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Edible and poisonous mushrooms in the Asian markets

September 4, 2010

I just returned to Dokmai Garden after two intensive weeks in Hunan and Yunnan, China. Kunming seems like the mushroom capital of the world, with research on mushroom taxonomy, mushroom ecology, mushroom cultivation, mushroom biochemistry, herbarium, mushroom markets and a whole street with mushroom restaurants. Surprisingly, in September there were 300 deaths in Yunnan due to mushroom poisoning. Scientists believe people mix up edible oystermushrooms (Pleurotus) with Trogia. Local biochemists have isolated 2-4-5 hexadienoic acid from Trogia and induced intoxication in monkeys. Trogia is apparently new to the list of deadly mushrooms. The local mycologists warned me that one should never trust the cute old lady selling some nice looking mushrooms. The romantic belief that mountain villagers know what they are doing is false. The mushrooms could be deadly poisonous! You should always know what you are buying. Previously I thought it was safe to buy and eat Amanita hemibapha, an orange-yellow species which is common from Japan and China to Thailand. However, there is a very similar deadly Amanita subjunquillea

The Seehamongkol family never eat any mushrooms with a ring, thereby excluding deadly (and edible) amanitas. Nived Seehamongkol told me that when she was a young girl, about 50 years ago, one man in her Esan village mixed up Volvariella with a poisonous mushroom. As it was far to a medical station, the villagers buried the man in the soil, sparing his head. The man survived, so the villagers got the confirmation that the soil can extract poison. Ketsanee Seehamongkol said that when she was a girl she joined the elders in mushroom forays. They picked Termitomyces, boletes, Russula, Volvariella and Cordyceps.

For those of you who wishes to learn more about mushrooms, we currently offer a Chinese book on market mushrooms. Excellent photographs and scientific names, but all texts are in Chinese. However, with a scientific name you can always google to find out more.

See you on Sunday’s talk on plant health!

Eric Danell

Termitomyces are delicious mushrooms, commonly sold at Thai markets.

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