Edible Mushrooms

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The use of wild mushrooms as a food is an ancient practice.

These fungi were undoubtedly well known to pre-historic, hunting and gathering cultures, as they are today to indigenous peoples who continue to live in natural forests. Once the identity of poisonous and edible mushrooms became fixed in cultural knowledge and tradition, the edible species, and sometimes those that could be used to induce non-lethal hallucinogens, were regularly gathered and utilized by people.

The tradition of the use of mushrooms as a country food continues today. The collection of edible mushrooms is an especially popular outdoor activity in much of Eurasia, where these foods can be very common in the spring and autumn in boreal and temperate forests. Mushroom collecting has been considerably less popular in Britain and North America. However, under the influence of immigrants from Europe and northern Asia, and the emerging popularity of natural history, more and more North Americans are actively seeking out these delicacies in wild habitats. This activity has been called “mushrooming,” in parallel with the better-known sport of “birding.” Interestingly, most mushrooms are not a particularly nutritious food. They typically contain 90-95% water when fresh, the rest of their biomass being about 5% carbohydrate, 5% protein, and less-than 1% fat and minerals. The major benefit of eating mushrooms is their engaging, sometimes exquisite flavor, and in some cases their interesting texture.

The chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius ) is a yellow-to-orange mushroom of the floor of autumn forests, and is a delicious wild fungus. The king bolete (Boletus edulis ) is another prized mushroom. Other edible mushrooms include corn smut (Ustilago maydis ), beefsteak (Fistulina hepatica ), fried chicken mushroom (Lyophyllum decastes ), fairy ring mushroom (Marasmius oreades ), oyster fungus (Pleurotus ostreatus ), and the morel (Morchella esculenta ).

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