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.
The release of a new winter wheat variety named “Jasper” honors the legacy of the wheat breeding program at WSU started by William Jasper Spillman in 1894. The first variety developed by the university was released in 1905. Jasper marks the 100th.
The Rock Doc is a nationally syndicated newspaper column written by Dr. Kirsten Peters, covering many scientific and research related topics in a upbeat and entertaining fashion. Dr. Peter’s humor and anecdotes help to bring these stories to a public audience by showing how they affect everyday life. The most recent articles are linked below.
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.
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 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.
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.
Pullman, Wash. – You generally don’t find livestock among the hills of the Palouse region of eastern Washington where grain is grown. But wheat farmers Eric and Sheryl Zakarison are changing that – and making a profit.
On 100 of their 1,300 family owned acres, they are experimenting with a rather unconventional scheme for the region – growing wheat, peas, perennial grasses like alfalfa and sheep in a tightly integrated system. MORE
The watermelon crop has declined dramatically in Washington because of disease. But Washington State University researchers are developing a solution that involves grafting watermelon plants onto squash and other vine plant rootstocks.
“We’ve lost about a third of our state’s watermelon production over the last 10 years because of Verticillium wilt,” said Carol Miles, a professor of vegetable horticulture at the WSU Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. “Growers have switched to other crops that are less susceptible.” MORE
Gender and personality matter in how people cope with physical and mental illness, according to a paper by a Washington State University scientist and colleagues at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Men are less affected by a single-symptom illness than women, but are more affected when more than one symptom is present. The number of symptoms doesn’t change how women are affected, according to Robert Rosenman, WSU professor in the Department of Economic Sciences. MORE
PULLMAN, Wash. – Researchers know that adding natural buffers to the farm landscape can stop soil from vanishing. Now a scientist at Washington State University has found that more buffers are better, both for pleasing the eye and slowing erosion.
Linda Klein, a recent doctoral graduate in WSU’s School of the Environment, worked with six other researchers at the university, plus one at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Moscow (Idaho) Forestry Sciences Laboratory, to explore the role that buffers – strips or clumps of shrubs, trees and natural vegetation – play in the landscape and in people’s visual preferences.
Klein surveyed Whitman County residents to see if conservation features made for more scenic fields and valleys. She found that Palouse residents prefer more nature with their wheat fields.MORE
By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
In the world’s driest rainfed wheat region, Washington State University researchers have identified summer fallow management practices that can make all the difference for farmers, water and soil conservation, and air quality.
Wheat growers in the Horse Heaven Hills of south-central Washington farm with an average of 6-8 inches of rain a year. Wind erosion has caused blowing dust that exceeded federal air quality standards 20 times in the past 10 years. MORE
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Shellfish production in Washington is a $60 million a year industry. Several major pests plague this industry, resulting in major crop loss. One of the most important pests is subterranean burrowing shrimp. These shrimp bioturbate (stir up) the sediment, causing the oysters to sink and die. For the past 60 years the industry has been using the insecticide Sevin to control this pest, but due to lawsuits its use was phased out in 2012. Without alternative control for shrimp, tens of millions of dollars in annual crop revenue will be lost and the industry will quickly lose its economic viability in southwestern Washington.
The Environmental Protection Agency has identified agriculture as the leading contributor of pollutants to the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. These reports often do not separate animal agriculture from other agricultural enterprises, but they do note that pathogens, nutrients, and oxygen-depleting substances associated with manure are three of the top five pollutants. Some emerging issues related to manure management include: endocrine disruptors (hormones), pharmaceuticals (antimicrobials), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Adopting farm practices that minimize the environmental impact is important for food safety.
Biosolids are the solids produced during municipal wastewater treatment. Composts are made from a variety of organic materials, including both urban and agriculture sources such as yard trimmings, biosolids, storm debris, food waste or manure, and food processing residues. While these materials have traditionally been viewed as waste, they can play a valuable role as soil amendments in urban and agricultural settings. They provide nutrients and organic matter and they sequester carbon, thereby conserving resources, restoring soils, and combating climate change.
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Alumni & Friends
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.