Archive for Fungi

Clitocybe (Lepista) nuda – The Wood Blewit – a surprise

Someone who is enthusiastic about mushrooms like I am will let their friends know about it and when they spot something that you might be interested in, they will tell you about it.  So it was the other day when we were looking at a house for sale in Bridgetown.  My friends were in a small section of yard where someone had dumped some grass clippings.  Spotting some mushrooms, they called me over.   To my amazement, there was a cluster of Clitocybe nuda, perhaps more widely known as Lepista nuda, or the Wood Blewit.  This is a very cosmopolitan and widely eaten mushroom, that requires cooking before consumption.

This mushroom is an introduction to Australia and is quite common on the east coast where I frequently see pictures of specimens that others have found, but having never seen it in Western Australia, I assumed that it did not occur here, like several other species more common in the east. Edit: I have subsequently found that there is a single record from the Perth region from 1981, but I cannot access the record for some reason. Too old perhaps.

The particular specimens that were growing from the grass clippings were rather aged, though there were some new buttons starting up.   In the image below you can see both.

Clitocybe nuda in grass clippings.

Clitocybe nuda in grass clippings.

I have overturned the mature specimens to show the purple colour of the gills.   You can just see a purple button emerging at about 5:30. (sort of, sorry about the image quality, I had to use my phone). Here is a close-up of one of the buttons in the pile.

Button of Clitocybe nuda

Because these specimens were too old, it was not possible to consider eating them.   I am currently in the process if trying to get a clone going from one of those little buttons though.

Edit.  I visited the site about a week later and the little button had grown into a small but fully formed mushroom.   I think that these are some of the prettiest mushrooms around.  When cut, the stem showed a purple colour similar to the gills.

image

There are some other purple mushrooms around that one might easily mistake for this one.   These belong to the genus Cortinarius and it would be most unwise to eat any of them.   The one the springs immediately to mind is Cortinarius archeri. There are two main differences between Cortinarius and this mushroom.  The first is that Cortinarius always grows in association with a tree.  It is mycorrhizal.  These specimens are quite clearly growing from the grass clippings where the mycelium could be seen reaching down into the pile, however.  The second is that Cortinarius has a rusty orange spore print (see below).  These had a rather pale spore print (it was a very faint print because of the age) but is was clearly not rusty orange.  The orange colour of Cortinarius can also be seen in the gills as they mature and as a deposit on the stem, where the remains of a membrane is evident.  Prue also talks about this type of confusion on her blog. She is possibly referring to Cortinarius austroviolaceus which is the Australian version of C. violaceus.

archerii

Cortinarius archeri

Another couple of purple capped mushrooms are Leucopaxillus lilacinus and Russula clelandii.

Though I haven’t eaten this one, my friend Fiona  over at WhereFishSing has reported her experience with it, which anyone interested might like to read.

Now that I know that these are around, I am hoping to find more of them.  And if anyone comes across some little purple button mushrooms growing in their compost or grass clippings, keep and eye on them and please let me know about it.

If I manage to get this into culture, I will post some further images.

As a footnote, there are several other species related to this one growing on the east coast though they are smaller.

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Amanita muscaria – just for the hell of it

nibble

This mushroom needs no introduction, although most people in Western Australia will not have encountered it in the wild.   In fact, the first confirmed occurrence of this mushroom in WA was only comparatively recently in 2009.  See First record of Amanita muscaria in Western Australia.

That paper expresses some concern about this spreading to pine plantations in WA, where I in fact first encountered it.  Unlike the situation in other states, this fungus was not purposely introduced into pine plantations.   It has been demonstrated to be capable of transferring to many of our native trees in SW WA under laboratory conditions, which is of some concern to mycologists it seems. Since the initial sighting, it has been recorded in many places from Perth to Augusta.


Note: May 2016

I am watching this spread through the pine forest where I first encountered it and I have found it invading one section of the pines in the local arboretum.  It is apparently common around Margaret River

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I have known for some time that this mushroom was edible if treated appropriately, so with some specimens in my hand, I decided to research the topic.   My research yielded a paper by Rubel and Arora.

