There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters! Now that we are in the wild mushroom foraging season, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has issued its seasonal advice to people not to eat any part of a mushroom they have found in the wild without consulting with an expert mushroom forager.
It also warned parents to ensure children do not eat mushrooms that may be growing wild in gardens or fields. The alert from the FSAI coincides with reports of a number of recent cases of food poisoning notified to the National Poisons Information Centre of Ireland related to wild mushroom consumption. In 2011, 22 cases of food poisoning related to wild mushrooms were notified to the Poison Centre located at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin.
The problem is, of course, that it can be extremely difficult for the amateur mushroom hunter to identify the safe mushrooms growing in the wild as opposed to the poisonous varieties. The FSAI point out that there are 14 native species of mushrooms growing in Ireland that can cause gastrointestinal upset and a further 13 species that are highly dangerous and can cause hepatic and renal toxicity and be ultimately life threatening. Take the Death Cap Amanita phalloides for example; eating just one cap can be enough to kill a healthy adult.
The mushroom is typically a pale yellowish-green in colour but it can be olive or light brown or even off-white when growing in sunlit glades. Colour also varies with age, with underlying soil type and with weather. In rain the cap can be dull and sticky; when the species fruits during a dry spell the cap is bright and shiny. And when mature the mushroom can vary from being quite small to rather large in size. All of these variables can be totally confusing for the beginner.
Looking at pictures on the Internet is not very helpful; it takes time and experience to build up confidence and expertise in identifying mushrooms. The best way to learn is to attend one of the courses on offer by experts at this time of year on identifying, collecting, cooking and eating wild mushrooms. For further information on poisonous mushrooms see www.poisons.ie or call the FSAI Advise Line on 1890 336677 or the Public Poisons Information Line on (01) 8092166, manned 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.