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Mushroom Tips From A to Z: 26 Things to Know
Photo Beau Lark / Corbis

Mushroom Tips From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

From the fatal Amanita to their Zero fat content, mushrooms are mysterious and often misunderstood: let’s take a closer look at the gourmet funghi

By FDL on

Amanita. No mushroom is feared more than the dangerous, highly poisonous Death Cap (Amanita phalloides). This mushroom is famous for rather unfortunate reasons: it has been the cause of more cases of fatal poisoning than any other kind of mushroom.

Beneficial to health. When they’re not poisonous, however, mushrooms can help boost the human immune system and fight cancer. In Chinese traditional medicine they’re used as a kind of cure-all, combating everything from coughs to male impotence.

nhagen. In this city, just like in other smart districts throughout the Low Countries, getting high goes hand in hand with shopping. Hallucinogenic mushrooms are freely sold here. 

D as vitamin D. Just like humans, mushrooms can produce their own vitamin D (an essential nutrient for the body and bones) when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Edible. Over 250 species of edible mushrooms are known of in the West. There are also at least as many toxic varieties.

Fungus hunters. Hunters of mushrooms never let on where they go to find the best examples, rising at dawn and moving through the woods in secret. They only show off what they’ve found once the hunt is over.

Greek legend. Perseus, after a long voyage, drank water he had collected from inside the cap of a mushroom. He decided to found a new city called Mycenae (derived from the Greek word mýkēs, or mushroom) at this spot, thereby giving birth to the Mycenaean civilization.

Hunting season. The best time of the year to go mushroom hunting is between the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn, when their growth is aided by the end of the hot weather and the arrival of the first rains. The highly prized porcini mushrooms, for example, can be found at this time of year.

Indios. Mexico’s native people have, for over two thousand years, eaten peyote as part of an initiation rite. Despite their reputations as such, however, these are not hallucinogenic mushrooms, but a cactus, which today runs the risk of becoming extinct.

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Researchers here have shown how people who use magic mushrooms (ie. Hallucinogenic mushrooms), when taken in the right quantities, derive life-long benefits from it: the mushrooms make them calmer, happier and kinder.

Kombucha. Also known as the ‘tea mushroom’, these absorb sugar and produce amino acids, vitamins and substances with antibiotic properties. Fermenting them produces a tasty, healthy drink.

License. In many countries, you need to get a license before you can go foraging for mushrooms. In some places all you have to do is pay a small tax, while in others the maximum amount that can be collected is subject to a weight limit.

Moon. It’s said that the growth of mushrooms is influenced by the phases of the moon. But not everyone thinks along the same lines, however: some people maintain that a waning moon has the best effect; while others think it’s the waxing moon.

Nero. The Roman king gained the throne thanks to help from Agrippina, who poisoned the Emperor Claudius with mushrooms. Other figures from antiquity who were also killed by mushrooms include the tragedian Euripides and Pope Clement VII.

Online. In order to get around bans in many countries, hallucinogenic mushrooms are sold often online and then delivered all over the world sometimes dried, sometimes under the form of spores.

Porcini mushrooms. Porcini mushrooms are the tastiest variety when used in pasta dishes and alongside roast meats. They’re also delicious fried, raw, or when served with fish. They’re found in all kinds of environments and in all kinds of quantities, in oak and chestnuts woods, but also under pines and birch trees.

Quantity. There are around 1 million different species of mushrooms in the world, from the giant Termitonyces titanicus, more than one meter wide, to microscopic molds like Penicillium notatum, which we get penicillin from. Only 10% of them have been catalogued, however.

Risotto. One of the best dishes made using mushrooms, whether fresh or dried, risottos are always a tasty choice. Traditional in Italian cooking, they are now famous the world over.

Skin. Some mushrooms can even live on human skin, in the form of marks which lighten the skin’s pigmentation.

Truffle dog. Not many people know it, but truffles (link) are actually a variety of edible mushroom. They grow underground, and specially trained dogs are used to find them. Often mongrels, these dogs are trained at centers specifically set up to teach them how to hunt these special fungi. They're generally preferred to pigs and boar, which, although great at finding truffles, are not so easy to live with and house-train.

Ugui. Florescent mushrooms have been found in this Japanese province: here, in the rainy season, special funguses sprout up which illuminate the landscape at night – a decidedly rare spectacle.

Vegetables? The doubt is: are mushrooms herbaceous, or are they vegetables? They’re neither: they’re classified as being part of the fungus family, that kingdom which comes after the animal, mineral and vegetable.

Worms. If you find little worms in the mushrooms you’ve just bought, it often means that they’re old. But there are people who will eat them anyway, after having removed the unwanted guests.

Xxx. There’s a definite link between mushrooms and sex: those with hallucinogenic properties are said to bring about extraordinary sexual experiences, while the Cordyceps sinensis fungus, which is used in medicine, improves sexual performance.

Yeast. Yeasts and mushrooms are part of the same family: yeast is used to make bread, and to produce alcoholic drinks like wine and beer, and even yoghurt.

Zero fat. Tasty and with a low calorie count, mushrooms are the ideal food for people on a diet, as besides their other properties, they contain zero fat.

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