Is It Edible?

Michael Hayward

The Royal BC Museum has had a smash success with its Mushrooms of British Columbia, a profusely illustrated handbook by Andy MacKinnon and Kem Luther, which has been bouncing around the top of the BC bestseller lists ever since it was published in the fall of 2021. Who knew that there were so many amateur mycologists out there, all evidently clamouring for an authoritative guide to local fungi? I’ve pored through the book while waiting for mushroom season to return (“prime time for mushroom foraging […] is at the end of summer and into the autumn”). I’ve learned some fascinating fungi facts (“fungi […] are more closely related to animals—including us—than they are to plants”), and have tried to memorize the fundamentals of mushroom morphology (the basic shapes of caps and stems; and beneath the cap: gills vs pores vs teeth vs veins). I’m motivated—and mildly anxious—because, like every neophyte mushroom forager, I want to be able to confidently answer that one key question: “Is it edible?” Mushrooms of British Columbia attempts to reassure me: “More mushroom pickers […] die from getting lost or seriously injured while picking mushrooms than die from eating them.” Individual descriptions are quite laconic on the matter. The Brown Almond Waxy Cap is “Edible, but bland”; Scurfy Twiglet is described as “Edibility: Unknown,” as is Bleach Bonnet, and Celery-scented Trich. The edibility of Witch’s Hat is “Unknown. Some reports of toxic effects” (my italics); while The Sickener and Funeral Bell are (surprise, surprise) considered “Poisonous.” Shaggy Mane, on the other hand, is described as “Choice. But use before the gills turn to black goo,” which sounds like good advice to me, since few, I suspect, would salivate at the prospect of tucking into a plate of sautéed black goo, no matter how freshly foraged.

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