Amanita muscaria v. formosa

Mystery Mushrooms

Growing up on a Manitoba farm, we were always gathering wild fruits, berries and wildlife to supplement our food supply. I doubt there are many people who have netted suckers in a ditch for canning or preserved the considerable amounts of wild berries that my mother did. As an avid outdoorsman, I constantly graze as I move, sampling what nature has to offer. The breasts of a prairie chicken taste particularly good cooked over a wood fire, meat from a squirrel less so. Later in life, I had the chance to discover the various tastes from the oceans and had some formal training from Air Force survival training. Outdoor tip: if you are bored with lots of time on your hands, rock lichen can be dried into ‘chips’ to fill a rumbly empty stomach.

When I first moved to BC, I became interested in mushrooms. Sure, everyone immediately thinks of the ‘magic’ variety but I didn’t know anyone with a horse paddock. Horse manure helps with the psychoactive ingredient for these ‘little brown’ shrooms. Instead, as I hiked through the mountain trails, I was curious about the dozens of varieties I came across and if they were edible. I recommend picking up The Field Guide to Mushrooms’ by Marie F. Heerkens as a starter book for those interested in fungi.

As most people are aware, you have to be careful with mushrooms and it is helpful to be 100% sure of what you are eating. I am going to talk of the Amanita muscaria v. formosa which is a close cousin of a look-alike mushroom called the Poison Amanita or Death Cap. Descriptors of the Amanita family include destroying angel, deadly, poison, possibly poisonous, edible but eat not, unknown edibility, etc. I think you get the picture. You indulge in wild mushrooms at your own risk.

But I am an adventurer when it comes to tasting new foodstuffs, so when these amazing orange mushrooms kept popping up in my front yard, I was curious of their edibility. To start with, I got out my field guide and was quite sure it was the Amanita variety known as Fly Amanita, Fly Agaric or Fly Poison. There seemed to be a theme with the names and indeed, flies seemed attracted to the little stand and were dying. Google is also your friend and I found helpful advice and research on How to Safely Eat Amanita Mushrooms.

  • Step One

Find some newly sprouted buttons and take a sharp knife to the stem. Give the mushroom a little shake to seed the ground with spores. Normally, you don’t want to yank out the entire mushroom so they will come back another season. But, big caveat here, the large bulb of the Death Cap just under the surface helps to give it away.

A nice stand of Fly Poison mushrooms in the button stage
  • Step Two

Wash the mushrooms off to rid them of dirt and the white spots on the caps. Then slice them into at least quarters or eighths.

Anything that is such a pretty orange is good to eat, right?
  • Step Three

Boil the orange out of them. The water soluble poison in the mushroom is called muscarin and can be boiled or steeped out of the flesh. The process turns the water a dark yellow pee colour. If you feel like vomiting, passing out or having a total body high, then eat a couple of these raw.

15 minutes of hard boiling rids them of their colour and hopefully the muscarin poison
  • Step Four

Fry them up in a little bit of butter and enjoy! Like all new foods, especially mushrooms, eat a little bit and wait. Survival books preach a period of 24 hours between small amounts. Take it easy and see how your body reacts. I nibbled on a purple mushroom out in BC that had obviously been nibbled on by the little woodland creatures. When my mouth instantly went numb, I felt it wise to spit it out!

Mmmmm, all food tastes better after it has been fried up with butter!
  • Step Five

Evaluate the taste and whether all the bother is worth eating more. I tried one mushroom first to see if there were any bad side effects and as there were none, I tried a larger batch a few days later. I did notice a slight numbing of my tongue after about 15 minutes and a bit of an upset stomach after about an hour. I did sleep it off partly because I wanted a nap and I think I had some overall body tingles. The mushrooms tasted okay but nothing to really write home about.

Moral of the story: be curious but careful especially when it comes to mushrooms. I probably won’t bother eating them again but I am going to see if they can help rid my garden of the bugs eating my cucumbers.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.