They point out the wide cultural bias against eating this mushroom and point out that the toxic components are water soluble.  They suggest a technique of boiling the thinly sliced mushroom in a saline solution for 15 minutes.

In contrast to that paper, Debbie Viess has published several papers that vehemently oppose the concept of eating this mushroom, though by her own admission, she has tried it.

After reading what was available, it seemed to me that the Viess papers really served to reinforce the cultural bias suggested by Rubel and Arora.  The suggested boiling regime did not seem overly complex as suggested by Viess, and discarding the water didn’t seem like too much of a burden.  So I decided to conduct my own investigation.

Erring on the side of caution, I cut up a single cap into slices of 3 to 4 mm thickness and boiled them for 15 minutes in salted water.  I then drained them and repeated the procedure, finally rinsing the slices in cold water.   After this treatment, there was no red colour remaining, and the slices were of limp, unappealing appearance.  However, I fried them up in a little butter/oil mix until they were slightly brown and found them to be quite tasty.

What troubled me was the lack of actual data regarding the rate of removal of the toxins, so I decided to do my own investigation.   It seemed to me that if the toxins are readily water soluble, then one might expect to see some change in the conductivity of the extraction solution.   So I sliced up a single cap, weighing 45g and placed it in 1 litre of water.   The conductivity immediately rose from 31 microSiemens to 60 microSiemens. I then began to heat the combination until it boiled and maintained it at a steady boil for 3o minutes, allowing it to rest for a further 30 minutes.   During this procedure, I took 10 ml samples with a plastic syringe and added them to 100ml of cold water, measuring the conductivity of the resultant solution.  From this  I could calculate the conductivity of the hot water solution.  I repeated this exercise with another cap of 40g weight which I pulverised with a blender for 2 minutes.  My results are shown below.

graph

The blue line shows the conductivity of the solution for the case of sliced caps and the red line shows the result for the pulverised caps.  The higher starting point for the pulverised caps shows that the finer particle size provided more rapid leaching.  This indicates that diffusion of the soluble components from the mushroom mass is rate controlling.  Hence the need for thin slicing and boiling.

I had no means of determining the actual amount of soluble toxin in the solution, but since these toxins are highly soluble, I expect that they would follow the trend with the total soluble components.  It would seem that a photometric measurement in the deep ultraviolet region at 254nm would be needed to follow the amount of ibotenic acid and muscimol in the solution.

I should note that I have not taken into account the lowering of the volume of the boiling water during the extraction process.   Because of this, my readings are higher than they should be.  Despite this, they do show that there is a fairly rapid increase in extraction in the first 15 minutes followed by a reduction in the extraction rate.

From my point of view it would be preferable for someone better equipped than myself to conduct experiments along these lines and to publish the results than to go to the extraordinary lengths that Ms. Viess has gone to in the way propagating fear of the unknown. In any case, I can report that I have consumed about 10 grams of the boiled slices without any ill effect whatever.

I wonder how the kangaroo that took the nibble out the specimen pictured above is feeling?

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PS  There is a description of what happened to some people who only boiled the mushrooms for 3 minutes at this link.

Prue in Tasmania reports pickling these. She has given a link below.

Debbie Viess has taken the time to add a comment below as well.

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Agaricus osecanus – Giant horse mushroom, giant disappointment

cropped giant horse

I found this monster growing at the base of a eucalyptus tree in Bridgetown.  It was almost buried, rather like Agaricus bitorquis.  Although I have called it Agaricus osecanus, that is a fairly loose term, referring to a group of similar mushrooms. I am using Arora as a guide.

I first found these during Spring, and then again in Autumn.  The most distinctive feature of them is the huge diameter of the stem.   As you can see, it is a handful.   In fact the specimen above appears to be three individuals fused together and it had dried out a little and cracked so that it was in danger of falling apart.   The flesh however was quite firm.

I was quite excited when I found such a large mushroom that was clearly an Agaricus of some sort and therefore likely to be edible.   I thought that I would take a culture of it as soon as a I could.   However, the smell was not like any other member of the genus that I have ever encountered.   A friend described it as ‘earthy’ but I found it simply ‘less than attractive’.

