College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences
Killer Mushrooms on Your Plate?
It’s a classic plot device of murder mysteries: an evil killer slips poisonous mushrooms into the frying pan of an unsuspecting victim who dies an agonizing death.
But in real life, poisonous fungi typically sicken and occasionally kill people for quite different reasons.
Recently I learned a lot about what can go wrong in the world of mushrooms from Dr. Denis Benjamin, a medical doctor who is also a fungi and poison expert. As the weather improves over so much of the nation, this seems like a good time to review how you can avoid having yourself or members of your family join the ranks of those who eat the wrong mushrooms.
Very young children (think toddlers) and dogs are two groups that mange to poison themselves each year. What three-year olds and Fido have in common is that they are natural omnivores, moving around and putting most everything they find into their mouths. Often they have the sense to spit out odd-tasting objects with unfamiliar textures, but not always. Luckily, most mushrooms that grow in places like your backyard are not highly toxic, so a large majority of both toddlers and canines survive their experiments with fungi. But parents and dog owners sometimes get quite the scare when they see the objects of their love chewing blobs of fungal material.
Older kids can get into trouble because they dare one another to eat mushrooms they stumble across. Being brave in such games can lead to a stomachache or even serious medical problems.
Immigrants also run real danger of eating the wrong mushrooms. While they may know safe mushrooms overseas, here in the U.S. some similar-looking fungi can be quite poisonous. A variation on this theme are mushroom pickers who hail from one part of the U.S. but use a mushroom field guide for another part of the country. That mistake is sometimes made even by experienced mushroom experts who fail to think through their methods.
In a related vein, it’s worth emphasizing that matching a photo in a field guide or internet source with what you pick isn’t a good way of guarding your life. Many poisonous fungi are look-alikes for safe ones. Sometimes only microscopic differences separate the two – so don’t go by photos as you decide what to eat for supper tonight.
Then there are the truly careless adults who end up each year in emergency rooms courtesy of mushrooms. It’s no surprise that campers who are drinking heavily while spending time in the woods sometimes fry up what they pick among the trees. As the police blotter says about a variety of emergency situations, “alcohol was a factor.”
Even sober, professional chefs make mistakes with mushrooms. The expensive Morel mushroom is a case in point. It must be cooked to decrease the toxin in its flesh. Unfortunately, from time to time, even professional chefs fail to remember this point, inadvertently poisoning their patrons with raw Morels in salads.
I once picked a whole hatful of what I hoped were Morels that had sprung up literally overnight next to the building where I worked. I’m no gourmet, so I knew if what I had were really Morels, I wouldn’t fully appreciate them. I therefore took them to a friend who really cares about food (and wine). He was delighted to get them, but I made it clear as I handed him the fungi that I took no moral responsibility for my gift. Still, overnight I had plenty of time to question my judgment in giving someone mushrooms I was in no position to truly identify.
My friend cooked and ate the mushrooms in the company of another gourmet the same day I picked them. The mushrooms were delicious, he told me the next morning, and I was relieved the meal had led to no ill effects.
That brings up an interesting question Dr. Benjamin highlighted in my mind. Why do we always wonder, when we see a mushroom, if we (or our friends) could eat it and live to tell the tale?
Maybe we’ve all been reading too many murder mysteries.
CAHNRS is more than agriculture. With 24 majors, 19 minors, and 27 graduate level programs, we are one of the largest, most diverse colleges at WSU. CAHNRS Cougs are making a difference in the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, improving ecological and economic systems, and advancing agricultural sciences.
Washington State University has been awarded a five-year $2 million National Research Support Project grant to build and maintain a national system for sharing digital plant genetic resources. Known as NRSP10, the project is the tenth National Research Support Project in the nation.
How do we define nature, wilderness and conservation? Are our ideas about nature outdated? What lessons can evolution offer for modern agriculture? Are we “fueling a biotechnological bubble” by ignoring ecologically inspired ways to improve agriculture?
