Grumpy loves mushrooms. All kinds of mushrooms. He eats them with pizza, burgers, steaks, stews, soups, roasts, stir-fry, salads, pasta dishes, omelets, mixed veggies, and much more. But he only eats mushrooms that come from the grocery. Why? Because he doesn’t want to die a horrible death.
The striking, red-capped mushrooms at the top recently popped up in my yard after lots of rain. I’d never seen them before, so I did some research on red-capped mushrooms found in Alabama and tentatively identified them as Amanita jacksonii. My research revealed that unlike other members of the Amanita genus, this one is edible. Am I going to eat it? Hell, no! Even mushroom experts, called mycologists, sometimes make mistakes – and with many toxic mushrooms, one mistake is all you get.
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Eating mildly toxic mushrooms causes symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and even hallucinations, but you’ll gradually recover. Eat a deadly one and you won’t. You’ll feel perfectly fine for a day or so and think you’re the next Euell Gibbons. All the while, the toxin will be destroying your liver and maybe your kidneys too. Last time I checked, the presence of a working liver and kidneys was considered vital to human life. While you’re vomiting your guts out as you approach death’s door, the doctor will tell you a liver transplant is the only way to save you. You should have gone to Publix.
WATCH: Grumpy's Guide To Yard Mushrooms
Wild mushrooms occur in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some break down organic matter, such as dead wood. Others live in a symbiotic association with plant roots, each helping the other absorb nutrients. A few weeks ago, while hiking in Alabama’s Oak Mountain State Park, I came upon these striking specimens.
They looked like golden flowers. I had never seen anything like them. Upon returning home, I discovered they were chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), a gourmet (and expensive) wild mushroom much sought after by foodies and chefs. Friends on Facebook were chortling over their hauls of chanterelles and posting photos of delicious dishes they’d made with them. But I’m glad we left them. Eating wild mushrooms is responsible for many instances of natural selection every year.
No wild mushroom is coveted more than the morel (Morchella sp.) that looks like a human brain rising from the forest floor. Yum. Love feasting on human brain. However, while morels are true delicacies, you might easily mistake them for the poisonous false morel (Gyromitra esculenta), below, that can make your spouse wish you hadn’t canceled your life insurance.
An easy way to distinguish the delicious from the deadly is to slice them in two lengthwise. A true morel is hollow inside. A false one’s center is filled with cottony fibers.
Okay, just in case I haven’t made my case that eating wild mushrooms is risky business, let me present you with two that people mistakenly eat before inevitably leaving this world with fewer working vital organs. The first, blow, is the aptly and ominously named destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera).
The second, below, is the tasty looking Galerina marginata, known to some as “the little brown mushroom” and to others whose friends ate it as “the deadly skullcap.”
Both resemble edible mushrooms, which makes the game even more fun. Like I said, I won’t eat any mushroom that doesn’t come from the store. But if you decide to, before you pop that flavorful found fungus into your mouth, recall the words of Dirty Harry: “Do you feel lucky?”