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Stone Age Skills

Exploring the Horizons of Mycophagy
on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington
Page 2

"With regard to tastes, it is always well to remember that they are individual; otherwise moths would not eat cloth."

A Word of Caution
I suppose a disclaimer of some sort would be prudent regarding the theme of this article.
Although I respectfully consider the monumental amount of experience and wisdom that the readership of this journal possesses regarding the dangers of experimenting with wild edibles in general, I sternly warn everyone who may consider experimental mycophagy: Eating mushrooms of unknown edibility can result in illness or death. There is no room for a cavalier attitude nor for intermittent attention to detail. I have studied a myriad of warnings and case histories on this subject from a plethora of authorities. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have never experienced deleterious effects—thus far. There is that infinitesimal, lingering concern in the far corner of my psyche regarding possible long-term effects of this research. But as with mountain climbing, para-sailing, or stepping outside (even inside) one’s dwelling, there is an inherent risk involved with every activity. Study. Be careful.

A variety of edibles:


Evaluate your reasons for doing what you do. I am a Naturalist by vocation and hobby—I am driven to acquire primary experiences and then share them. I am not, however, predisposed to acquiescing when someone attempts to corral my actions based upon their prejudices or murky, nebulous claims perpetuated by fear. I am not advocating that you go out and pick the mushrooms I mention in this article and eat them. I am merely supplementing the existing literature with my knowledge. I invoke the words of Roy Chapman Andrews, "Each one of us is a trustee of the past; we have the task of living up to our heritage – and adding something to it."

Oregon Varnished Conk:


What follows is the procedure I use when determining the edibility of a species of mushroom, whether it is generally regarded as inedible, hallucinogenic, or unknown. I do not necessarily endorse your use of this method—I do not know what will work and be safe for you. This method is constantly undergoing improvement, so waiting periods can change from species to species for me and can depend upon the time of day I start the process. When in doubt—I go without (for a while longer, anyway)!

1. I am absolutely confident of the specimen’s identity—doubt can manifest itself physically. Recently I keyed out a specimen of Tubaria furfuracea, a mushroom generally regarded as dangerous to eat due to its relation to potentially deadly genus Galerina and similar appearance to a myriad of other poisonous LBM’s. When it came time to eat it, I had doubts. So I put it in the refrigerator and "slept on it." The next morning I went into the field and collected another couple specimens and keyed them out to T. furfuracea again, examining the spores, which eased my doubt and I consumed it in the manner described below. Other than the acrid-burnt taste, no harm was experienced (cooking dispels most of the displeasing flavor, however).
2. I consider what the field guides have to say about the species in question.
3. I eat a dime-sized piece of raw cap on an empty stomach. I choose to test mushrooms "in the raw" because I think if any adverse reactions are to occur, this will expedite matters. I’d rather know sooner than later.
4. I wait about 12 hours.
5. I eat half of the remaining raw cap.
6. I wait about 8 hours.
7. I eat rest of raw cap and stem.
8. I wait about 8 hours.
9. I eat one whole, cooked mushroom on an empty stomach.
10. If I’m better for the experience, then I’ll eat the mushroom once I encounter it again and give thanks to the aborigines and the McIlvaines of the world who have done this for us with hundreds of other species!

At any point during this procedure that I sense ill effects, I would discontinue the experiment on that species. To date, I’ve never noticeably suffered from any of these trials.

Dog Vomit Slime Mold:

Regarding cooking procedures: I use a skillet (cast iron preferably) on medium heat that is washed between each frying of different species. I use no oil, which can impart taste to the mushroom. For watery specimens, I fry until all excess water has dissipated. Nary a day goes by (literally) when I do not consume these mushrooms as meat or tea, for I view this process as a life-long exploration. Polypores or otherwise tough-fleshed mushrooms are made into teas and ingested in this fashion (having filtered out the mushroom solids). Exceptions include Panus conchatus, Lenzites betula and Poria corticola, which I pound with a wooden billet to tenderize the flesh to make it more palatable.