Before going to the trouble of culturing it, I decided to do a small taste test.  To this end, I cut some small slices (no colour change) and fried them in a little butter/oil.   My friend and I both tasted it and though the initial taste seemed ok, we had both spat it out within 5 seconds.   It tasted terrible.  Hard to describe exactly, but I found it to have a floury taste.  Certainly not something that you would want to swallow.

So, for me this represents a fourth grouping within Agaricus, based mainly on the smell.  The other three categories are mushroom (octenol) smell, almond smell and phenol smell.  I can’t put a description to this smell, but it does not fit into any of the other three categories.   `

Such a shame.  It was massive and had lovely white firm flesh.

Ah well.

Note: May 2016

I had hoped to get another specimen of this and send it off for dna testing, but this year someone came along and not only smashed them up, but ripped off all the loose bark of the tree whose base it was growing at.  Such a senseless act and now we may never know what this was.

 

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Fistulina spiculifera- Beefsteak in name only

Fistulina hepatica is a cosmopolitan fungus that is known in Europe as growing on oak trees.   In Western Australia it favours Jarrah, though I have one next to my house that grows on a Blackbutt.  Though it could not be classed as common, it is widespread.   I have seen it growing in Kings Park in Perth.  It probably grows right throughout the range of the Jarrah tree.  As a young fungus, it is quite soft and dense, but as it ages it can become quite tough, like many other bracket fungi.   Here is a small specimen that is around 120 mm across.

Fistulina hepatica

Fistulina hepatica

Note the ribbed upper surface.  The underside is yellow pores and it has a yellow spore print when viewed as a dense mass.  There really isn’t anything else that you could confuse this with unless you really tried. Though the specimens I have seen do show signs of insect attack, they  do seem to be quite resistant to that attack and the fungus makes it through to old age without being reduced to a mush, if I may use that term

When cut into slices, it displays quite a pleasant pattern:

Fistulina slices

Fistulina slices

With some exposure to the air, the cut surfaces can take on a liver red colour, which is where the ‘hepatica’ part of the name comes from.  This colour may be due to the phenolic compounds that are reported to occur in it.  It is also reported to contain vitamin C, which is unusual for a fungus in my experience.

Fistulina_red

The name ‘Beefsteak fungus’ is perhaps unfortunate as it tends to make one think that it should be treated like a piece of meat.  The taste, however is nothing like meat, or any of the mushrooms that you might normally serve with meat.  Raw, it is rather bland, but with a light frying it takes on a slightly acidic taste that most closely resembles some sort of fruit.  So much so that I think it might reasonably be incorporated into a sweet dish.  I have given a sample to a friend who is a cooking guru to see what she comes up with.  In the meantime, I have left some in the fridge while I wait for a response.

This fungus has been brought into culture and I will see if I can persuade any of my friends with expertise in that field to attempt the same.

I will add to this post when I have investigated further.

19 June 2013

I cut the mushroom into thin slices and poached them in a sugar solution.   The resultant pieces were similar to apple which has undergone the same treatment.  With enough of these, one could perhaps make a sweet mushroom pie.

23 June 2013

Thus fungus is responsible for an effect known as black fleck in jarrah timber.  I have been told by a local tree faller that timber with black fleck  does not bend and warp in the same way that normal timber does.

8 July 2021

There are several mentions of this fungus in old records and I will try to list some of these here.  The first is a mention by James Drummond in a letter to the Perth Enquirer in May 1842.  An extract is shown below.

Boletus-Drummond-1

A decade earlier than this, May 1832, Alexander Collie went on an exploration to the land north of Menang country with a man named Manyat. He wrote;

I did not require Manyat’s services as an interpreter, for I did not meet with any Aboriginal people during the whole of my march of ten days, to the distance of 65 miles from King George’s Sound.[Collie doesn’t mention the direction he went in, but I expect it was to the west of the Stirling Ranges to somewhere in the region of Tambellup

Manyat performed the service of fire starter and carrier. This he did with the barren spikes of the banksia serrata (or mungat), the seeded cones of the banksia grandis, or the bark of the jarrah tree. The first and last require no preparation, but the second is placed in the fire till the outer surface is little burnt, then buried in a hole scraped in the earth with the pointed handle of the knife (taap), or of the axe (koit). The excursion seemed to make him very happy; it certainly supplied him with abundance of food, as he had the same rations as the other people travelling with us and whatever he could obtain through hunting.

