Monday, August 22, 2016 6 comments

The Fungus Among Us

With apologies to friends around the country who are begging for rain, we have had enough. 1½ inches yesterday and 2 inches the day before. And that’s just this week.

Grandpappy fungus?
One of the offshoots of so much rain is the number of mushrooms and downright strange fungi that are appearing in the woods as I take my daily walk. I’ve even seen one specimen with hair!

I know some brave folks like to forage for mushrooms in the wild. Others enjoy growing their own mushrooms at home. One of my gardening friends bought a shitake log, then later was afraid to eat the harvest.  Eventually she did work up the courage to use the meaty mushrooms in a recipe, and everyone survived the experience. 

Others have not been quite so lucky.

Mistaken identity almost proves to be fatal

Writer Nicholas Evans is a gourmet cook who has picked and eaten wild mushrooms without incident for many years.

In August 2008, the author of The Horse Whisperer picked a basketful of mushrooms he found while strolling through the woodlands of his brother-in-law’s 13,000 acre Scottish estate.

Pretty but poisonous Fool's webcap

He later sautéed them in butter and parsley and served them to the family without realizing the mushrooms were not chanterelles, but the poisonous Cortinarius speciosissimus, or fool’s webcap. (Fortunately the children in attendance turned their noses up at the dish.)

Friend or foe?
Evans, wife Charlotte, her brother Alastair and his wife, Lady Louisa were all in critical condition within days. Three of the four suffered kidney failure and Evans required five hours of dialysis each day. In time, the dialysis took a toll on his heart. As of this writing, Evans and his wife have had successful kidney transplants.

Be careful out there.

The National Poisons Information Service in the UK recently issued a warning about picking and eating wild mushrooms citing 237 poisoning cases in 2014. Over 100 people in the US became seriously ill last year after mistaking bad mushrooms for good ones.

Of course certified wild mushroom experts and mycologists know their stuff and can provide guidance on which mushrooms are edible.

As for me, I’m a certified scaredycat. But I do love seeing the many varieties of mushrooms I spy while walking (or waiting behind a foresome of old duffers who won’t let a woman play through on the golf course.)

Since edible and dangerous mushies can look similar, I’ll continue to get my supply at the market.

And admire the pretty ones with my camera.