Thursday, April 3, 2014

Our "brain" on mushrooms

Pat Macpherson, Xochitl, CC Liu, Wisdom QuarterlyLos Angeles Mycological Society
Giant puffball "brain" mushroom found in Angeles Nat'l Forest, March 30, 2014 (WQ)
Some mushrooms are entheogenic magic
Recently, we went hiking in the rugged mountains behind Los Angeles, in the chaparral of the Angeles National Forest behind one of the largest cities in the world.

Plant wisdom
And our Indian guide made a startling find: a giant puffball mushroom that could only be described as a "brain." It is white, with two hemispheres, cortical ridges, a brainstem fixed deep in the clay and sand soil, and an apparent gunshot exit wound out of which, had Mr. Lincoln been sporting this thinking-cap, all his memories would have oozed.
Puffball skulls, UK (Nathan Lee)
The first question we had was, "Is it poisonous?" We followed that closely with, "Can we eat it?"

Like any good guide, we were taught the first rule for those who choose to snooze during survival training. As for eating wild mushrooms, "When in doubt, throw it out." This comes right out of the LAMS' playbook.

Cooking With Native Foods (Tim Martinez)
(LAMS) The fact is that there are many excellent edible wild mushrooms [and a few sacred entheogenic ones] almost anyone can learn to identify. And there are deadly poisonous species that every collector should be familiar with as well. 

Sadly, there are no simple rules to reliably tell which mushrooms are poisonous or edible. The only way to safely forage for wild mushrooms is to be familiar with the characteristics of the species one sets out to collect. Learn these characteristics by collecting with experts who can teach them those characteristics.

Haul of desert mushrooms reaching 8.5" and brain puffball (Xochitl/Wisdom Quarterly)
LAMS hosts several mushroom forays every season where beginners can start. Why use an expert; why not just go by trial-and-error? There is a more famous saying among mushroomers (mycologists, those who study mushrooms), and it runs: 

"There are daring wild mushroom eaters.
And there are old wild mushroom eaters.
But there are no daring-old wild mushroom eaters."

Venice Beach Marijuana
LA awash in pot as shops file to renew
These delicate fruits of the soil can be deadly. The Buddha was possibly lead out by death caps (Amanita phalloides) fed to him by a blacksmith mistaking them for a supple pigs' feast like truffles.

Beginners ought never rely solely on identifications based on a field guide -- particularly those that provide only pictures and brief descriptions
Find some mushrooms in need of identification? See the L.A. Mycological Society contact page. Also check the recommended reading page for Websites, books, and journals to learn to identify mushrooms in the wild.
Los Angeles February Rain
LA rain: showers, hail, thunder, wind, road closures Wed. (Maya Sugarman/KPCC)

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