All This Fuss About Fungus

Savour Winnipeg reader Jim was wondering about this mushroom he found growing on a dead ash tree on his property.

Mushroom identification is one of the most requested topics on the blog. With all this fuss about fungus, I thought the response might be helpful to others looking for info.

First of all, thanks for your inquiry, Jim.

There are over 10,000 species of mushrooms world-wide. Manitoba alone boasts 1000. Although there are dozens of local wild edibles, the most common are the August/September sprouting Puffballs and Chanterelles; May Morels; and Oyster mushrooms.

To my non-expert eye the mushroom of Jim’s question looks like the latter–an Oyster mushroom. It’s an edible that grows in both temperate and tropical climates. They generally prefer hard woods like the dead ash on which Jim found this specimen.

But there are many factors in identifying a safe to eat mushroom besides its ecology. Stem, veil and gills all provide clues. The only way to know for sure is to pick up a couple of good mushroom field guides, readily available at local bookstores or online.

Even if you’ve identified what you think is an edible using a reputable guidebook, proceed with caution. There are many poisonous look-alikes and mistakes can quite literally be deadly. False identification has claimed the lives even of experienced pickers.

Guidebook having supported your suspicions, you should still test for edibility with extreme caution. Best practice is to harvest only a sample and put it in a paper bag (not just good for for freshness–you’ll see why in a minute).

Cook and eat only the tiniest piece at first (I like a simple sautee in butter with salt and pepper)–perhaps the size of a pencil eraser.

After consuming, monitor your condition for the next couple of days. Some of the effects of the more nefarious fungi won’t manifest for at least 24 to 48 hours.

If no ill effects present themselves over the next few days, try a slightly larger serving size–maybe the size of a dime. Repeat the eat and monitor method taking slightly larger portions until you’re confident it’s not making you ill.

The reason I say keep a sample is that if you do become ill, the emergency room will know what caused your illness should you become unable to report.

But there’s no substitution for experience. I have identified and harvested wild mushrooms only with experienced pickers and reliable reference material.

If you’ve spotted what appears to be an edible mushroom, get a guide book, but also ask around. Often enough, someone else has been eating them (or not) and can save you some homework.

If you’re interested in exploring the wonderful world of fungi, there are a few courses offered.

The Winnipeg Leisure Guide usually offers something in the spring and fall like Fungus Among Us which I took at the Conservatory last May.

And The Manitoba Naturalist Society sporadically offers a Morels and Other Mushrooms education evening followed by a fall foraging expedition.

And if you’ll forgive the shameless self promotion, keep an eye on where I try to compile and list all the education opportunities and food events happening around Winnipeg.

Happy hunting!

Tags: , , , ,

No comments yet.