Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fantastic Fungi of Oakland County: One for the skillet, another produces visions of Santa and flying reindeer!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter  Above and below: Amanita muscaria

Late summer is the perfect time to forage woods, fields and meadows for nature's treats in the wilds of Oakland County: Jerusalem artichoke roots fatten. Apples ripen on old farm trees gone wild. Sunny trail blackberries will soon stain my tongue.  And  nestled away in Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore my secret patch of blueberries calls my name. I must answer that call soon before their black bears feast on all the berries we both love.

And then there are the mushrooms of late summer.
Unless you know them and know them well, leave all wild mushrooms  alone. 
All of them.

One of the most beautiful of  mushrooms is the Amanita muscaria, also known as the fly agaric. It is now emerging  under some canopies of evergreens in Oakland County. Some  patches are hidden away in our larger wilder parks, others just yards from suburban landscapes that have not been raped with mowers and poisoned with herbicides.   The Amanita is rich with fantastic lore and amazing truths and has been credited - perhaps properly - in creating the myth of flying reindeer and a jolly fat man in a red suit. When consumed, it can cause an intense psychedelic experience and is looked at as one of the most potent psychedelic mushrooms on our planet. They contain potent hallucinogenic compounds and were used by  some cultures for  transcendental experiences. The Amanita muscaria is a shroom that was historically consumed by Lapland herders and mystics and were also fed on in the wild by reindeer resulting in the expected effects of stumbling and prancing and visual distortions.  Prancing?  Sound familiar?  And perhaps you know of a red-nosed reindeer that flies!  These colorful mushrooms are still used today to illustrate  fairy tales, children’s storybooks, cartoons and most notably Christmas cards and Christmas ornaments.

When the Amanita first emerges (see photo below)  it looks like many other species; thus the potential for severe poisoning  The specimen below was photographed by me yesterday ( August 17)  just over the county line a few yards from a suburban home. The mature specimen (above) is from mid-September two years ago in a patch of woods about  two  hundred feet from my door.  

Amanita muscaria

Giant puffball in my yard August 18, photo by Jonathan Schechter

Calvatia gigantea is commonly known as the Giant puffball, and it is a true giant among the mushrooms. It grows rapidly sometimes appearing almost overnight in suburban yards.  (And contrary to rumor these odd beauties are not alien pods harboring strange life forms waiting to emerge! ) This tasty (when properly prepared)  mushroom is found in meadows, fields, and deciduous forests worldwide usually appearing in late summer or early autumn. In Oakland County conditions are perfect right now!  Giant puffballs are also  common throughout Europe and  much of North America and about the only thing it can be confused with when mature is a soccer ball. But when it is small and first emerging from the soil it can be confused by a novice with the potentially dangerous Amanita. A word to the wise!

There are many ways to prepare puffballs, but my favorite is cutting the mushrooms into small cubes to be simmered with vegetables , or sliced and fried in seasoned olive oil as a side with with breakfast eggs.  And keep in mind the inside of this mushroom species must be pure white, if the color has even a hint of yellow or any shade--time to toss. 

Eat hearty but forage cautiously my friends!   


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home