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NatureSpeak Articles

Further fungal factoids

Raw or pan-fried?

Cooking can remove some or all toxins in most mushrooms so make sure to cook even edible mushrooms you haven’t eaten before, and eat only a bit the first time to see how they affect you. But cooking isn’t always the solution. For example, false morels (Gyromitra species) contain the same chemical compound used in rocket fuel. Fumes from cooking it are highly toxic and to be avoided unless you want a quick trip to the moon.

A rose by any other name

Cultural traditions go deep. Sometimes these differing traditions lead to war, other times to name calling. An example of the latter is the multitude of handles for Boletus edulus, around here called king bolete. They’re called porcini in Italy, cèpes in France, penny buns in England, steinpilz in Germany, and have equivalents in most other northern languages around the globe.

And what do you do to your enemies?

Andy MacKinnon tells a tale from Russia in which a group of friends elects one to eat a fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) — the white-spotted, reddish-orange toadstool made famous by Alice in Wonderland for its hallucinatory properties. The remaining friends would then drink the unlucky one’s urine for the psychoactive chemicals excreted in it. By the way, the friend generally wouldn’t die even if after a couple of days of severe distress he might have wanted to.

Truffles in Whistler?

Yes, it’s true. Relatives of the Perigord truffle, that gastronomic delicacy that sometimes sells for more than gold by weight, grow in the forests of Whistler. “Truffles” are simply underground mushrooms. They are generally strong-smelling, as they rely on mammals (like us) to smell them aboveground, dig down, eat them and, er, poop them out. The truffles around Whistler aren’t the super-expensive truffles of commerce, but they may very well be as tasty. We just don’t know. Perhaps some will turn up at our mushroom show this year? Please bring your truffle pigs on the Saturday morning walk.

Pocketbook or doorstop?

Probably the best introductory mushroom guide is David Arora’s “All That the Rain Promises and More…” It fits into your pocket, has lots of diagrams and keys, and includes some very entertaining text and photos. If you’re looking for more detail, look no further than Arora’s “Mushrooms Demystified,” It’s almost 1,000 pages and serves as a very good doorstop in the mushroom off-season.

Not just in the woods

Not many people know more about mushrooms than Paul Kroeger, nor have his fantastically esoteric and entertaining take on them. But his main claim to fame is the discovery and naming of a mushroom, Melanotus textiles, which grows on the sort of damp carpet common to many old cabins (and occasionally old automobiles) in Whistler. No, it isn’t tasty.

Would you like a cold malted beverage?

The average person consumes beverages produced by fungi on a daily basis. All the citric acid used in soft drinks, candies, artificial lemon juice, baked goods, etc. is produced by fungus fermentation using Aspergillus niger. The yeast fungus (Saccharomyces cereviseae) is used to ferment beer, wine and spirits (billions of litres!).

Ever seen a mushroom glow in the dark?

You're not imagining it. Several local species, such as the Honey Mushroom, produce light by a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. People once used glowing pieces of fungus-infested wood to light their way in the woods. ‘Foxfire’ is due to the luminescing mycelia of these fungi.

The mushrooms can save us.

A chemical compound extracted from shiitake mushrooms has been approved as an anticancer drug in Japan after it was proven to repress cancer cells in laboratory studies.

Fungus Among Us Mushroom Festival, Oct. 12-13 at Millennium Place.

Friday talks at 7:30 p.m. ($5/$8): Andy MacKinnon, “Whistler’s Top 10 Safest Wild Mushrooms” and Paul Kroeger “Magic Mushrooms Past and Present.” Saturday guided walks, 8:45-noon, meet outside Millennium Place ($10/$15). Gourmet Tastings with Chef Ophra Buckman and Chef Grant Coussar, all dishes made with local wild mushrooms. Saturday 12:30-2:30 ($20/$25). All events $25/35; All-day Saturday $20/$30. Kids free. Lower rates are for Whistler Naturalists members ($15 annual dues).

Written by: Bob Brett, Kathy Jenkins, and Andy MacKinnon


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