Image: Are they edible? scoobygirl, Flickr
Few things are finer than taking advantage of fresh, local ingredients growing wild and free to spice up a fantastic meal. In Germany, mushroom season is celebrated with special menus featuring the famous pfifferling mushrooms in classic and modern dishes. But after a moist summer perfect for mushroom proliferation, the headines in Germany are a reminder that nature's bounty can be dangerous: reports of possible mushroom poisonings have doubled. Following some simple rules can minimize the risks.1. Know Before You Go
The best defense to avoid mushroom poisoning while enjoying the plethora of tasty, edible fungi is to know the rules before you go collecting. Knowing where mushrooms were found, and making identifications before the mushrooms begin to dry out, greatly improves the chances of a correct identification. Collecting the roots by digging mushrooms rather than plucking them can help with identification.
2. Consult an expert
The best support for newbies is to go collecting together with an experienced mushroom collector. If you cannot find a personal mentor to traipse through the woods with you, look for offers in your community to help check out collected mushrooms. In Germany, for example, many drugists can help confirm if your fresh ingredients are safe for use. As a last resort, use mushroom collecting books or other media to learn how to identify edible mushrooms.
3. Taste Testing
After you have relatively good certainty that your mushrooms are edible, cook and eat just a few. Don't mix them with other mushrooms or eat other foods that may cause symptoms of poisoning. Especially avoid alcohol, which can both confuse the symptoms and put pressure on the organs that will be needed to clean up any toxins in case you are wrong about your mushrooms.
4. Contingency Plans
Be sure to keep a few mushrooms from your collection in the refrigerator to help with a correct identification in case the taste test is a fail. If you find yourself feeling unwell, bring the saved specimens with you when consulting a poison center or physician.
5. Not for Everyone
The risk is higher for young children, the elderly, or people with a compromised immune system. They are more likely to experience adverse reactions, and the consequences are more severe in case poisonous mushrooms are ingested. People taking drugs that increase the burden on the kidneys and liver should also avoid the risk of giving these toxicity filters a double whammy with a bad lot of 'shrooms. To be safe, people in high risk categories should stay with the sure thing, even if that means sticking to mushrooms picked from the grocery store shelf or growing your own mushrooms.
6. Respect Nature
When picking mushrooms for the first time, collect just a couple. After following the steps above to ensure they are safe to eat, and after they successfully pass a taste test in trial quantites, then go back to pick some more. After all, mushrooms are an important part of nature's biological cycles. If you pick a spot clean, you rob nature of balance.
7. When in Doubt, Throw it Out
Always enjoy wild mushrooms in moderation. And if there is any doubt, don't take the risk.
More on Edible Mushroom Safety:
MushroomExpert.com: Online Advice on Fungi and Mushrooms
Know Your Mushrooms Movie: End Fungi-Phobia Now
Michael Kuo's 100 Edible Mushrooms
Growing Oyster Mushrooms in Coffee Grounds
Paul Stamets at TED: How Mushrooms Can Help Save The World
Weekday Vegetarian: Tofu and Wild Mushrooms
Emeril's Arepas With Mushrooms And Cheese
Recipe of the Week: Mushroom Ragout