidence as a fact .
As Mark has pointed out and a very valid point personal responsibility for anything you eat Is a must if you intend to eat something you and you alone are responsible , and Peter who tweets as @absolutelywild states foray guides as exactly what is said GUIDES , use them accordingly .
My lesson was simple and never again will I presume anything Facts are what is needed and no matter how much you feel you know there is a massive amount you don’t and every day I am humbled by nature and her power ability to ground us and the second we stop respecting her she will kick our arses .