The animal kingdom chiefly supplied him with kangaroo rats (wo-ail), bandicoots, possums and crows. One of the bandicoot species found is possibly a new species and has no tail. The vegetable kingdom occasionally furnished light and highly relished morsels in two sorts of fungus totally different from our mushroom or the French truffle. They are species of boletus; the one growing out of trees, of a beautiful crimson colour above. Its Aboriginal name is numar. The other grows out of the ground, of a greyish colour, and globular form: it is named mord. They are both eaten raw, are very juicy, and have a slight flavour of the chestnut.

There are other mentions of Numar in various dictionaries. An example is shown below.

It is interesting to note the spelling in this last case as I was fortunate enough today to speak with George Walley, a Noongar man from Mandurah who not only runs a business showing people about traditional culture (Mandjoogoordap Dreaming) but who was introduced to this mushroom by his grandparents. He advised me that the correct pronunciation is with the ‘u’ pronounced as in the word ‘book’. He also said that as a child he had eaten it cooked on a fire. That is different from what Collie described and shows that it was prepared in different ways.

The image below shows the spores of this species. In this case I used Quink ink as a simple substitute for lactophenol cotton blue as the stain. Seems to have worked ok. I haven’t got a scale for this at this stage. These spores are in-situ within the tissue.

The pore surface is composed of a series of tubes of circular cross-section. As the fungus ages, the tubes break apart from each other.

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Vascellum pratense – an edible puffball

A very common sight in lawns in autumn in WA is Vascellum pratense, a small white puffball that grows no more than about 50 mm across.  If you pick one of these when it is new, the interior is white and is has a mushroom smell.   Later on the inside becomes a mass of brown spores that emerge through a hole in the top.  The sheer quantity of spores released by these mushrooms is so vast that one can only imagine the success rate of germination and formation of a new colony is extremely small.   Investigations of other puffballs support this conclusion.

As it is rather difficult to photograph this mushroom in situ, I have taken a few pictures of one that I have picked.  Here it is as it has been freshly picked from a lawn:

Vascellum pratense as picked

Vascellum pratense as picked

When cut in half, the mushroom shows two distinct zones:

Sectioned specimen showing two zones

Sectioned specimen showing two zones

The upper surface has a fine warty texture:

Texture of upper surface

Texture of upper surface

Examining a specimen day after picking, the outer surface takes on a slightly gold colour if it is rubbed hard with a finger.  The inside flesh also shows a very faint yellow when bruised.

To eat these, it is recommended that they be picked before the top zone begins to turn into a spore mass.   In other words, while the flesh is all white.  They are not considered to be a particularly desirable edible.   I fried some up in oil, where they browned very quickly, and then incorporated them in an omlette.  The taste was not unpleasant.  There did appear to be an after taste that suggested a flavour enhancing effect.

Comment, May 2016

I think it is important to cook them while they are very fresh.  I left some overnight and they softened slightly and the taste took on a slightly bitter edge.

These are quite a distinctive species.  The main thing to be careful of is not to confuse them with the genus Scleroderma.   There is one suggestion that the skin should be removed prior to cooking.   I didn’t do this however.

These can be a problem for greenkeepers when they colonise bowling greens or golf greens.  Here is an example of such an invasion on the bowling green at Nannup in May 2016.

circle of pratense

Fairy rings of Vascellum pratense on the bowling green at Nannup

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Dictyophora indusiata (Phallus indusiatus)- an edible stinkhorn

There are quite a few mushrooms that are classified as stinkhorns.  Many of these are said to be edible in the  egg stage.  Dictyophora indusiata is however edible as the mature mushroom and it is cultivated in significant quantities in China.  It is an attractive looking mushroom as shown below.

