The herald of 21 February reported of how four people from one family died after eating poisonous mushrooms. What a sad thing to happen. I have in the past wrote on poisonous mushrooms especially in the Zimbabnwean context. Many myths exist in Zimbabwe on poisonous mushroom.

I read the news item with grief and sorrow and as an expert in the mushroom industry I was moved to write about it. My task became easy when I saw comments that followed the news item. Where Zimbabweans spoke their hearts out, despite emotions flaring some managed to bring out facts that we all need to heed to.

Below are some of the comments made, comments are indicated by capital letter c (C) while my response to the comment is indicated by an (R). its my longest blog post but I feel I had to cover this once and for all.

I left out some comments that didn’t have much to do with mushrooms, some quoted the bible in comforting the bereaved family and others blamed politicians for the tragedy. I hope my comments will help all Zimbabweans in a positive way. To see all the comments read

full story.

As an expert in the mushroom industry in Zimbabwe I do not have bias towards certain mushrooms but the fact is wild mushroom hunting should be for experts by experts I mean those who have received the knowledge from someone and has been gathering mushrooms in the wild for many years? The expertise does not come by studying a degree but is gained in the forests.havingh said that even experts are poisoned.

C1. Experienced mushroom gatherers are sometimes poisoned by eating poisonous species,

R1. I can’t say much but agree to this commentator.

C2. they should have first given it to dogs before eating to see if the dogs survived

R2 This is one of the oldest myths in Zimbabwe and has also been made popular by a story in a primary school book which most Zimbabweans have read including me. This is cruelty to animals and must be discouraged, however the myth has a grain of truth. If you give poisonous mushrooms to a dog it may indeed die. But its also important to realize that the dog may not die immediately or later on or it may never die. Its also true for humans that they may die in a short space of time, later on or never die after eating poisonous mushrooms. Let me also say poisonous mushrooms differ in the level of toxins and also age of the people eating the mushrooms has an effect, quantity eaten is also a factor. In the same manner a dogs age may be a factor, what if the dog vomits and you don’t see it, what if the dog had eaten something that neutralize the poison or will eat something later that neutralizes the poison,I can go on and on but the truth of the matter is in the forests there are poisonouis and non poisonous ones so if you want to eat wild mushrooms you need to positively identify the mushrooms.

C3. howa hunouraya kazhinji hunowanikwa pamagumtrees. (poisonous mushroom are mainly found under gum trees)

R3. This is a popular myth that I have explained and I am never believed by most, I think every Zimbabwean knows this myth. The fact is there are poisonous as well as no poisonous mushrooms. Where a mushroom grows is non consequencial. I am a mushroom grower in Harare,Zimbabwe and everytime I do direct sales I am asked “are you not growing these under gum trees”. The gum tree has nothing to do with changing a mushroom to be poisonous, just identify the mushrooms positively. Having said that my suspicion is there is a poisonous mushroom that has a symbiotic relationship with gum trees. Apparently gum tree sawdust is used to grow mushrooms throughouit the world. Its just a popular myth. A search on google will not give you a result except for this post, that leaves me to conclude that this is a myth that is localized to Zimbabwe. I am not a passionate mushroom hunter but I have several handbooks on mushrooms and I have never come across a warning on not taking mushrooms under gum trees and I know it’s a myth.

C4. why cant the government do some outreach programe to inform people on the types of mushroom that are poisonous and the ones which are not poisonous .this is the second time a family has died with the same predicament.

R4. The government can do something about this, though I think it will be an expensive project that might not even achieve much. However let me say the deaths caused by poisonous mushrooms is so little to warranty such a move. The cost of doing so might be too high, when people will still hunt for wild mushrooms, the above comment that even experienced hunters get poisoned is also important. But that does not stop the government from doing something. I think its equivalent to say government must do something to reduce snake bites, its something that will continue to happen always. Whilst our government is failling in many things let us be careful to blame the government for all things like one comentator accused the president for the deaths. Before I get into politics we are all responsible to educate others on this.

C5. Some people are not caring and supporting their parents to the extent of an old woman eating poisonous mushrooms.

R5. Those who eat wild mushrooms eat for various reasons, I just love mushrooms that’s all even if I had all the food I will go mushrom hunting or go mushroom shopping for the types I don’t grow.

C6. Firstly it is wrong to assume that eating mushrooms is due to poverty. I eat mushrooms a lot because I like them but I would not call myself poor. Secondly this 65 year old women is more experienced in mushroom matters than any person I can think of so this is just a tragedy. Maybe tuzukuru twakatemawo tumwe tuhowa tukawedzera (maybe the grandcildren added some poisonous types)

R6. I can’t say much here this is one of the best comment I saw. Children must not be allowed to go mushroom hunting, however going with them helps preserve the knowledge on mushroom but care must be taken as children love to experiment.

C7. I would like to add these precautionary advice to all who gather and eat mushroom. Stale mushroom is not good for food. Mushroom which grows under gumtrees is a clear NO for eating as it is 100% poisonous Mushroom in water logged areas is a no again for consumption Pick or eat mushroom with known names and which if you give your domestic animal”dog” SPCA forgive me here it can eat without frowning twice. Mushroom which when dusted show dust particles or show foreign clouds emitted from its head is poisonous.

