Mushroom hunters

Edible mushroom

An edible mushroom is a mushroom that can potentially be safely eaten, including thousands of types of mushrooms that are regularly harvested. Some species that cannot be easily cultivated, such as the truffle or matsutake, are highly prized. On the other hand, some edible mushrooms may have an extremely bad taste, such as the Bitter bolete mushroom.

Before assuming that any wild mushroom is edible, check safety rules and be sure of its identification. There is no "test" for edibility other than identifying the species. Even mushrooms that are edible for most people can cause "allergic" reactions in some individuals.

History of mushroom use

Mycophagy (pron. /ˈmaikəˌfeɪdʒi/), the act of consuming mushrooms, dates to ancient times. Edible mushroom species have been found in association with 13,000 year old ruins in Chile, but the first reliable evidence of mushroom consumption dates to several hundred yeas BC in China. The Chinese value mushrooms for medicinal properties as well as for food. Ancient Romans and Greeks ate mushrooms, particularly the wealthier classes. The Roman Caesars would have a food taster taste the mushrooms before the Caesar to make sure they were safe. Mushrooms are also easily preserved, and historically have provided additional nutrition over winter.

Many prehistoric and a few modern cultures around the world used psychedelic mushrooms for ritualistic purposes (see main article: Psilocybin mushrooms). Mushroom cultivation reached the United States in the late 1800s with imported spores from Mexico.

Current culinary use

A fraction of the many fungi consumed by humans are currently cultivated and sold commercially. Pioneers such as Paul Stamets are introducing more into cultivation. Commercial cultivation is important ecologically, as there have been concerns of depletion of larger fungi such as chanterelles in Europe, possibly because the group has grown so popular yet remains a challenge to cultivate.

Commercially cultivated fungi

Mushroom cultivation has a long history.

Commercially harvested wild edibles

Some species are difficult to cultivate, others (particularly mycorrhizal species) have not yet been successfully cultivated. Some of these species are harvested from the wild, and can be found in markets. When in season they can be purchased fresh, and many species are sold dried as well. The following species are commonly harvested from the wild:

  • Boletus edulis or edible Boletus, native to Europe, known in Italian as Fungo Porcino (plural 'porcini') (Pig mushroom), in German as Steinpilz (Stone mushroom), in Russian as "white mushroom", and in French the cep. It also known as the king bolete, and is renowned for its delicious flavor. It is sought after worldwide, and can be found in a variety of culinary dishes.
  • Cantharellus cibarius (The chanterelle), The yellow chanterelle is one of the best and most easily recognizable mushrooms, and can be found in Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. There are poisonous mushrooms which resemble it, though these can be confidently distinguished if one is familiar with the chanterelle's identifying features.
  • Clitocybe nuda - Blewit (or Blewitt)
  • Cortinarius caperatus the Gypsy mushroom (recently moved from genus Rozites)
  • Craterellus cornucopioides - Trompette du Mort or Horn of Plenty
  • Grifola frondosa, known in Japan as maitake (also "hen of the woods" or "sheep’s head"); a large, hearty mushroom commonly found on or near stumps and bases of oak trees, and believed to have medicinal properties.
  • Gyromitra esculenta this "False morel" is prized by the Finns. This mushroom is deadly poisonous if eaten raw, but highly regarded when parbroiled (see below).
  • Hericium erinaceus, a tooth fungus; also called "lion's mane mushroom."
  • Hydnum repandum Sweet tooth fungus
  • Lactarius deliciosus Saffron milk cap - Consumed around the world and prized in Russia
  • Morchella species, (morel family), morels belong to the ascomycete grouping of fungi. They are usually found in open scrub, woodland or open ground in late spring. When collecting this fungus, care must be taken to distinguish it from the poisonous false morels, including Gyromitra esculenta.
  • Tricholoma matsutake the Matsutake, a mushroom highly prized in Japanese cuisine.
  • Tuber species, (the truffle), Truffles have long eluded the modern techniques of domestication known as trufficulture. Although the field of trufficulture has greatly expanded since its inception in 1808, several species still remain uncultivated. For a list of domesticated truffles, see above.

Other edible wild species

Many wild species are consumed around the world. The species which can be identified "in the field" (without use of special chemistry or a microscope) and therefore safely eaten vary widely from country to country, even from region to region. This list is a sampling of lesser-known species that are reportedly edible.

Conditionally edible species

There are a number of fungi that are considered choice by some and toxic by others. In some cases, proper preparation can remove some or all of the toxins.

  • Amanita muscaria is edible if parboiled to leach out toxins.. Fresh mushrooms cause vomiting, twitching, drowsiness, and hallucinations due to the presence of ibotenic acid.
  • Coprinopsis atramentaria is edible without special preparation. However, consumption with alcohol is toxic due to the presence of coprine. Some other Coprinus spp. share this property.
  • Gyromitra esculenta is eaten by some after it has been parboiled; however, mycologists do not recommend it. Raw Gyromitra are toxic due to the presence of gyromitrin, and it is not known if all of the toxin can be removed by parboiling.
  • Lactarius spp. - Apart from Lactarius deliciosus which is universally considered edible, other Lactarius spp. that are considered toxic elsewhere in the world are eaten in Russia after pickling or parboiling.
  • Verpa bohimica - Considered choice by some, it even can be found for sale as a "morel", but cases of toxicity have been reported. Verpas contain toxins similar to gyromitrin and similar precautions apply.

Hallucinogenic Species

Several mushroom species are cultivated or collected for use in a recreational or ritualistic context. Although they are not consumed for food, these mushrooms are "edible" in the sense that for most people they can be safely eaten: the mycotoxins present in the mushrooms will be metabolized by the eater and their effects will disappear within several hours.

Cultivation and sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms is illegal in most countries, but remains legal in Spain, Austria, and The Netherlands.

Psilocybe cubensis, although originating from the tropical Americas, is now cultivated worldwide for its hallucinogenic properties. It is by far the most commonly cultivated hallucinogenic mushroom, and is marketed in the Netherlands under several names ("Equadoriaanse paddestoelen", "Golden Teacher", etc.)

Other species that have been cultivated for hallucinogenic use include:

In addition, there are many hallucinogenic species collected from the wild:

Preparing wild edibles

Some wild species are toxic, or at least indigestible, when raw. As a rule all wild mushroom species should be cooked thoroughly before eating. Many species can be dried and re-hydrated by pouring boiling water over the dried mushrooms and letting them steep for approximately 30 minutes. The soaking liquid can be used for cooking as well, provided that any dirt at the bottom of the container is discarded.

See also


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