Are Shaggy Manes Poisonous?

What are these mushrooms and are they poisonous?

—Mark Herrell, age 8, Sevastopol School

Your mushrooms are called shaggy manes, and no, they are not poisonous.

Actually, out of 10,000 mushroom species in North America, only about twelve species are considered deadly. Deadly is an accurate description. Poison mushrooms really are dangerous…..a few can kill people. Even so-called edible mushrooms make some people very  sick.

And that’s why I don’t worry about poison mushrooms. I simply do not put mushrooms in my mouth, except the ones I buy at a store or find on the top of a pizza.

I have friends who collect and eat wild mushrooms but they have studied a lot, know just the right stage to pick the mushrooms, and they never gather them from lawns which have had chemicals  applied.  Most importantly,  they never ever  eat mushrooms unless they are 100% sure of what they are eating.  I figure that if you have to ask if a mushroom is safe, you aren’t 100% sure.

But it won’t hurt you to touch or smell a mushroom. You have to swallow a piece before you are harmed.

Shaggy mane mushrooms are strange…in a lot of ways. Yes, they are edible if you prepare them at just the right stage, but some people get really strange reactions from eating them. AND,  people who drink alchoholic beverages within a week of eating shaggy manes (or other inky cap mushrooms) can go a little looney. So are they safe? Jummm.

I mentioned that inky cap mushrooms, a group that includes shaggy manes and several other white mushrooms,  are downright odd. When they first appear, they look like marshmellows out in the grass. Then they kind of stretch into a white cylinder with messy looking scales on the cap. Then, after two or three days, or after being picked, the mushroom self-destructs, melting down into a puddle of black goo.

I just love the word for  this melt down.  It’s  “deliquesce.” What an elegant word for turning into ink-black slime.  But the function of a mushroom is to spread spores, and when a shaggy manes deliquesce, their spores are spread into the ground by the inky liquid. It works.

In Colonial Days, people collected shaggy manes to make ink. That also works. You can actually write with the inky black ink. And if you don’t put it in your mouth, you’ll never have to wonder if it will make you sick.



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