A lot of us have a curious fascination with wild mushrooms. They seem to be fruiting everywhere this summer.
The early August rainstorms finally saturated the ground after the long, hot and dry months of June and July.
Last summer was uncommonly dry as well, but without the August rains. Last year there were hardly any wild mushrooms at all. This year, the fungi are working double time to make up for it. September showers will surely bring even more.
Mushrooms love moisture. They have to, because they are mostly made of water. When the rains come, the underground (or under bark) mycelium get themselves organized to reproduce. Each variety has its season. When conditions are right, they bear fruit.
We wander around looking at them, admiring their beauty, picking them up for a closer look. And we wonder, can I eat this? Almost all the time the answer is no.
While there are only a few dozen species that are deadly, sometimes they are the only ones growing in the yard. They are prolific in the forest. They are beautiful to behold. They are wonderful as photographic subjects. But the slightest nibble of the delicate flesh will kill you.
I have heard that they are tasty. I have also heard that it takes a day for the symptoms to show up. By then, your liver is already destroyed and you will have another day of excruciating pain before you die. There is no antidote.
You may have heard that the edibility of a mushroom can be easily tested by whether it turns silver black or not. This is not true. There are no shortcuts to determine the edibility of a mushroom. You have to know exactly which mushroom is good, and this can only be learned by careful study.
Maybe you have a neighbour or relative who has picked mushrooms for years. Ask if you can go with them when they forage. They may only pick one kind of mushroom. It will be the one they know. They will walk by hundreds of other mushrooms in pursuit of their quarry. They can teach you what they know.
You need to know the season for that species to grow. Some only fruit after the first frost. Some only fruit in spring. You need to know the habitat. Do they grow in the forest? On dead wood? In the lawn?
Note the colour of the cap, the stem, the under parts. Does it have gills? Does the stem break easily, or is it flexible? What does it smell like? Does it have a frilly skirt under the cap? A bulky base to the stem?
If you want to know what mushrooms are good to eat, you have to find someone who picks mushrooms to teach you.
I was fortunate to have an excellent teacher 35 years ago, and I have continued my studies since then.
Even so, I put little faith in what I learn from all the mushroom books in my collection. I continue to learn about new species by foraging with a friend whenever I get the chance.
Three of the species that I collect are often very bountiful and they dry beautifully. If you would like to give them a try, the dried mushrooms are available for sale at Durham Natural Foods on Montrose Ave, in Sudbury.
Fresh mushrooms will also be available to buy directly from me for the next few weeks. Drop an email to me: [email protected], or leave a message at 705-853-1571.
Viki Mather has been commenting for Northern Life on the natural world and life in Greater Sudbury since the spring of 1984.