Dictyophora_indusiata

Dictyophora indusiata, Cairns, Queensland, by Steve Fitzgerald

The name refers to the net-like skirt or indusium which is a transient feature, soon falling away to reveal the stem.  The mushroom is also known as Phallus indusiatus, for obvious reasons but for the purposes of this post I have retained the earlier name.  This is a mushroom of tropical areas.  I have not encountered it in the wild personally, though I have seen the very similar Dictyophora multicolor in Cairns.  I have however encountered it in canned form in an Asian food shop in Perth.

 

When opened up, the contents of the can were almost pure white, odourless and contained the entire mushroom, including the cap, cut into pieces, in brine.

 

Like other stinkhorns, when encountered in the wild,  it has a disgusting smell.  Rather remarkably, this repulsive smell has been claimed to cause spontaneous female orgasms in the case of a Hawaian species!  Whether that is the case or not (and I have my doubts) the canned product does not have any hint of this smell.  From what I have been able to determine, the fungus is washed to remove the spore material that contains the odour components.

I cooked up some of the pieces, which contained quite a lot of water, in a frying pan with a little olive oil and then added them to an omlette.   I found that the taste was best in the pieces that had been slightly browned.  This may be due to the considerable amount of glucose contained in the structure of the cell walls.

I should note that one Chinese site (that is a translation) indicates that species that have a yellow veil (indusium) are toxic.  That would include Dictyophora multicolor.

I report this mushroom because it does occur in Australia and it is edible.  However, it might be an adventurous person who attempts to eat it.   I would be interested if anyone finds this or any of the other stinkhorns, and can let me know if the smell can be removed by washing.  Meanwhile, it is readily available in canned form.  And if you want a genuine Chinese recipe, you might like to try this one from the site above:

“Casserole in disposable full of water and put it into the old hen, add ginger fluff block a, a teaspoon of cooking wine first and bring to a boil over high heat, low heat slowly stew. 炖鸡时,为了防止汤水溢出,可以在砂锅上架两根竹筷,再盖上锅盖。 Stewed chicken, in order to prevent the soup overflow in the casserole shelves two bamboo chopsticks, then cover the pot. 大约三小时后,鸡汤已经呈现金黄色。 After about three hours, the chicken soup has a golden yellow. 这时可以将已经用水发过的竹荪切段,投入鸡汤中,再炖,等竹荪充分浸润了鸡汤的味道后,根据个人口味加盐,关火,撒一点点葱花增香,就可上桌了。 Then you can the segment of the water has hair Dictyophora cut, put into chicken soup, then boiled, etc. Dictyophora fully infiltrating the taste of chicken soup, according to personal taste with salt, and turn off the heat, sprinkle a little chopped green onion flavoring, can be serve.

【要点】给鸡焯水时不要弄破鸡皮;水发竹荪要多浸泡一会儿,才会去除那股怪味儿,竹荪不要放多,否则会夺鸡汤的鲜味;如果老母鸡肚子里油很多,要挖出来扔掉一点,尤其是在夏天对于喜欢清淡的人来讲。 [Points to the chicken boiled water not to break the chicken skin; The the water hair Dictyophora to soak for a while, before removal of the sense of smell children Dictyophora Do not put too much, otherwise it will seize the flavor of the chicken soup; old hen stomach where oil is a lot to be dug up and threw it away a bit, especially in the summer for people like light.].
(I think that was written by the person who did the instructions for my portable router table   🙂

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Ramaria ochraceosalmonicolor – angst and confusion

I first became interested in Ramaria ochraceosalmonicolor after the eminent Naturalist J. H. Willis mentioned that he had eaten it in his 1957 publication ‘Victorian Toadstools and Mushrooms’.  Ramaria are not easy to identify and any perusal of the internet will find various illustrations with this name but looking nothing like the picture below.  There is even a paper in the Australian Journal of Mycology (2007)  which goes into much detail about the naming of the species.

For my purposes, however, the important thing was to establish what Willis had eaten.   The paper linked above mentions that Willis as well as Bougher and Syme show illustrations of a coralloid structure for this fungus.   Though the Bougher and Syme illustration is clear and matches the photograph, I was puzzled by the reference to Willis until I noticed that he had an illustration of three species of Ramaria as a fronticepiece in his book.   I had previously overlooked these illustrations.   Comparison with his images left me in little doubt that this is the form of Ramaria that he was referring to.

