UC Davis professor weighs in on risk, danger of eating wild mushrooms

11:33 PM, Nov 11, 2012   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO COUNTY, CA - Kelly Pawgh joined other UC Davis students spending their Saturday foraging for wild mushrooms while carrying a handy guide with colorful photos.

Some pictures showed edible ones mushrooms. Pawgh turned the page to a lime green mushroom found in Northern California, the deathcap; it grows under oak trees and along the American Rivera and is poisonous.

"The deathcap is lime green and it can be a fairly robust mushroom," UC Davis Plant Pathology Professor Mike Davis said.

A mushroom is the likely suspect in the death of two senior care home residents and made several other residents sick; however, it's unclear what kind of mushroom the victims ate.

Davis said deathcaps are often to blame; the mushrooms kill about a half dozen people in Northern California a year. Destroying angels, a white mushroom, are another poisonous species. The problem for experienced mushroom hunters is telling the difference between what's safe and toxic.

"Different species mingle together and the death cap may occur in a patch of edible mushrooms," Davis said.

Davis wrote a book called "Field Guide for Mushrooms in Western North America." It describes the color, texture and scientific names for hundreds of species of mushrooms. Davis discovers new species popping up in Northern California all the time that have not been named. 

Hank Shaw keeps a blog about foraging for food. He's an advocate of living off the land. Still, he said it's easy to make a mistake when picking wild mushrooms for a meal.

"You could have a basket full of good mushrooms and 4, 5 or 6 deadly ones in there that happened to have been living with the good ones," Shaw said.

The students and Davis make a point to learn to recognize the deadly wild mushrooms first before even picking those considered safe.


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