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.

False (and poisonous) morel mushrooms
False morel mushrooms, gyromitra esculenta, which can be potentially fatal if eaten. (photo courtesy U.S. Army Corp of Engineers)

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.

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Inspiring Teamwork – Arron Carter

It started with a car, a ’69 Corvette Stingray to be exact.

When Arron Carter, the director of the Washington State University Winter Wheat Breeding Program, was in high school his agricultural teacher had a ’69 Corvette Stingray. Every year this teacher would let his favorite senior take the car to senior prom. Carter had never taken an agriculture class before, but he knew he wanted to drive that car.

“Well, if I’m going to be the favorite senior,” Carter said to himself, “I’d better start taking some ag classes.”…

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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.

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Washington State University researchers will help organic growers protect human health by assessing the risks and benefits of wild birds on organic farms. Researchers received nearly $2 million from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative to conduct the study.
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Jim Moyer, associate dean of research for CAHNRS and director of the Agricultural Research Center at WSU, presented specialty crop research innovations in Washington, D.C. this fall.
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‘A quiet crisis’: The rise of acidic soil in Washington

Gary Wegner first noticed the problem in 1991, when a field on his family’s farm west of Spokane produced one-fourth the usual amount of wheat. Lab tests revealed a surprising result: the soil had become acidic.
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Study: Small railroads important but costly to upgrade

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Holiday Hours & End-Of-Year Giving

It’s that time of year again—time for sharing merry moments with family and friends. As you prepare for the holidays, consider these year-end giving tips below. We know how important the last few days of 2015 will be for meeting tax deadlines, and we are here to help make the process as easy as possible.

Please note the WSU Foundation’s hours of operation through the end of the year:

Dec. 2 – Dec. 23: Normal operation (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)

Dec. 28 – 31: Although Washington State University and the WSU Foundation will be closed, WSU Foundation gift accounting and gift planning staff will be available by phone from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. throughout this week. If you would like to give a gift of appreciated stock or discuss your year-end giving plans to benefit WSU, please call 1-800-448-2978.

Making a gift online using the WSU Foundation’s secure site is an easy way to make your year-end gift using a credit or debit card any time, day or night. Note: Online gifts may be made as late as 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31 to receive tax credit for 2015.

Thank you for your generous support of Washington State University throughout the year. Have a wonderful holiday season!

Year-end Giving Tips:

Remember, only gifts made by Dec. 31 can help reduce your 2015 taxable income. Please keep the following in mind and consult your tax advisor for specific details.

To Receive 2015 Tax Credit:

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The date you deliver or mail your donation is generally recognized as the gift date for tax purposes. Please note, the date on the actual check or money order is not recognized by the IRS as proof of your intent to give on a particular date. Gifts by check or money order may be mailed to:

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Note: Gifts may be hand-delivered to the WSU Foundation Town Centre Suite 201 during hours of operation.

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