Edibles and Downright Poisonous
Well Autumn here in Japan has not only brought us the beautiful and vibrant red leaves of the poison flora, Ivy and Sumac but also, now the October rains are upon us a vast array of different fungal species.
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 so our fungal friends make their annual appearance. At the moment we are blessed with a vast amount of edible mushrooms but amongst the good must also be the bad....
By bad I mean in a sense that to eat some of them would almost certainly kill you but besides that triviality the poisonous species 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.....
Young Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)
The Fly Agaric above is a curious looking mushroom and most would beware 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 wealthy (it is said) would consume quantities of it by means of barboiling it in water and then have what would have been considered a bloody good night but what really interested me was the fact that the toxins remained in the system and would'nt be denatured when they were urinated out, so, the poor folks would stand waiting outside the windows of the gentry with a bucket who inturn would do them the honour of pissing into it, then, need i go on.....The poor peoples would rush off home with their booty to drink it and have a bloody good night too!!!
Amanita virosa, above and right, commonly known as 'The Destroying Angel' is also highly poisonous. It is said A. virosa is one of the most poisonous of all known toadstools....
Another Agaric variation that I spotted recently with a bulbous base is a pretty little yellow variety, here in the forests of Togakushi there seems to be an abundance of Amanita's and to discover this one along with the others was a real bonus.
Amanita muscaria var. guessowii
The Sickener (Russula emetica)
Above and to the left we have another slightly dangerous vividly coloured wild Japanese forest mushroom, Russula emetica, otherwise known as 'The Sickener' due to it causing vomiting and diarrhea when consumed although it can be dried and powdered to make a chilli pepper substitute
On a lighter note lets get onto the edible mushrooms. Recently when I was doing some research on the finer points of fungey 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.
Shiitake (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.
Naratake (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.
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 mushroomy 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.......
Yamabushitake (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 unmistakeable in their identifictaion.
If anybody is interested in other species I have come across feel free to visit my website where you will find a few more pictures of other fungal varieties.
Japanese Wild Mushrooms Gallery