Beware the Wild Mushrooms

“There’s an interesting looking mushroom growing in my backyard,” one of my friends posted on her Facebook page. “I’m thinking of harvesting it for dinner.”

Politely, I recommended that she re-think that. But what I really wanted to say was, “Are you out of your @#$%& mind!?”

There’s a saying among mushroom hunters that says, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters. But there are no old bold mushroom hunters.” Yes, there are plenty of wonderfully flavorful wild mushrooms that can make for a tasty addition to any meal. However, there are also some highly toxic mushrooms that can make you very sick or kill you. And many species of the latter closely resemble many species of the former.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the pictures below of the two similar looking mushroom species. See if you can guess which one is the edible species?

Did you guess that the one on the right is the edible species? If so, congratulations – you’re dead! The mushroom on the right is Amanita virosa a.k.a. the Destroying Angel, a highly toxic species of wild mushroom. The mushroom contains amatoxin, a substance which when ingested, destroys the liver and kidneys. To make matters worse, toxicity symptoms of vomiting, cramps, delirium, and diarrhea may not appear for 5-24 hours. By then, it may be too late to reverse the damage done to the liver and kidneys.
Perhaps you looked at the pictures and thought, “No problem. I’ll just bring along my guidebook.” Or “I’ll just smell them. That will reveal the difference.” Would you bet your life on any of those tactics? But don’t you see, you just did.

Bottom line – when in doubt, don’t eat it. And even if you think you know, if you’ve had little or no experience with gathering wild mushrooms, don’t eat it without first consulting an expert. Because what you don’t know may not only hurt you, it can kill you.

By the way, the mushroom on the left is Volvariella bombycina – the Paddy straw. It is edible.