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Over twenty five years ago, a tiny perfect grisette seduced me into the world of mushrooms.

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Barely three inches tall, it glowed pearly gray and grew from the middle of my favorite Bay Area hiking trail. The sight of it drew me to my knees.

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It was too beautiful to disturb, so I sketched it on a bank deposit slip, the only scrap of paper that I had with me. I carried that paper in my wallet for years and eventually identified it as a grisette, a member of the Amanita vaginata group, one of the many edible Amanita species found here in California. The hook was set, and amanitas in the wild continued to intrigue me. I obsessively read mushroom field guides, paying particular attention to the amanitas.

Since then, I have become a proponent of the safe and mindful collection and consumption of various edible California Amanita species, as well as a mushroom poison identifier and mushroom educator, and I continue to have an abiding passion for all of the members of the genus Amanita. It was therefore with great interest that I first learned of the paper discussing Amanita muscaria and its use as food by William Rubel and David Arora, in the October special mushroom issue of the Journal of Economic Botany.

For as long as I have known him, David Arora has recounted the story of the modern day treatment of muscaria as an edible species in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan. Along with many others who attended his lectures and forays, I was fascinated by the concept. I was also aware of the many instances of serious muscaria poisonings that have occurred both through the ages and in modern times, so I was curious how their argument in the Economic Botany paper would proceed.

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Any mushroom book that deals with edibility preferences is subject to the whims of its author: their culinary experience, personal judgment, and prevailing opinions all help to determine poisonous and edible deations. His suggestion that future mushroom book authors should list muscaria as an edible species, and that it would be perfectly unremarkable to do so, was also troubling.

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Do we really want to encourage folks to use less caution about known poisonous species, even if, as mycophagists of long standing, we may know of ways to circumvent these poisons? Amanita muscaria is one of the most beautiful and eye-catching mushrooms found anywhere. Although muscaria is a seriously toxic mushroom, its most abundant toxins — ibotenic acid and its decarboxylation by-product muscimol — are water soluble, and can be leached from the mushroom flesh through careful and prolonged boiling.

It is true that very small s of people around the world have indeed discovered that it can be made edible through careful and sometimes elaborate preparation; but it is also imperative to remember to throw out the water into which the toxins were leached.

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One American couple who forgot to do so became seriously intoxicated, to the point of damaging both themselves and their household Beug, ! On these basic points water soluble toxins in muscariafield guide bias I think that we can all agree.

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The authors based this hypothesis upon the evidence that they selected, but I will show that this evidence is incomplete and therefore insufficient for declaring muscaria to be a perfectly safe edible species. As an intellectual exercise, digging through dusty tomes to find a few scattered references to folks who ate muscaria as food in the course of history can make interesting reading.

Conjecture can be strengthened by selective examples to support a hypothesis. However, it is difficult to prove a hypothesis beyond the shadow of doubt through the fog of centuries. As public educators, on a topic that is mostly unknown here in North America, I believe that we must consider the impact of our words. Ironically enough, even the original muscaria detoxification recipe that Rubel and Arora provided in the Economic Botany article had important numerical conversion errors, listing gm.

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In the online version of this paper, linked to from his website, Arora changed the amount of muscaria in the recipe to the correct weight of gm. Arora, Yet even a perfectly reasonable recipe can have unreasonable translation into a real-time meal.

If many folks have difficulties following any recipe, why start with a troublesome and sometimes even dangerous ingredient? I know of at least four folks who had unpleasant experiences after attempting to detoxify muscaria at home. One told me of her experiences directly, another wrote it up in great and glorious detail online Konecney,and two others published their story in Mushroom, the Journal of Wild Mushrooming Millman, Haff, In other words, they would have even less reason to want to follow exactly the elaborate procedures necessary to make this mushroom wholly non-toxic.

Pity those poor folks who just want a nice mushroom meal for their families, though, and not a trip to the emergency room. Ibotenic acid-containing mushrooms Amanita pantherina and A. Usually, these poisonings are self-limiting. The folks who were poisoned, regardless of the reason the mushroom was eaten, have no wish to repeat the experience.

