The Deathcap

Speaking of mushrooms ‘tasting great’ in my last mushroom post… I found a large patch of these underneath an oak in the Adelaide Hills. For those who don’t know, these are Amanita phalloides. The deathcap. Yes, it will kill you, violently. After ingestion, you get some violent vomiting, nausea, the usual. You then think you’ve recovered, about 24 hours later, but in reality the toxins are smashing their way through your liver and kidneys. 72 hours later you’re dead or in a critical condition, curled up in a mushroom-like ball, cursing the fungal gods. If you manage to survive you’ll probably require a kidney or liver transplant/dialysis. These are the mushrooms which killed the mad emperor of Rome, Nero, after his wife fed them to him – fun fact. So yeah, unless you’re an insane monarch with a death wish, don’t eat them.

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Half a cap of one of these and you’ll be dead within 72 hours

Identifying these suckers is fairly easy if you know what to look for. All deathcaps have a ring around their stem, along with a ‘vulva’ at the base of the stem. The vulva is like a cradle in which the mushroom rests. This is less pronounced on the left- and right-hand mushrooms, but on the middle one the vulva is very clear. Deathcaps often have a ‘steep’, conical cap (though not the left hand one) and a greenish-brownish tinge on the cap. They always have white gills. Their impact on mushroom-picking ‘culture’ (yes, it does exist) is an unfortunate one, as many people are scared away by the possibility of ‘accidentally’ eating one of these. The truth is, if you know what you’re looking for and what not to eat – in other words, you have a positive ID on anything you put in your mouth – there is very little danger in mushroom picking.

[I just realised I hadn’t posted this, even though it was written last year – oops! Better late than never… hope none of you ate one]

– Alex

Adelaide Hills Wild Mushroom Picking

I find that one of the combined ah… side effects of procrastination and holidays is the development of strange new hobbies. During the summer I decided to pick up knife throwing. Neither mum, the cardboard box used as a target nor the thrown $5 IKEA knives were very happy. I was, though. The holiday before that I spent far too long watching other people play games live online. Strange community, that.

These holidays just gone, though, I’ve become obsessed with mycology (the study of mushrooms). Boredom does funny things, eh? Thankfully, this coincides with autumn and winter here, prime mushroom picking season.

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A haul of saffron milk caps, best eaten fresh and roasted

 

At the most basic level, mushroom picking falls into the ‘foraging’ category of activities, which, for many people, is immensely appealing given the world of cellophane beef and pre-sliced vegetables so many of us live in. Foraging – believe it or not – is anything from trapping rabbits to picking blackberries to fishing. It’s living off the land and rejecting the norm, something which is becoming increasingly fashionable. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing yet, but I’m glad to live in the Hills, where it’s still something done by grandmothers and grandchildren alike; solidly unpretentious.

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