This being the case, I set some aside for a sampling.   Ramaria can be risky, with a tendency to cause diahorrea according to Arora, so I decided to set them aside in the fridge and try them in the morning, rather than risk and uncomfortable night.

To be continued….

Ramaria ochraceosalmonicolor

So, I fried up the sample that I had collected and consumed about 2 tablespoons full at 10:30 in the morning.  It is now 6:45 in the evening and I have had no reaction.  But what an anxious time it has been.    After consuming the fungus, I began googling and came up with Ramaria flavo-brunnescens.  It grows exclusively under Eucalyptus in Brazil and other places in South America, and has been responsible for the death of cattle.   There is a report with gruesome histological details.  I am at a loss however to understand why there are not similar reports from Australia, given that there must be many cattle grazed on Eucalypt forest.

There is, futhermore, a report of human poisoning and death from this fungus (the same one as in Brazil), although admittedly in combination with an Amanita, from China.

The images from the Brazilian report are disturbingly similar to my image above.  Certainly enough to be within the general area, and the reference to Eucalyptus is especially unsettling. The poison is unidentified. It is reported to affect the incorporation of sulphur-containing amino acids such as cysteine.  It is also most likely volatile, as toxicity is not present in dried samples.

The books in my library vary in their assessment of this fungus.  Willis says he has eaten it.  Kevn Griffiths says it upsets some people, Bougher and Syme declare it poisonous.

In the balance, I suggest that this fungus is far too difficult to identify to consider it edible and there is some potential for it to be lethal.  Despite my experience of consuming a small portion of a cooked specimen and surviving, I suggest that it be considered an inedible species.

While there is a tantalising morcel about the toxin in google books, the key information is an orphan on an invisible page and I am loathe to spend the $137 necessary to purchase the entire book online.  It simply is not worth the bother.  The reward is not worth the cost.  I post this report so that there is at least some documentation on the internet regarding this genera.  I cannot find a single report of the progress of poisoning by this genus in humans on its own available on the internet.   Neither do my books on poisonous fungi describe the progression of the syndrome.

30 April 2015

There are more Ramaria out at the moment with a wide variety of colours and forms.   It prompted me to have another look for references and I found this one with some images that clearly show the ‘cauliflower’ form that is supposed to be a characteristic of this species.  Note however the slight difference in nomenclature.

I haven’t seen any specimens this compact, but I have consumed one of the local species with a local man of Italian descent.  I have made a video of him with it that I will process and upload when I have time.

If anyone has a link or relevant experience, I would appreciate hearing about it.

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Laccaria proxima – an abundant species

Laccaria proxima is known from both Europe and North America.   In my area it is strictly associated with pine plantations.   I believe that the pine species is the Maritime Pine, Pinus pinaster.  The occurence of L. proxima is variable, but it appears to be extremely common in well established plantations with trees of a diameter of around 300 mm.

In June in these forests there is a wide variety of fungi, including several small mushrooms with brown caps.   Laccaria proxima is distinctive in that it has pale salmon pink gills that are not crowded.  This distinguishes it from another abundant species with yellow gills that are crowded as shown below.  Laccaria proxima has a white spore print.  This should be checked.

Laccaria proxima, with pink gills on the right.

L. proxima varies in size from about 20 mm to 80mm in diameter.  The stems can be up to 100mm long and they emerge from the pine needle mat. Underneath the mat, one can see the white mycelium in a layer on the top of the soil.  As the mushrooms grow, they move from having slightly inrolled margins to curling up so that the gills are exposed.   Below are pictures of the different stages.

A young specimen

Mature specimens

A distinctive feature is the striations on the stem.  These stems are quite tough.  A small white mite was present on the specimens  that I picked in late June.   They are a long lasting mushroom that does not otherwise get attacked by insects.

I prepared some of these by washing them and then frying in a pan with oil.   I had to decant some of the water during cooking as it had caught up in the gills.  I added some ham to the mixture in the pan and ate them on toast.   The taste resembled Volvariella slightly, though it was not as intense.   I found that it left a pleasant after taste when I had finished the meal and this lingered for some time.

