Foragers warned that mistaking 'edible' wild mushrooms may be fatal
Food foragers have been warned of the dangers of harvesting wild mushrooms that they can't safely identify.
The alert came as interest in foraged wild foods has reached an all-time high in Ireland, thanks to new cooking trends.
The warm, wet weather has delivered a substantial crop of wild mushrooms this year.
However, one of Ireland's top fungi experts, Bill O'Dea, urged people not to take chances with varieties they may be uncertain about.
On average, three people get sick in Ireland every year after mistaking toxic wild mushroom species with varieties that are safe to eat.
Two serious incidents have been recorded. In one case, a young man suffered organ damage after unwittingly eating a mushroom containing some of the most potent known toxins.
Unlike in the past, when we restricted ourselves to ordinary field mushrooms, the soaring interest in wild food foraging has led people into forests and woodland, where a bewildering range of mushroom species grow.
Ireland has more than 120 readily-picked species, a significant number of which can cause serious illnesses.
"People need to understand that some of these mushroom species are highly toxic. Several species are so toxic that, if they're eaten, there can be very serious consequences," said Mr O'Dea.
These species include the aptly named angel of death and panther, both of which can cause fatal liver and kidney failure.
Angel of death, or Amanita ocreata, is particularly dangerous because it closely resembles other mushrooms that are perfectly safe to eat.
"The reality is that Ireland has for generations been a fungus-phobic country. A lot of people have the rule that you don't eat anything if it's picked wild," said Mr O'Dea.
However, under expert direc- tion, people can enjoy wild mushrooms and their contribution to modern cuisine.
Mr O'Dea stressed that the rule is to eat only wild spec-ies that have been definitively identified by an expert or mushrooms you are absolutely certain are edible.
"It may sound impractical, but people really do have to exercise caution with wild mushrooms," he said.
"If you're not absolutely sure about the mushroom species involved, don't even bring it into your kitchen."
Mr O'Dea studied fungi at UCD and has been leading mushroom hunts in Ireland and the US since 1996.
He will be running mushroom events at Kilruddery House in Bray, Co Wicklow on October 1 and 8; the Park Hotel Kenmare, Co Kerry, on October 21; and the Kilkenny Mushroom Hunt at Castlecomer on October 29.
Such is the interest in foraging that groups of Irish foodies even travel to eastern Europe, where wild mushrooms are a traditional delicacy.
"There's an incredible interest in wild foods, but with mushrooms, people have to be careful," said Mr O'Dea.