He was discovered in cardiac arrest, and died 10 days later from anoxic brain injury. Another fatal muscaria poisoning case fromrecounted in a NAMA Toxicology Committee Report in the issue of McIlvaineatells of an otherwise healthy young man who died twelve hours after ingesting 6 or 7 muscaria caps. After falling into a muscaria-induced swoon the night before, he was found dead in bed the next morning.

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The medical examiner who autopsied the corpse labeled it death by mushroom poisoning, since he could find no other contributing cause of death Beug,although since there were other drugs involved, the exact cause of death remained unclear Beug, Blithe assurances of the safe and unremarkable edibility of muscaria would be cold comfort indeed to the families of the two separate cases of young men who ate muscaria and then fell into comas. While in this helpless state, one froze to death while camping, and the other died after aspirating vomitus Beug, In a more recent case, recounted to me by Marilyn Shaw, toxicology expert and poison identifier for the Rocky Mountain Poison Control, a young man in Aurora, Colorado narrowly escaped death when he was discovered naked and unconscious, with a severely lowered body temperature and in cardiac arrest, after the recreational ingestion of muscaria Shaw, Who knows how many other incidental deaths after muscaria ingestion there may have been?

Documented deaths from the ingestion of Amanita muscaria are not restricted to North America.

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Formerly found only in the Northern hemisphere, Amanita muscaria has been inadvertently introduced to the Southern hemisphere in Pinus tree farms, producing a novel, toxic species of red Amanita in places where no ibotenic acid-containing amanitas have been found before. This has had tragic consequences in Tanzania, where locals had safely gathered a of choice, edible Amanita species for many generations, without a thought to careful identifications. Often only the Amanita caps were gathered, leaving the bases buried.

A muscaria cap in age, with its warts removed and with a striate margin, can closely resemble local edible species in Amanita section Caesarea. While Finnish mycologists were in Tanzania describing some of these local edible Amanita species for science, they consulted on a muscaria poisoning case, where two women and were poisoned and in hospital. After reassuring doctors that the poisonings would resolve on their own, since that was indeed their experience with muscaria poisonings in Scandinavia, they were horrified to learn that one of the women died from her meal the next day.

Upon further interviews with other Tanzanian locals gathering amanitas, they discovered Beautiful mature looking flirt Aurora Colorado more recent muscaria deaths Harkonen, If one is willing to go back a little over a hundred years ago, you discover the unfortunate death of Italian diplomat Count de Vecchj, who requested amanita mushrooms from the Virginia countryside for his breakfast, believing them to be local examples of Amanita caesarea. Unfortunately, the mushrooms that were brought to and consumed by the Count were not the choice, edible caesarea of Italy, but the toxic muscaria, and the Count ate a gluttonous meal of somewhere between a dozen and two dozen caps, which resulted in convulsions so great that he broke his hotel bed Rose, The Count, who prided himself upon his mushroom identification skills, died from his meal.

Out of his death and its ensuing lurid and widespread publicity, sprang a renewed North American interest in mushroom societies, especially in the Northeast, to provide much needed public education about edible and poisonous wild mushrooms Rose, On the face of all of this evidence to the contrary, it is disingenuous at best to consider muscaria to not be a poisonous mushroom.

But poisonous is an off-putting word, ple Rubel, a fan of muscaria eating to be sure. Or maybe reject the idea of eating muscaria as an edible species altogether?

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Beug fields poisoning calls in the Pacific Northwest, where muscimol poisonings for the majority of all serious mushroom poisonings. He had also heard that some Russians living outside Moscow eat detoxified muscaria as an edible species through the work of R. Gordon Wasson and later from Dr. Here is what Beug had to say about eating Amanita muscaria :. Lincoff and a group of 15 or so others traveled to the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia in and Their purpose was to investigate firsthand the statements made by Gordon Wasson about Amanita muscaria use in Siberia, taken from his book, Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality.