There is a smaller abundant  native species, Laccaria lateritia.  It is very similar in general appearance, but it is smaller and the stems do not display the same striations as in L. proxima.  It is probably edible as well but I have not tried it at this stage.

This is an interesting mushroom because of its abundance and well established edibility from overseas experience.  Though it is not considered to be a choice edible, it is quite palatable and the pleasant after taste makes it interesting.  I suspect that it has a flavour enhancing quality to it.

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Xerula australis – edible and medicinal

Xerula australis has synonyms Xerula radicata var. australis and Oudemansiella radicata var. australis.  (ref: Bougher and Syme)  There are several closely related species that are difficult to distinguish even with a microscope.

While this species is reported to be edible, it does not find too many rave reviews, although one variety of Xerula radicata is being sold in kit form in China and they describe it as delicious (I suppose they would!).

It has been suggested that they might make a colourful addition to a stir fry.  You would need to find a few of them though, as they are only a small mushroom with a cap 20-40 mm across and a tough inedible stem.  They have quite a distinctive appearance as shown in this image kindly provided by sunphlo.

Xerula australis

An interesting feature of Xerula radicata and most probably this variety is that it contains an anti-hypertensive agent known as  oudenone.  (who’d have known?)  The cultivation of  the fungus in liquid medium and extraction of the active ingredient is the subject of US patent 3835170.  The information in that patent suggests that the active ingredient is reasonably heat stable and should survive a mild cooking process at least.  Whether this is a good thing or not might depend on the individual.

I have set up a new category for fungi that I have not had any personal experience with, or reports of, other than that they are mentioned in the literature as being edible.   If anyone has experience with eating these, I would like hear about it.

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Gymnopilus junonius – a possibility?

Gymnopilus junonius is also known as Gymnopilus spectabilis according to some sources (Arora p 411 for example) and I am assuming that equivalence in much of the discussion that follows. It is also known and Big Laughing Gym, since there are reports of the species being hallucinogenic.  However, it is more likely that it has been confused with another species of the same genus.  Either that, or the chemistry varies a lot (and in fact there are sources which suggest such regional variation in the chemistry).  Bettye Rees, an Australian authority on the genus, describes it as a cosmopolitan species (6).  She does not equate it with G. spectabilis though, but with G. pampeanus.

This fungus is extremely common in Autumn in my part of the world, forming huge clumps on the base of dying trees and old stumps.  It occurs widely across the continent and Rees even suggests that it may be an import due to its presence on pine stumps.   I have seen it both on pine stumps and at the base of marri trees.  Apart from the reports of hallucinogenic activity, the species is not considered to be poisonous.  The dominant feature to anyone who tastes this mushroom is its extreme bitterness.   It is seriously unpleasant! Nobody with any sense of taste could possibly consume these, even if desperate for some thrill.

A little bit of experimentation however reveals that the unpleasant bitter taste can be removed by washing with vinegar and probably any other food acid.  By contrast, sodium bicarbonate does not remove the bitter taste.  This simple experiment reveals that the taste is acid soluble.

Given the knowledge gained from this experiment, I prepared some strips of the mushroom, leached them twice with vinegar and then rinsed with water.  The result was something that retained some vinegar taste but was free of the horrible bitterness.  I consumed a small portion without ill effect, or hallucinations!  So, I put this mushroom forward a possible food.

As with everything, one would need to be very sure of identification before proceeding with this.  And any experimentation should be undertaken with caution, but I see some possibilities.

Further notes 28 June 2012

My background in chemistry has caused me to become intrigued with this mushroom.  I have done some more research and find an amazing array of conflicting statements, first hand experiences and views on chemistry.

The first thing is that this species does appear to have been responsible for various hallucinogenic experiences and reports of this range from traditional Japanese sources (1), to present day forums that discuss these things.  It is said that the mushroom is consumed by people in Oguni in Yamagata prefecture, a mountainous area in Japan without ill effect when the bitter components are removed by boiling in water. (2).  The fact that the mushroom is mentioned from traditional Japanese stories, as well as the comment that it is eaten today makes the history of Japanese consumption an interesting topic.   It may well have been eaten for a thousand years in Japan. Kusano’s comment “Some people have described intoxication as a result of accidental ingestion of incorrectly cooked mushrooms” is an interesting comment, as it would be hard to eat them if the bitterness was not removed.

