Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada
Let me say this right up front—there are no old, bold mushroom foragers, only old wise, well-trained mushroom foragers. Good doses of caution and common sense are important to remember if you wish to use wild fungi and plants for food. Become an expert first, and then carefully use your knowledge. I have high hopes this field guide and others you may collect over the years, will help you enjoy the beauty and, with great care and caution, the flavors of the wild fungi that can be found in our fields and forests.
But honestly, most fungi covered in this and other field guides are not really edible. The real purpose of a field guide like this one is to help the curious learn more about the species of fleshy fungi in a particular area.
At best guess, several thousand species of mushrooms and other fleshy fungi occur in northeastern North America. Most field guides rarely cover more than 400–500 species. Of course, a good field guide should cover the bulk of the more commonly collected species, and that is the case here. In addition, I present at least a hundred species that are not to be found in any other existing field guide covering North American mushrooms.
Realize, however, that even if you have several good field guides covering a broad range of species, you will still find species not covered. That is one of the exciting things about studying fungi—you might just discover a species from your area that is a new report for the region. You can share that information via several avenues, but a convenient one is MushroomObserver.org. You are allowed to post information on your finds at this site after joining the group.
You will need to learn some photography skills, since this is a site for posting images of your finds as well as information on the features of a species and its ecology. Please take spore prints and provide that information also.
So with all that in mind, bon voyage. Take this field guide and begin the journey. If you began your studies some years ago now, I hope this newest addition will help you continue your journey of learning about the wild mushrooms around us.
Geographical Scope of This Guide
The area covered in this guide is roughly that of the eastern hardwood forests of North America. These territories include New Brunswick, Newfoundland, most of Quebec and Ontario, extending south through Minnesota to Illinois and eastward through the states surrounding the Great Lakes regions to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and then up the coast to Maine. This area includes deciduous and coniferous forests, bogs, and alpine habitats that offer a wide range of species, many of which are only found in this region in North America.
Toxins in Fungi: To Eat or Not To Eat
Not all mushrooms are edible, not all mushrooms are poisonous, but if you wish to use macrofungi for food, you should become an expert at identifying the edible and the poisonous species. This approach will serve you well. If you decide to use wild mushrooms in your cuisine, as many people throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and even North America have done for centuries, I strongly recommend, whether you are a beginner or have some experience, that you thoroughly learn targeted species and use only a small number of these edibles to start: tooth fungi (Hydnum repandum), puffballs (Lycoperdon), sulfur shelf polypore (Laetiporus), porcini (Boletus edulis), and morels (Morchella) are easily mastered. I recommend this approach because making a mistake can be very uncomfortable or even deadly.
You might ask, why bother learning about the poisonous species, I am only interested in the edible ones? First of all, it is important to know which ones not to consume, but also because you will see these beautiful poisonous species quite frequently on excursions into the forests in late summer and fall. Amanita bisporigera and A. virosa, the destroying angels, are mycorrhizal with beech and oaks and are rather commonly encountered. They are large, white, and by all accounts taste pretty good. But after ingesting even just a small amount of one of these mushrooms, the cellular toxins absorbed in the blood stream after ingestion begin to disrupt and destroy cells in your liver and that may lead to death after several days of extreme discomfort. There are no known antidotes for such a poisoning.
As a general rule, learn the following genera and avoid using any of the species for food until you become an expert at identification. Some species within otherwise poisonous genera, such as Entoloma abortivum, are actually quite good and worth learning. I recommend putting these on your admire-but-do-not-eat list: Amanita, red-pored boletes, Chlorophyllum (or any mushroom producing a green spore deposit), Cortinarius, Entoloma, Galerina, Gymnopilus, Hebeloma, Inocybe, small Lepiota species, and Omphalotus (the false chanterelle that glows in the dark, or any mushroom that glows in the dark). This is not a complete account of the poisonous mushrooms, but these genera will be commonly encountered when fruiting conditions are favorable, and you should be able to recognize them.
Not all poisonous mushrooms are deadly poisonous. Most cause gastric distress, diarrhea, or other uncomfortable symptoms, sometimes only if alcohol is also consumed. Recovery from such incidents is usually rapid and complete. Also, to become poisoned you have to actually eat the mushroom. Even the deadliest toxic mushrooms are safe to handle. Contact dermatitis is caused by a few slimy-topped boletes in the genus Suillus, and only for those who are sensitive to these mushrooms. Touching a highly toxic mushroom like a destroying angel or a deadly Galerina species will not cause any ill effects.
Not very many humans are actually poisoned each year. Most of the suspected poison case reports involve incidents with no symptoms and therefore no real danger.
The real poisoning issues come from individuals who indiscriminately continue to collect and eat mushrooms with little or no knowledge. These are usually recent immigrants who have safely used a species in their former country, that looks very similar to our toxic one. Also a seriously at-risk group are those foolish individuals who are looking to eat psychoactive fungi for recreational purposes. There really is no cure for stupidity.
For a detailed discussion of the different types of toxic mushrooms, and the various sorts of toxic symptoms these mushrooms cause, please visit namyco.org/mushroom_poisoning_syndromes.php, posted by the North American Mycological Association.
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