The nearest most of us get to consuming fungi is as part of a fry up breakfast with mushrooms bought from the supermarket and although there are many varieties that are safe to eat, there are also some incredibly poisonous species out there that should be avoided at all costs.
Are Mushrooms Good for us?
Mushrooms are low in fat and contain B vitamins and minerals such as potassium. They are also a very good source of fibre.
When is a Good Time to Collect Mushrooms and are There any Guidelines to Follow?
Firstly, you should not pick mushrooms or any kind of fungi with the intention of eating them without being absolutely 100% certain of the species. The only way you can really do this safely is to go out with a local group and learn from the experts and to buy a guide book.
Autumn time is the best time of year to go hunting for fungi as they thrive when it’s warm and damp. It’s best to go early in the morning and, if it’s private land, you should seek permission from the landowner.
You should respect and protect all species, even the poisonous ones and only pick those you intend to eat and only where they are in plentiful supply. You should avoid picking ‘button’ mushrooms. These are those which haven’t expanded yet. Once they’ve expanded, this allows their spores to discharge.
Why are Some Species Dangerous?
There are over 10,000 species of fungi and, although many of them can be consumed safely, there are over 50 species which are potentially harmful to both humans and animals. Specifically, these include a group of fungi which belong to the Aspergillus family which produce a group of toxins called aflatoxins. These are linked to certain types of cancer and hepatitis B. In children, they can inhibit vitamin A absorption and can slow down the rate of immune system development and child growth.
If Animals Eat Them Does That Mean They are also Safe for us to Eat?
If you’re out in a forest or other wooded area, you may encounter numerous animals that eat wild mushrooms. These can include badgers, mice, pigs, rabbits, squirrels, slugs and snails and many insects but it’s important to bear in mind that just because an animal can eat a certain variety with apparently no side effects, this does NOT mean that they are necessarily safe for human consumption. Wild deer and rabbits, for example, are known to eat copious amounts of mushrooms which are known to be highly toxic with no side effects so the best defence is knowledge and it’s important to do as much background reading as you can before picking fungi to consume and, even more preferable, to go out on a field trip with a fungi expert.