It’s morel mushroom season in the United States and it promises to be a good one! Plenty of rain and warmth favor the growth of this delicatessen, but other, more perilous, fungi are also plentiful. Poisonous wild mushrooms contain compounds that cause sickness and even death.
The main route of exposure for poisonous mushrooms is oral, but some are so toxic that the cooking fumes are enough to cause sickness. Mushroom poisoning is also called mycetism. Over one hundred species of mushrooms are known to be poisonous to humans. Mushroom toxins can be categorized based on the primary organ system they attack. Neurotoxic mushrooms can cause everything from hallucinations to epilepsy. Cardiotoxins may trigger heart palpitations or cardiac arrest and death. Most poisonous mushrooms contain GI toxins that induce vomiting, diarrhea and alcohol intolerance. Hepatotoxins and nephrotoxins can be so severe that liver or kidney transplant is necessary. Ingestion of mushrooms containing myotoxins can lead to rhabdomyolysis, the rapid, painful, breakdown of muscles tissue. Immune toxins can trigger allergic reactions or suppress the immune system by the breakdown of immune cells. Given the danger these fungi toxins can pose, proper identification of wild mushrooms prior to consumption is essential to avoid mycetism.
The identifying characteristics of the edible morel mushroom are the hollow stem and large conical cap that resembles a sponge or honeycomb. It’s best to have your mushroom harvest checked by an expert before ingestion. There are plenty of websites dedicated to the proper hunting and identification of wild mushrooms such as the morel. The conditions for morel mushroom growth are hard to duplicate so morel hunting has become both a sport and skill. Morel hunting season is so popular that the Missouri Department of Conservation even provides recipes.
This year’s unique Spring conditions are ripe for an “epic” morel harvest. Bon Appetit!
To learn more about identifying morel mushrooms, check out the video!