As mushroom season descends in full, I find myself getting–as always–the odd email or comment along the lines of: They are dangerous! We ‘shroomers are always perplexed by the fear many people have of mushrooms. Even among foragers, many wild plant harvesters fear mushrooms. To me, this is a very odd state of affairs because it is no more difficult to tell a safe mushroom than a safe wild herb. And there is so much utterly dangerous misinformation about safe plants floating around. For example, in spring I came across a video from a supposed “wild food expert” who was walking through a park picking the leaves off of spring trees and nibbling them as he explained to viewers “all trees are good to eat”. I shuddered. Had he grabbed a nibble from an elderberry tree, or a cherry tree, or a yew tree (or any number of others) it might have been a fatal mistake.
And yet there are very few varieties of mushrooms that are lethal, and those mostly among amanitas, lepiotas and LBMs (little brown mushrooms–yes, that is its scientific classification). And when one learns to ID mushrooms, you can easily avoid those as they are very distinct classes. They are almost entirely found among the gilled mushrooms.
I harvest mainly polypores and boletes, which are safe and have the good fortune to be abundant and exceedingly good edibles. Among boletes you just avoid mushrooms that cut or bruise blue. Furry boletes are called leccinums and you just avoid those with orange caps or that cut or bruise blue. Polypores such as sulfur shelves have no poisonous varieties. Not all polypores are good to eat, but if not they will either taste bitter or be so woody you wouldn’t think of trying to eat one.
I also harvest a few gilled mushrooms such as shaggymanes and oysters, but I know these very well and they are easily distinguished from poisonous varieties. IN FACT, far easier than it is to distinguish many nonpoisonous plants from their poisonous look-alikes and cousins.
Then there are the amazingly good-for-you fungi such as chaga (which makes superb and healthful tea) and has no look-alikes, and the friendly birch polypore which can be crushed and applied to wounds to speed healing (again, no dangerous look-alikes).
So . . . the arch fear of the fungal world that so many have; it leaves me scratching my head in perplexity.