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How to Know a Mushroom is Edible or Poisonous?

The article talks of ways to identify whether a mushroom is edible or poisonous.

Shipra Singh
Death Cap mushroom
Death Cap mushroom

As per a report by the Press Trust of India, six people were killed in a remote village of West Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya after eating mushrooms. These mushrooms were found to be poisonous and identified as Amanita phalloides, popularly called “Death Cap.” As per the statement by Dr. Aman War, the Director of Health Services, these wild mushrooms are hepatotoxic, which means they directly harm the liver.  

This piece of news may sound scary to mushroom lovers or those who wish to try this edible fungus. However, you don’t need to be afraid. What you need is to be aware of mushroom varieties and know-how to find the difference between edible mushrooms and poisonous ones.  

So, the question is: How to know the difference between edible mushrooms and poisonous mushrooms? 

Well, it isn’t possible to catch a poisonous mushroom simply by looking at it, unless you are an expert in mushrooms.  

A few beliefs revolve around mushrooms, but you must not blindly believe them.  

Mushroom beliefs that can be dangerous 

“If you can peel a mushroom, it becomes harmless.” This isn’t always true. Do you know you can easily peel off the Death Cap mushroom, which is the one that killed people in Meghalaya? 

Wild mushroom
Wild mushroom

“Mushrooms that grow on wood are harmless.” This is not always true, so be careful while picking mushrooms from the wood. For example, Funeral Bell mushroom is deadly. Well, its name says it all!  

“If animals are eating a mushroom, this means they are safe for human consumption.” This is a very misguiding belief. Animals have a different digestive system; they can digest poisonous fungi. Do not copy them please. For example, cows can happily munch on paper and digest it. Humans cannot.  

Rules for identifying poisonous mushrooms for beginners 

  • Avoid mushrooms featuring red caps or red stem. Well, not every red variety is poisonous, but if you are a novice, please avoid anything red on mushrooms. 

  • Avoid mushrooms featuring white gills, which is a ring on stem. Also avoid mushrooms with sack or bulbous base. Again, not all mushrooms with bulbous base are poisonous, but the important thing is that you are on the safer side. 

  • Do not eat mushroom that appears doubtful. Better be safe than sorry.  

Mushrooms with red caps
Mushrooms with red caps

Factors that help to identify edible or poisonous mushrooms 

  • The place of growth – woods, grasslands, marshy area, etc. 

  • The way of growth – single, in a tuft or troop, or a ring.

  • Smell of mushrooms. 

  • Change of color of mushrooms when cutting them.

  • Shape, size, texture, and color of mushroom caps and stems – bulbous, rooting, ring/skirt, etc. 

  • Presence of bruises, spikes, markings, pores or gills on or under the cap.

  • Texture of flesh.

  • Time of the year – whether it is the season of mushrooms. 

How to stay safe when picking mushrooms for eating? 

In order to save yourselves from mushroom poisoning, which is also called mycetismus or mycetism, please take care of the following things: 

  • Never pick old and decayed mushrooms. While buying, check their firmness, fresh appearance, and wholesomeness. 

  • Immediately reject a mushroom that is bitten. 

  • Do not buy umbrella-shaped or parasol-shaped mushrooms with white rings around their stems. These could be Amanitas variety, which is filled with the deadliest poison found in nature. These mushrooms turn brown as they age. 

  • Reject mushrooms with wrinkled or irregular caps. 

  • Do not be tempted by the sweet smell of mushrooms. Sweet-smelling mushrooms can be poisonous! Also avoid tiny brown mushrooms and Omphalotus olearius, which is also called Jack O’ Lantern mushroom. This is a poisonous orange gilled mushroom. 

It is safe to buy mushrooms only from a reliable vendor. Avoid picking mushrooms from the wild woods or roadside. If you are unsure about a particular mushroom, do not eat it. Nowadays, people also grow organic mushrooms 

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