Sessile Earth Star:

"To ask a person to gather his own mushrooms for the table, without previous instruction that will enable him to avoid the deadly kinds, is equivalent to, if not worse than, inviting him to put his unprotected hand into a den of rattlesnakes."

Tips On Researching About Edible Mushrooms
Admittedly, my search for information on the edibility of mushrooms was by no means exhaustive. But this endeavor has yielded some insights for enhancing one’s mycophagic research and experimentation:

1. Get to know the half-dozen mushrooms in North America that are known to be deadly. Especially:
  - Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)
  - Destroying Angel (Amanita verna , A. ocreata and A. virosa): together with Death Cap, they comprise 95% of
    mushroom poisoning fatalities in the U.S.
  - Deadly Galerina (Galerina autumnalis)
  - Gyromitra infula (contains the toxin MMH, which is a key ingredient in rocket fuel!)
  - Cortinarius gentilis
  - Ringed Cone Head (Conocybe filaris)
2. Consider your sources. Be critical of everything you read. Everyone has an opinion.
3. Try your best to exhaust available research tools. You may be surprised by what you discover.
4. Draw your mushrooms while keying them out. It requires you to pay close attention to their characteristics, which help aid in their correct identification.
5. Beware of individualized reactions to some mushrooms. Even though most people can ingest these with impunity, there are reports of folks suffering intestinal distress as a result of consuming such species as Blewits (Clitocybe nuda), Sulphur Shelf (Polyporus sulphureus), Morels (Morchella spp.) and Early Morel (Verpa bohemica). People falling ill from consuming Caesar’s Amanita (Amanita caesarea) and Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) have also been reported.
6. Although recent research has shown that picking certain mushrooms can stimulate their fertility, conservation can allow for others to also enjoy your favorite fungi!

Gemmed Puffball:

A Plea For Unity
Finally, I’d like to address the minor but pervasive undercurrent within various mycological communities from which the experimental mycophagist is looked upon with disdain. Derisive accusations of “exaggeration,” “recklessness,” “needless heroism,” and having “the foolhearty pretence of tempting fate” are slung harshly and quite erroneously. While I can appreciate the need for caution and the responsible dissemination of information (indeed, some people die each year from mushroom poisoning), I find it alarming that the sincere objective of restoring a mostly disintegrated mycogastronomic record, which serves to further strengthen our biologic ties to our local landscape, would elicit such acerbic attacks. After all, mushroom eating seems to me to be only as “dangerous” as consuming plants. Out of several thousand species, only a half-dozen mushrooms are considered deadly poisonous. Compare this to the number of plant species that have been shown to be toxic. Perhaps the bad rap that has been inflicted upon fungi is due to our basic fear of the unknown, since mushrooms have been studied far less than have plants. In this modern world, fear perpetuated by blind ignorance has given birth to the countless procession of warnings and disclaimers that inundate us constantly: We all should recognize ownership of our own existence. Adventurers and pioneers have forever elevated the zeitgeist of each successive generation! Let us deconstruct such ego-barriers, which thwart effective communication and further injures a world wracked by negativity. Ultimately, we have the right to decide what we want to do with our lives. Basic human freedoms….
Please feel free to contact me for any reason. I especially want to hear from fellow "toadstool testers" and welcome all comments. Be Well.

A good day!

I thank all of the authors from whom I’ve gleaned information from through their publications. I humbly compliment these authorities for their incredible amount of hard work. All potential errors resulting in my faulty translation of their words is my fault alone.
I thank Dr. Dennis Desjardin at SFSU to whom I had the honor of sending a few specimens for confirmation (or, rather, correction) of identity. I thank Fred Stevens for sharing his skills and wisdom during a rainy foray in the redwoods of CA. Most of all, I thank Jeff Stauffer for introducing me to the wonderful world of fungi.

Pholiota limonella:


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