R7. This is comment is loaded with myths and lies from beginning to end. Before I go further some of the poisonous mushrooms are really delicious no wonder people enjoy the meal but later on die. The dog has come again, please save our dogs, a dog is likely to eat any mushroom that has been cooked irrespective its posonous or not. “Frowning dog” that’s a lie.Water logged area that does not change a mushroom in any way. All mushrooms release spores, spores are what the comentator refered to as dust. Spores come out under the gills and that is how mushrooms propagate. Not all mushrooms have gills some don’t like puffballs which release dust when they dry up. The gum tree myths is also refered to in this comment. After all is said the fact remains in the wild there are poisonous and non poisonous mushrooms, all we need do is identify which is which. A non poisonous mushroom remains so even if stale, however one would be discouraged from eating stale food definately.

C8. Poisonous mushrooms are not only found on gumtrees alone but are found on most trees that are not indigenous. Poisonous mushrooms usually exude milky looking substance when pricked or cut. House flies do not stay on them chere makonye uye kiti ne imbwa (cats and dogs) also stay away from them. In your rural areas or around your fields there are anthills or places u know u will fetch mushrooms at particular times of the year. Try to stick to those places. When you are not sure rather do not eat or eat home grown mushrooms or ones from reputable shops. Lastly when tragidies like this do not blame the government, family members or va Mugabe. Vamwe mozourayane muchipumhana uroyi accident i accident inoitikara.Ndapedza.

R8. This one made me laugh its loaded with humorous lies esp from a mushroom scientist’s point of view. For starters mushrooms are found all over the world and poisonous mushrooms are found close to all trees accross the globe.

In Zimbabwe some of the tastiest mushrooms are found under exotic trees like the boletus edulis (dindindi) which is also found under indegenous trees. Flies,insects can be found on any mushroom poisonous/non poisonous and the fact that flies,insects or other animals eat a mushroom does not make it non-poisonous because our digestion systems differ having said that its also true that there are some poisonous mushrooms that flies would not dare. “Exude milk substance” this is common with many mushrooms poisonous and non- poisonous. Cats and dogs like I have already said they eat most things humans eat that includes poisonous mushrooms. Like I said above spores “dust like particles” coming under the gills of mushroom are one way mushrooms propagate in the wild. If spores of a poisonous mushroom are carried by wind to that place where you usually pick mushrooms and then you hold assuption that “this is where I alweays get safe mushroom “and take without looking carefully you will be in trouble. In the same manner non poisonous can come out in an area where there are poisonous mushrooms. I agree with you we don’t have to blame president Mugabe for all things.

Yes despite the lies, surely if one cannot identify mushrooms they should buy cultivated mushrooms which are safe all the time

C9. vanhu ndavarege kudya chinhu chose chinonzi hova (people must not eat mushrooms)

R9. Mushrooms have been eaten since time immemorial so this is not a viable option. This was an accident a 65 year old lady has been gathering mushrooms for years so she had all the experience.

C10. Ini howa ndakarega kare nokuti kunyange husingauraye hunongouraya zvichienda nokuti hwakamera papi.Dai vanhu vangorega howa zvikuru unyoro. Nokuti ukaona kana chembere dzinoziva howa dzofa kureva kuti howa imhandu. Zvichibvawo nomumukanwa munoshuvawo zvinonaka. Mazuva ano muboora nederere zviriko wani. Vasara ngatingwarirei zvatinodya please.

R10. I have already explained that mushrooms do not get poisonous depending on where growing. Its true that poisonous mushrooms will remain so even if dried. I agree with the commentator we need be careful with what we eat. I usually say “if you are not the one who gathered the mushrooms from the wild and you cant identify the wild mushrooms you are buying then you are putting your life into the hands of others” The safest mushroom is the cultivated ones which you can buy in the supermarkets or from mushroom farms or anyone selling it.

C11. Mushrooms are dangerous! Eat at your own risk. The only good mushrooms one can eat at peace are those grown in the garden.

R11. True if you eat mushrooms from “the garden” you will be safe. If you also can identify edible mushrooms from the poisonous ones then you are also safe.

C12. We are here to help each other on matters concerning edible and not edible mushroom period. Isn’t sme edible mushroom made poisonous by è way its cooked.

R12. No mushrooms are not made poisonous by the way they are cooked. Non poisonous mushrooms remain so despite how they are cooked. They also can be eaten raw.

I just took a few comments out of the story but you can read the full story and see all the comments buy

reading The Herald

Whilst the government was at the receriving end I call upon all journalist to cover such topics and educate the nation on some of these challenges. All mushroom scientists, university lectures and university students who are studying biology or even agriculture must also educate the nation. The government can also come in through the ministry of agriculture and do pamphlets. Probably the reason why there is little or no effort is that its not a big challenge and a few people die only that the deaths by poisonous mushrooms receive much publicity especially also because of the myths people will definately love that, that is why people seem to be afraid of mushrooms more that they are afraid of cars/buses (which kill hundreds of people per year compared to a few deaths from poisonous mushrooms).

I invite you to comment and ask any questions, the subject of poisonous mushrooms is not only a hot subject in Zimbabwe but the world. Everything mystical attracts a huge following and no matter how you try to explain people love the myths. I hope this long post has been helpful to you.

You can also follow me on twitter for everything mushroom and associated t

opics. @mushtella

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