‘When in doubt, throw it out’: Experts warn there’s not mushroom for error when it comes to wild fungi

  • Wild mushrooms, possibly amanita muscaria, which are poisonous, that have been washed out. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Wild mushrooms, possibly amanita muscaria, which are poisonous, that have been washed out. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Wild mushrooms, possibly tricholoma fracticum. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Chicken of the woods. PHOTO COURTESY WILLIE CROSBY

  • Willie Crosby, founder and owner of Fungi Ally, holds a lactarius mushroom. Contributed photo/WILLIE CROSBY

  • Oyster mushrooms. Contributed photo/WILLIE CROSBY

  • A shiitake mushroom. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/PAUL LAGREZE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2021 5:23:07 PM

If you’ve noticed a recent abundance of wild mushrooms on your lawn, you’re not alone. Heavy rainfall and warm temperatures are ideal conditions for fungi growth and can result in a smorgasbord of fleshy, spore-bearing bodies of various shapes and colors. But experts warn that an untrained eye could miss the subtle difference between a delicious food and something deadly to humans and pets.

“I say, ‘When in doubt, throw it out,’” advised Julia Coffey, owner of Mycoterra Farm in South Deerfield, where she grows organic gourmet mushrooms in climate-controlled greenhouses. “Mushroom identification is quite a science and, speaking to the safety of it, you really need to be 100 percent sure. There are quite a few that are lethal or gravely poisonous.”

Coffey said she forages as a hobby from time to time and tries to learn one or two species very well each year. She said the farm has kept her busy this summer but she has heard “there’s just been an explosion of great diversity of mushrooms in the wild” in Western Massachusetts. She explained mycelium, the vegetative stage of the mushroom life cycle, lives and grows in the soil.

“They lay dormant in the environment until they ... have an environmental trigger, and heavy rain is a really big trigger,” she said. Nearly 13½ inches of rain fell in Greenfield in the first 23 days of July. For comparison, less than 3 inches fell in town in the same timeframe last year. Coffey said mushrooms tend to grow around trees because they help trees get carbohydrates and trees help them get water in a mutually-beneficial relationship.

Mycoterra Farm grows mushrooms of the lion’s mane, Shiitake, chestnut, oyster, Nameko and Pioppino varieties.

Paul Lagreze, of New England Wild Edibles in Heath, explained there are five or six deadly mushrooms seen occasionally in this area. He said the amanita virosa, known in Europe as the “destroying angel,” is pure white with a thin stipe, or stem, while the amanita phalloides, also known as the death cap mushroom, has a larger cap that is usually pale-, yellowish- or olive-green. The galerina marginata is dark in color and grows on wood.

“There should be no doubt in your mind that it’s an edible mushroom (before you eat it),” Lagreze said. “It’s a small percent, but if it will kill you then that small percent is worth paying attention to.”

He said the likeliness of a child to hate mushrooms’ taste and texture could be an evolutionary instinct for this reason. He said there are also mushrooms known as toxic, meaning their consumption can cause stomachaches and vomiting.

Lagreze said mushroom foragers should “be as sure as you can” before eating wild fungi. He suggests foraging with an expert or with the use of a mushroom guide or smartphone app to help identify what you find, though even those methods are not perfect. Lagreze recommends taking a class in mycology — the study of fungi — or joining a local mushroom club or group, such as the Pioneer Valley Mycological Association, co-founded by mycologist Dianna Smith, who is also affiliated with the North American Mycological Association, the Connecticut-Westchester Mycological Association and the Northeast Mycological Federation.

Willie Crosby, founder and owner of Fungi Ally, belongs to the Pioneer Valley group and said it is a valuable resource. He said he always tells people to start by familiarizing themselves with five or six different mushrooms and foraging for those specifically — as opposed to picking whatever you find and conducting research later. Then, start learning about more mushrooms.

“I think that’s the best approach,” he said, calling guidebooks and apps “just one tool in the toolbox.”

Fungi Ally used to grow and sell fresh mushrooms in Hadley but has sold only grow kits since moving to Millers Falls in 2019.

Reportedly, safe and easy-to-identify fungi include hen of the woods, chicken of the woods, oysters and black trumpets.

“Foraging is something that I love to do, so I’ve been out in the woods and I’ve been amazed by the abundance in quantity and ... variety,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be a mushroom forager.”

Crosby said he tends to not eat raw mushrooms, preferring them sauteed or roasted. He also said some are great at absorbing alcohol, saying a vodka-infused black trumpet “is quite amazing.”

Lagreze said golden chanterelles are the best wild mushrooms in this area and he expects more black trumpets a little later in the year. He also loves sweet tooths, which he mentioned come in the fall, as well as morels and porcini.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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