Here is what Lincoff had to say about local attitudes towards muscaria:. The Eastern Siberian Koryak and Even or Evensk tribes, the hunter-gatherers to which Lincoff refers, eat their muscaria sun-dried and uncooked, for maximum mind-altering potency. It is used as a sort of tonic within that traditional society, especially by the elderly. It is not eaten as a food species, but as medicine. Russian mycologist Tatiana Bulyankova, a scientist from Western Siberia who has been contributing field observations to the popular website Mushroomobserver.

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Point taken, Tatiana! I think we may safely draw the conclusion that even in obsessively fungiphilic Russia, the common-sense cultural bias is against eating Amanita muscaria as an edible. A quick survey of various field guides and online sources where the eating of muscaria as an edible species is mentioned shows very little empirical or even local evidence to bolster the claims — most muscaria eating was reported from elsewhere.

Again, there is no verification of these claims; and the information appears to be merely copied from one source to another without citation. There may well be a very few folks in Russia that eat muscaria as an edible species, and perhaps Pouchet detailed later in this essay managed to convince some of the poor to do so in France as well, but these are hardly widespread practices.

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This modern day writer remarks upon the difficulty of tracking down these old references, even within Italy, and lists many local variations of common names for muscariaall of which refer to its poisonous properties. Here are two quoted instances where locals in the past had detoxified and eaten muscaria Cornacchia, :.

In other words, the ovolo malefic was a food of desperation, and the preparation needed to make it edible was hardly trivial. Although I could find zero evidence of current muscaria eating practices, and in fact a respected French mycologist of my acquaintance scoffed at the very idea Wuilbaut,in his muscaria paper Rubel devoted a good bit of ink to the work of a Frenchman and scientist who apparently tried to popularize muscaria eating amongst the poor in the s: Felix Archimede Pouchet.

Pouchet in his time — like Rubel in ours — equated the preparation of and eating of poisonous muscaria to poisonous manioc, a staple food across Africa. Manioc starts out deadly poisonous and is made edible through careful preparation.

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But this is a poor analogy. Nobody in modern day North America needs to eat muscaria to survive. Fresh or dried, dangerously poisonous, cyanide-containing manioc is often the only high quality starch available to millions, mostly across Africa, where it can be grown in poor soil and under drought conditions.

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Its deadly toxins also discourage crop predation. But it can have faulty preparation as well, and can cause some very serious illnesses. Perhaps, like me, you had never heard of Pouchet? He was indeed a respected scientist of his time, and a popular science writer, but also one of the strongest proponents of the theory of spontaneous generation.

Would it be safe to hold the rest of his science up to a modern light?

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To prove that muscaria was a safe edible species, he fed dogs both muscaria -infused broth to show that muscaria toxins were water soluble; the dogs died and boiled and drained muscaria the dogs survived Pouchet, But do a few dog studies really translate to human safety? If muscaria was such a wonderful and safe edible species, why would Pouchet limit its use to the poor?

Pouchet is best known today for being a fierce public critic of Louis Pasteur, another scientist of the day who publicly disputed the commonly held theory of spontaneous generation. Pasteur was, of course, the French scientist who managed to keep lots of folks from dying in various horrible ways, by creating the process of pasteurization that prevented formerly widespread milk fevers typhoid and scarlet fever, septic sore throat, diphtheria, and diarrheal diseases and for creating life-saving vaccines against the scourges of rabies and anthrax Swayze and Reed, Pasteur gave a public demonstration, to which Pouchet was formally invited, to prove once and for all that it was in fact microorganisms, not spontaneous generation, that created life where there was apparently none before.

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Pasteur gave birth to the science of microbiology. Pouchet was a no-show at this triumphant exhibition by Pasteur, but he did give us boiled muscaria for the poor as his legacy. There is no evidence that it was ever a commonly accepted edible species anywhere in the world, and for good reason.

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