If you’ve been left weeping after looking at your grocery receipt, you might be tempted to follow in the footsteps of the Bush Tucker Man and find your own food. But while mushroom foraging in the wild is a popular pastime for those so inclined to head into the scrub, there are some mushrooms which are highly poisonous and must be left alone. (Don’t be tempted to pick them and, above all, don’t even think about eating them.)
The NSW Poisons Information Centre receives up to 500 calls a year from people who are concerned about the mushrooms they’ve eaten. According to the centre’s senior specialist in poisons information Genevieve Adamo, foraging for and eating wild mushrooms is not recommended, as many can cause serious poisoning and lead to hospitalisation….or death.
“Mushrooms in the wild that can cause serious poisoning can easily be mistaken for edible mushrooms, so it is best to completely avoid picking and eating wild mushrooms,” Mrs Adamo says.
“Some poisonous mushrooms in Australia look very similar to edible mushrooms. It is even difficult for some experts to tell the difference by looking at a mushroom, so it is simply not worth the risk.”
If ingested, certain wild mushrooms can cause serious poisoning, including severe vomiting and diarrhea, and some can lead to liver and kidney damage.
And as Les Hiddins himself points out: “Eating fungi in Australia can be a dangerous practice as many of the Australian species have yet to be fully qualified”.
The DOs and DON’Ts of mushrooms in NSW
The Australian Mushroom Grower’s Association (AMGA) claims the only poisonous mushrooms are those picked in the wild and if consumers want safe mushrooms, buy fresh, Australian-grown mushrooms.
In a statement, AMGA says: “Commercially grown mushrooms, produced in Australia, are safe and high quality. If you want safe mushrooms, buy fresh, Australian-grown mushrooms.”
• DO always buy your mushrooms from a trusted retailer like a supermarket, greengrocer or a quality farmers’ market.
• DO support Aussie farmers by buying fresh, Australian-grown mushrooms.
• DO NOT pick or eat mushrooms growing in the wild. Some wild mushrooms are poisonous. It isn’t worth the risk.
The species of commercially grown mushrooms found at Australian supermarkets and greengrocers are called Agaricus bisporus. This includes varieties of mushrooms such as white button, flat mushrooms, Swiss brown and portobello mushrooms.
According to the AMGA, it is impossible that Death Cap mushrooms and other dangerous varieties could grow in commercial operations that produce Agaricus bisporus mushrooms.
• Death Cap mushroom (species name Amanita phalloidies) only grows in the wild. Found under broad leaf trees, such as oaks, elms and birches, Death Caps contain a compound known as Amanitin, which is toxic to humans – targeting the liver and kidneys, resulting in death.
• Yellow-staining mushroom (Agaricus xanthodermus, literally ‘yellow skinned’) is a common cause of poisonings due to ingestion (but not as dangerous as the Death Cap).
Other fungi known to cause poisonings in Australia include the Ghost Fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis) and the Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum brunneum). There are also species of Scleroderma citrinum (known as an ‘earthball’) that have been mistakenly collected as truffles.
According to the AMGA, the best advice is to only eat mushrooms sold from shops, as they are high quality and safe. In the words of one of Australia’s greatest doctor-naturalists R.V. Southcott: “The edibility of most Australian species of fungi is untested.”