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Article: 4 Important Mushroom Safety Tips Every Forager Should Follow

4 Important Mushroom Safety Tips Every Forager Should Follow

4 Important Mushroom Safety Tips Every Forager Should Follow

Every now and then, mushrooms make the news in such a way that reminds us of our place in the world. Nature is awe-inspiring and powerful, and the fungi kingdom is no exception. But nature’s power has the potential to both give and take life — and inflict pain and suffering if we aren’t careful. 

Recently, a tragic story came to light, about two people who lost their lives after eating undercooked or uncooked morel mushrooms at a sushi restaurant in Bozeman, Montana. In total, 51 people reported gastrointestinal distress after consuming these mushrooms in 2023, which are generally considered edible, according to a CDC report.

In 2018, a popular blogger and influencer’s debut cookbook was pulled from shelves — and publication cancelled — after readers reported recipes contained “potentially toxic and dangerous ingredients that could make people sick.” Chocolate-dipped raw morels, as well as dishes with raw elderberry, unsoaked acorns and uncooked wild rice, were all flagged. 

Accidentally mushroom poisonings happen each year, both to new and experienced foragers. According to research published in 2018, 133,700 cases were reported over an 18-year period, usually involving unintentional consumption, minor health issues and/or children. However, 52 people died from mushroom poisoning.  That’s why safety is the number one, non negotiable goal with foraging. 

Read on for a list of safety tips that everyone should follow when it comes to wild mushrooms. 

If you suspect you’ve consumed a poisonous mushroom, call the toll-free Poison Help line, 1-800-222-1222, or go to the nearest emergency department.  

The problem lies in the preparation, not the species.

Know how to prepare mushrooms safely. The morels served in Montana were the correct  species. However, they were served uncooked and undercooked, on top of sushi rolls. They were marinated two ways on different occasions: with a cold sauce and with a boiling-hot one. That’s not enough heat to make morels safe to eat. They must be thoroughly cooked, even when prepared from dried. 

A seasoned mushroom forager who had hunted morels for over 30 years fell ill and died after eating inadequately cooked dried morels prepared over a camping stove. False morels can be even dangerous, even when cooked thoroughly. When in doubt, cook them longer — or ask an expert for a second opinion. 

Any mushroom eaten raw has the potential to cause GI upset. Raw Shiitake mushrooms can also cause dermatitis, a skin rash that looks like whiplash marks. Cooking mushrooms removes the risk of this issue. 

Don’t let kids play with mushrooms. 

Nature provides infinite inspiration, especially for kids. Who hasn’t pretended to “cook” or prepare “potions” using bits found in the backyard or park? Encouraging children and teens to spend more time outside, connecting with the natural world, is definitely an enriching activity. But in a society where nature-based literacy has declined, we need to teach kids to do so safely. 

The free mycological curriculum from The Fungi Foundation is a wonderful place to start! 

Remind children that not all plants are safe to eat — and that they shouldn’t explore with their mouths. Teach them to never eat mushrooms from nature and to ask permission before eating anything else. Only pick plants, flowers and mushrooms you know are safe. Instead of potions and such, you might also encourage kids to make a mandala with their treasures

Moderation is key — the dose is the poison. 

You can have too much of a good thing, mushrooms included. Mushrooms can cause GI issues in large quantities — even edible and delicious ones, from Shiitake and Morels to basic buttons. Don’t overdo it on mushrooms, especially if they are new to you. Limit yourself to one cup cooked or less. 

Check and double-check your mushrooms.

When you stumble upon a cache of mushrooms, always refer to your field guide, do a spore test and check with experts. If you can’t be certain, leave it behind. It’s always better to be safe. Always get to know the lookalikes — for example, jack o’lanterns often resemble chanterelles to beginners. This blog from James Beard award-winning chef Alan Bergo offers helpful tips. 

At restaurants, don’t be afraid to ask questions. How were the mushrooms prepared? Where were they sourced? Which species are included in the “wild” mushrooms? If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers provided, choose another dish. 

Mushrooms are mysterious and magical, but they aren’t always benign. Respect their power and keep your distance from varieties that could cause harm. Share this blog with someone who might be new to foraging — and be sure to read our 12 sustainable foraging tips for beginners

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt

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