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Upset stomach mushrooms

Somebody landed on this blog after searching “upset stomach mushrooms”, and this got me thinking that since a lot of would-be mushroom-hounds have been visiting this blog, I should make a few comments.

I don’t know how many species of mushrooms there are in Ontario – at least hundreds, maybe over a thousand. Most of those species are not good to eat. When I say not good to eat, I mean they can cause anything from mild gastro-intestinal upset to death. Yes there are killer mushrooms in Ontario.

I know there are people who eat mushrooms based on vague information passed down from past generations. I’ve heard stories of so-called poison tests involving silver dimes and so forth, and I know there are some people who traditionally go  through a specific rigamarole involving multiple boilings or pickling or whatever.  People I’ve met in the woods have had buckets of mushrooms I know are very difficult to identify as safe. They tell me, “I’ve eaten these for 30 years and I’m OK”.

I don’t know by what streak of luck or by what voodoo these folks haven’t been poisoned.  Maybe they’ve learned by experience and have clues to identification I don’t know. They’re going to do what they do and I hope they’re OK. Since I know there are nasty mushrooms out there, and since I don’t want to eat poisonous ones and die, I try to identify mushrooms and in truth, each year I mostly pick for the table the same handful of species that I can easily identify.

Each fall a few mushrooms grow out of the mulch I have in part of my back yard. I think maybe they are blewits. I’ve picked them, taken spore prints, compared them to pictures, then I’ve discarded them. I’m just not sure. Perhaps if a more experienced picker looked at them and said yay or nay I might be convinced. The characteristics seem almost right. Almost. But there’s no such thing as being almost poisoned.

I know people who eat orange-capped scaber-stalks – Leccinums. I also know there have been possible poisonings from these mushrooms.  One person I know who eats them says, no, they’re fine I eat them all the time and I’ve never had a problem.  He continues to eat them without consequence. It’s been suggested to me that the ones that caused the poisonings were a western sub-species and the ones here in Ontario are fine. Maybe. Still, when I see these in the woods I leave them be. Who is right? I don’t know. I do know that one of the people who has been made sick by orange-capped scaber-stalks is a very respected mushroom expert. I’m OK with being wrong in this case.

When I look at the stats for this blog I see that many people stop and look at my mushroom posts. I’m posting these notes because I don’t want anyone to be sick. Please identify mushrooms carefully before eating them. Please be sure every time. Be careful about what you read on the internet….it many not all be 100% accurate. Sometimes a photo is not enough to do a reliable identification.



1 Comment so far

  1. Salvelinas Fontinalis

    There are actually about 2,000 different species of mushrooms in Ontario which have been identified. There are actually likely many more living happily in Northern Ontario unseen by the city folks who hunt mushrooms. It is generally considered that about 10% of these are edible, about 10% are poisonous, and the remaining 80% are inedible.

    Lets talk about the poisonous ones first. 10% is about 200 species and that is a lot of mushrooms. In the wild mushroom eating world poisonous means:
    a) it will kill you quite dead
    b) it might not kill you but you will wish you were dead
    c) It will make you very sick for up to a week.
    The ones that kill you clearly are the important ones and deadly mushrooms are especially nasty and especially deadly. There is no saying I dont feel good maybe that mushroom wasnt safe and I better go to the doctor and get cured. No. It doesnt work like that. Lets look at an example from the Amanita genus. Most Amanitas are killers. Their toxin is called amatoxin. Eat an Amanita and you will get a bit of a stomach ache a few hours later, but by morning you will feel fine again. No problem right? Wrong. While you are happily feeling fine the amatoxin is busy destroying your liver and kidneys. After a few days when your internal organs are toast you start showing signs of kidney and liver failure. At that point you have a couple of days to find organ donors or you die a fairly horrible death. Good luck. The good news is that once the amatoxin is diagnosed you have a few days to get your will in order and to explain to your family just how stupid you actually are. Amatoxin isnt the only deadly poison in the mushroom world. Mycophagists (the folks who eat mushrooms) like to use the acronym HFS to describe the effects of some of the poisonous mushrooms which dont actually kill you. HFS refers to Human Faucet Syndrome. Use your imagination but dont get further than about 10 feet from a bathroom for about a week. The take away here is just dont mess with mushrooms that you arent certain are safe.

    The 10% that are considered edible are a much more pleasant topic but it still isnt all roses. Edible means most people can eat them with no ill effects. Most people but maybe not you. In Ontario it is illegal to send a kid to school with anything containing peanuts because peanuts kill folks every year, yet peanuts are clearly considered edible. This leads to a very important rule for eating a new edible mushroom for the first time. Start with a half of the new mushroom or 1 if it is small and keep the other half or some whole ones in the fridge so if you get a horrible reaction you can show the ones you didnt eat to the doctors at the hospital. Just because there are about 200 species that are edible it doesnt mean you will be eating 200 different kinds of mushrooms. Remember. edible means that most people can eat them with no ill effect. Sadly some mushrooms which are perfectly edible taste like shit. Others might be more bitter than you like. Others have the consistency of a slug and you wont put them into your mouth more than once. Some are too tiny to be bothered with. I figure that there are about 35 species which are darn right tasty, safe, and common enough that you might actually find some on a good day. There are probably another 50 or so which are tasty and common but which are darn near impossible for an amateur to distinguish from one that might be dangerous. 35 doesnt seem like many but it is enough that in season and with some experience you can always come home with supper.

    I suppose I should say something about the 80% that are considered just inedible. This bunch isnt likely to kill you, its just that there is some good reason you wont be eating them. The group includes those hard as wood shelf fungi you see on the side of trees. And slime fungus. And mushrooms so bitter you wont be able to spit for a week if you bite one. There are other attributes that can make them inedible as well.

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