Eating Wild Alaska Mushrooms – Bad Advice?
By Michael Rogers
With the cool and rainy summer we’ve had, the fungus among us have been sprouting up everywhere. I’ve noticed a trend lately on several Facebook pages. People, well meaning, post photographs of foraged wild Alaskan mushrooms asking identification questions that usually goes something like, “Can I eat this?”, in reference to the wild Alaska mushrooms that they’re finding in their ventures.
While I’m no great shakes at identification of wild Alaksan mushrooms, at least two of the photos shared are poisonous varieties. One of which was a species of Amanita, aka “The Death Cap”. While not all Amanitas are toxic, several are notably so. The genus is responsible for 95% of mushroom poisoning. Experts discourage even themselves from eating any of them since ID is so difficult. If consumed and immediately hospitalized, the consumer of some Amanita species stands about a 10% chance of perishing and may require an organ transplant. If the consumer waits more than 60 hours, mortality jumps significantly to between 50 and 90% and survivors are often disabled for the remainder of their lives.
Mycetism, aka mushroom poisoning, can effect humans in a variety of ways. Gastrointestinal distress on the low end to death on the severe end. While some mushrooms can be rendered more palatable or with reduced gastric effect via preparation, cooking does little to break down fungal toxins. Some toxins can lead to death in 2-3 days and others may take weeks which often leads to misdiagnosis. The primary mechanism is through liver or kidney failure. Even edible species like the morels and bolettes can cause upset stomach if eaten raw.
Amateur mushroom foragers looking for edible varieties sicken themselves fairly regularly and even highly experienced mushroom hunters mistake one species for another periodically. Mushrooms themselves do much to influence this as almost all edible species have a mimic that is toxic. The majority of fatal mushroom poisonings is attributed to Amanita phalloides which bears a remarkable resemblance to the Asian paddy-straw mushroom that is common in S.E. Asian cuisines.
Safe to say, but given the level of expertise most folks display on the internet in general- eating a mushroom identified by a random stranger via a photo would be something akin to playing Russian roulette. Eat the wrong one and you’ll have a case of vomitting and diarrhea that will make you afraid you’ll survive, eat the really wrong one and you won’t get the option.
Foraging for wild Alaskan mushrooms can be a rewarding experience, but its not for the uninitiated. In lieu of asking strangers online, perhaps a comprehensive field guide could prove to be a better starting place to guide your risk-tolerance in an attempt to steer clear of these poisonous plants that live among us. Also, another guide points us towards the edible varieties of Alaska mushrooms that share our home.
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