There are many sources that say this mushroom contains psilocybin, but many more that refute that.  I cannot find any reports in peer-reviewed journals of isolation of that chemical from this species.  It seems much more likely that the presence of that component has been inferred or simply claimed without due diligence (3) and many others.

Correction  23/02/2013:  There is a report of psilocybin in this genus, including G. spectabilis, which is another name for this mushroom.  The levels are low though.

Lloydia. 1978 Mar-Apr;41(2):140-4.  (just beyond the online numbers).
An example of a report that fails to find psilocybin is:
Stijve and Kuyper (1988)  Absence of psilocybin in species of fungi previously reported to contain psilocybin and related tryptamine derivatives. Persoonia 13:463-465
as well as ref(2)

Other literature sources report and discuss the presence of bis noryangonin and compare these to the components of kava to account for the observed activity.  This may be the case, but one might expect the resultant experience to be mild.  Rees reports the presence of hispidin and bis-noryangonin in many but not all specimens of the genus in Australia.  These are responsible for the yellow colour that has allowed the mushroom to be used to dye fabric.

Yet another explanation of the effects of the mushroom attribute it to the bitter principles, gymnopilins, that are said to have neurotoxic effects.   (4).  I have a copy of this last paper and the striking thing from my point of view is that the components that they examine are ones that are in the acidic fraction, which is the one we would expect to extract with a solution of sodium  bicarbonate.  We would not expect these to be extracted by vinegar.   It brings me to wonder if they have actually proven that they are examining the bitter principle.  There is no mention of taste tests.   Their initial extraction with methanol may leave a mushroom devoid of bitterness (it does), but they do not report on the bitterness of subsequent fractions.

So, I caution the reader.  The chemistry is not well-defined.  The source of any psychotropic effects has three explanations, none of which may be correct.  For the moment, I can only report my experience which is that the bitter taste can be removed with vinegar  and small portions of the resulting mushroom are edible and non-toxic.

Further tests involving boiling and (acid leaching followed by alkaline leaching) are indicated.  This may take years.  It is a very interesting exploration though.

References to follow.

Further note 24 July 2012

I found a large specimen and cut off a quarter of the cap and boiled it in about a litre of water for 5 minutes.  I then removed the piece and rinsed it with cold water.   Tasting revealed that the boiling process had indeed removed the bitter taste from the mushroom.  Further tasting revealed that the bitter principle had been transferred to the water broth, which had taken on a rusty orange colour.

Perusal of a forum dedicated consumption of  psychotropic mushrooms (5)  indicates that people consume the bitter ‘tea’ made from the mushrooms to get intoxicated, so that is further support that the leached mushrooms should not cause any ill effects.

August 2015

This year I tried slicing one of these mushrooms thinly and boiling it extensively for an hour.   I then fried the resulting pieces.   The bitter taste was still there.  I can’t really much hope of rendering these things into anything taste-worthy.

May 2016

Even if you can’t eat these, they may be useful in another way.  According to the book ‘Mushrooms for color’ by Miriam C. Rice, they can be used with or without mordants to create dyes for fabrics.   The fresh mushrooms without mordant give a bright lemon yellow.  Dried ones give pale lemon yellow with all mordants except tin which gives mustard.  Fresh ones with alum mordant give yellow.

 

References:

1.  Tom Volk’s fungus of the month for  April 2005

Kusano et al.  Chem Pharm Bull 34:3465-3470

3. In-Kyoung Lee et al.  Mycobiology 36(1):55-59 (2008)

4. Tanaka et al.  Neurotoxic oligoisoprenoids of the hallucinogenic mushroom, Gymnopilus spectabilis.  Phytochemistry 34

, 661-664(1993)

5.  Shoomery forum post #3307843

6. http://www.australasianmycology.com/pages/pdf/20/1/29.pdf

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