As a mushroom enthusiast, I am concerned with the fear that many people have for mushrooms, most people I meet just have fear of the mushrooms even if they can not explain why they are afraid, I usually ask people, do you have a friend or a relative who died of mushroom poisoning?, I have only met one lady who had a brother who died of mushroom poisoning since I started mushroom growing in 2003.
Before I go on with this subject let me state that all cultivated mushrooms are safe. The subject of poisonous mushrooms only comes into picture when we talk of wild mushrooms. I have learnt that what people usually talk of are just myths. In the wild there are poisonous mushrooms and non poisonous mushrooms, if you can not identify which is edible and non edible you are recommended not to venture into mushroom hunting, let experts do that(in Zimbabwe the experts are usually the old people or those who have received the knowledge from such people). If you are buying mushrooms on the roadside you better be sure of the type you are buying or you are putting your life in the hands of the one who gathered.
Let me also state the danger of mushroom poisoning is generally overstated, out of all those who consume mushrooms only a small percentage eat the poisonous ones compared to the edible ones. I have only read two reports of poisoning in the last two years, there might be some unreported cases, the reported cases I managed to pick in the press give me an average that does not exceed 3 people per year(this is an average I have came up considering reported cases I heard of or read-for the past five years). Statistically how many people die from road accidents per week, but people are not afraid to travel-the conclusion is the fear is propagated by myths especially the myth that mushrooms growing under gum trees are all poisonous such that before a person buys mushroom they ask you, are they not grown near gum trees? (I will talk about how this myth developed in Zimbabwe In my future posts.
My advise to those who want go for mushroom hunting, go with an experienced person, this reduces the risk, the most safe way is to buy mushrooms from your local supermarket or directly from a grower near you, as I mentioned earlier – cultivated mushrooms are 100% safe.
The bookshops have what are generally called field guides to mushrooms/mushroom hunting, my advise is those books are good but must never be trusted solely, relying on a field guide may be fatal, its better to go with someone experienced and then compare with the field guide(descriptions may not be enough, colours may not be clear in the field guide and some mushrooms change colour as they grow, a good guide explains where to get the mushroom, arrangement of gills, colour, if the mushroom has a volva, a ring, structure of the stem and cap.
This post is not exhaustive I just touched on a few things, so be careful poisonous mushrooms exist.