PULLMAN, Wash. - Scientists at Washington State University have been awarded $2.53 million to improve fruit quality and disease resistance of crops in the rosaceae family (apple, blackberry, peach, pear, rose, strawberry, sweet cherry and ...
Students have a variety of options to pursue masters and doctoral degrees. Many of these have very specific background requirements, so we suggest exploring the individual programs for academic guidelines.
Being a CAHNRS Coug is about having a life-changing experience and having fun along the way. With an endless array of subjects to study, students can explore a variety of topics until they focus on that area that truly excites them. We include ample opportunities to learn outside the classroom, because we not only believe it’s a better way to learn, it makes for a more meaningful and enjoyable college experience.
CAHNRS knows how to throw a party, and there is not greater time to celebrate than when our students return to campus. Free food (including Ferdinand’s Ice Cream), swag from each of our student clubs, activities, and a drawing for $1,000 scholarships—its all part of our annual Fall Festival. And we just don’t limit the event to our CAHNRS majors, we welcome everyone across campus to learn more about what our college offers.
The Center for Transformational Learning and Leadership makes it possible for students to secure that job-landing internship, experience another culture in the southern hemisphere, unlock their leadership potential through seminars and workshops, and find a mentor to coach them through their academic experience.
CAHNRS Office of Research
Agricultural Research Center
The goal of the Washington State University CAHNRS Office of Research is to promote research beneficial to the citizens of Washington. The Office of Research recognizes its unique land-grant research mission to the people of Washington and their increasing global connections. The CAHNRS Office of Research provides leadership in discovering and applying knowledge through high-quality research that contributes to a safe and abundant food, fiber, and energy supply while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural and natural resource systems.
By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
PULLMAN, Wash. – Scientists at Washington State University have concluded that nondigestible compounds in apples – specifically, Granny Smith apples – may help prevent disorders associated with obesity. The study, thought to be the first to assess these compounds in apple cultivars grown in the Pacific Northwest, appears in October’s print edition of the journal Food Chemistry. “We know that, in general, apples are a good source of these nondigestible compounds but there are differences in varieties,” said food scientist Giuliana Noratto, the study’s lead researcher. “Results from this study will help consumers to discriminate between apple varieties that can aid in the fight against obesity.” MORE
PULLMAN, Wash. – Drug abuse, acts of rampage – what’s really the matter with kids today? While there are many places to lay blame – family, attitude, peers, school, community – a new study shows that those risks vary in intensity from kid to kid and can be identified.
Scientists at Washington State University and Pennsylvania State University have found a way to spot the adolescents most susceptible to specific risk factors for delinquency MORE
By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
PULLMAN, Wash. – With global food demand expected to outpace the availability of water by the year 2050, consumers can make a big difference in reducing the water used in livestock production.
“It’s important to know that small changes on the consumer side can help, and in fact may be necessary, to achieve big results in a production system,” said Robin White, lead researcher of a Washington State University study appearing in the journal Food Policy. MORE
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Women, Farms & Food is an innovative project that addresses the risk management needs of women producers using technology and follow-up skills-based workshops. The Women in Agriculture program began in Washington State in 2005, with annual state conferences offering speakers, practical advice, collaborative discussion, and networking opportunities.
The WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) Office of Alumni & Friends is a service unit dedicated to promoting philanthropic support for the college’s research, teaching, and extension programs.
CAHNRS seeks $190 million through the Campaign for WSU. This unprecedented fundraising goal is managed through the CAHNRS Office of Alumni and Friends. If you would like to learn more about the CAHNRS’s fundraising priorities, please explore our website or meet the team.
Through the Campaign for Washington State University, CAHNRS and WSU Extension will play a major role in defining answers to complex issues through truly big ideas—feeding the world, powering the planet, and ensuring the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. See below to learn more about how we are addressing these issues in our strategic and on-going initiatives and development of world-class students.