Edibles and Downright Deadly Mushrooms
Autumn in Japan not only brings the beautiful and vibrant red leaves of the famous Japanese Maples or of the poisonous flora such as the aptly named Poison Ivy and Sumac but also with the Autumn rains and cooler climate a vast array of different species of fungi some common edible varieties and others which can only be described as deadly mushrooms.
Fly Agaric Toadstool (Amanita muscaria)
As the Japanese White Birch and Grand Old Oak leaves turn yellow and fall carpeting the forest floor with a beautiful rich ground cover of humus or detritus whichever is your preference so our fungal friends make their annual appearance. Vast amounts of edible mushrooms during late summer and early autumn are among the Japanese mountain woodlands but amongst the good stuff also the bad or in this case deadly mushrooms which one should steer well away from!
By bad I mean in a sense that to eat some of these deadly mushrooms would have disastrous consequences but besides that triviality the poisonous species of deadly mushrooms are more often than not the most aesthetically pleasing. So let’s join the popular Japanese pastime of mushroom hunting and see what we have…..
The Fly Agaric
Young Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)
The Fly Agaric above is a curious looking mushroom and most would be very wary of eating something that looks as vivid as this, it is not only Poisonous but also a psychoactive fungus with Hallucinogenic properties. I remember reading years ago about this fact and in parts of Russia back in British Victorian times the gentry (it is said) would consume these deadly mushrooms after preparing correctly and decreasing the levels of toxins by means of parboiling in water or milk and then have what would have been considered a bloody good night while tripping the light fantastic!
What is rather interesting is the fact that the toxins remain in the system and wouldn’t be denatured quickly hence they were urinated out for the gratification of the poor folks who would stand waiting outside the windows of the gentry with a bucket to collect the wealthy landowners morning ablutions whilst they pissing out of the window. The poor folk would then rush off home with their booty to drink it and have a bloody good day or night too!!!
The Destroying Angel
The Destroying Angel
Amanita virosa, above and right, commonly known as ‘The Destroying Angel’ is also highly poisonous. It is said Amanita virosa is one of the most poisonous of all known toadstools….Below are a couple of Stock photos of the Destroying Angel a poisonous form of the Amanita fungi, specifically Amanita virosa. Many of the Amanita species of mushrooms or toadstools can be deadly such as this Destroying Angel, the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) and the Death cap (Amanita phalloides).
The Destroying Angel is one of the most poisonous of all known poisonous mushrooms these babies are serious deadly mushrooms and attack the liver and kidneys some hours after being consumed which can also lead to something as drastic as a liver transplant to save the victim. It’s habitat is usually mixed woodland and is commonly found in Beech forests, this Amanita virosa was found in the cool mountain forests of Japan, again in Togakushi.
Amanita virosa – Deadly Mushrooms
Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric
Amanita muscaria var. guessowii
Another Agaric variation that I spotted with a bulbous base is a pretty little yellow variety, in the forests of Togakushi there seems to be an abundance of Amanitas and to discover this one along with the others was a real bonus. This turned out to be the Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric
The Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric one of the deadly mushrooms is also psychoactive, yes, a psychoactive toadstool. These kind of Hallucinogenic mushrooms more commonly known as Toadstools when highly poisonous like this Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric scientifically named Amanita muscaria var. guessowii she can easily kill a man who is unaware of her toxic properties. The fly Agarics red and yellow are famous toadstools due to their beautiful appearance and due to the fact that they are some of the most deadliest of deadly mushrooms. Normally the Fly Agaric is an inedible mushroom but can be prepared in such a way that makes consumption possible. It used to be consumed by Siberian peoples and had a religious significance.
Amanita muscaria var. guessowii
Above and to the left we have another slightly dangerous vividly coloured wild Japanese forest mushroom less of a deadly mushrooms variety but slightly poisonous.As the Latin name suggests Russula emetica, otherwise known as ‘The Sickener’ is and Emetic which in medical terms means a substance that causes vomiting. The Sickener produces poisonous effects when consumed in its natural state such as vomiting and diarrhea although for fungal foragers who like wild food it can be dried and powdered to make a chili pepper substitute with no adverse effects.
On a lighter note lets get onto the edible mushrooms. Recently when I was doing some research on the finer points of fungi I came across an article explaining how on the whole British are Mycophobic, that means, have in a round about way a bit of a fear of Mushrooms or Fungi and during their lifetime will only sample (in general) maybe two different varieties whereas the East Europeans or Russians are very Mycophilic which is Fungi loving. Its said they would maybe in general sample four different varieties of mushroom in their lifetimes whereas Asian countries (omitting the Indian Subcontinent which seems to be rather Mycophobic apart from the Himalayan regions) are likely to try upto a whopping nine varieties throughout their lifetime, the main Asian countries that are mycophilic being China and Japan.
Shitake (Lentinula edodes)
Lentinula edodes most commonly known as the Shiitake mushroom (take meaning mushroom, pronounced ta-ke and not to be confused with Kinoko which is Japanese for mushrooms in general) is a delicacy that Japan is renowned for, the edible and deliciously tasting Shiitake is named after the tree (Shii – 椎, Castanopsis cuspidata) that provides the dead logs that the mushroom is cultivated on.
Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea)
Motashi or Modashi or Naratake as it is known in Japan depending on the region makes for a fine dish when fried in a tad of butter, yet the mushroom i.d. books prefer it to be parboiled and a moderate amount to be consumed, too much is said to be slightly poisonous and can cause upset stomach and diarrhea. At the moment it can be found in copious amounts growing mainly on living or dead Oak trees (Naratake mushroom is named after the Japanese Oak Tree – Nara). In the west it is known as being part of the honey mushroom group and is actually quite a devastating parasite to the trees on which it thrives.
The Brick Cap Mushroom
Kuritake (Hypholoma sublateritium)
In Japanese Kuri means chestnut hence this mushroom is known as the chestnut mushroom due to the colour of its cap. It grows in great quantities at the foot of living or dead Japanese white birch trees and has a lovely mushroom taste that any mycophilic person would die for i’m sure. It’s a very popular edible fungus here in Japan especially in the rural areas so luckily there are plenty to go around. In the Europe this mushroom is commonly known as the ‘Bricktop’ or ‘Brick Cap’ and considered inedible and slightly poisonous but here and in the U.S.A it is the opposite if eaten in moderate quantities. Personally I’ve eaten plenty over the past week and have been absolutely fine, as the saying goes, a little of what you like is good for you…….
The Lion’s Mane Mushroom
The Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus)
And last but not least on my mushroom hunting list the edible if not a little bit strange looking Yamabushitake commonly known in the west as the Lion’s Mane Mushroom. I found this one along with another bigger version which I cordially took for an Autumn broth. It looks quite outlandish but the smell is strangely that of any bog standard mushroom. This particular one was procured from the slender dead rotting trunk of an Oak Tree. In Japan and China this species of fungi are highly valued for their medicinal properties. Said to be one of the safest of edible mushrooms and unmistakable in their identification.
If anybody is interested in other species I have come across feel free to visit the collection of beautiful mushrooms pictures of other fungal varieties available some deadly mushrooms others not.
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