The first rule of Mushroom Club

October 11, 2011

The first rule of mushroom club is not all mushrooms are edible.

The second rule of mushroom club is NOT all mushrooms are edible.

And even mushrooms that are edible can still make you sick.

Those are actually not the rules of the Illinois Mycological Association, but it was my takeaway after attending my first meeting, with former IMA president and friend, Catherine Lambrecht.

Mushroom club meets monthly at the North Park Village Nature Center. The centerpiece of the meetings is the Specimen Table. Members brought mushrooms from recent forays, some from Indiana Jones-esque expeditions, others from quick dash into the woods after work, and a few from the backyard.

In this day and age, you might think there's an app for that. While there are, I wouldn't bet my life them, and neither do the experts.

Current IMA President, Andrew Wilson, a rising star mycologist, carefully examined specimens—caps, gills, and stems—even holding them up to his nose to smell deeply. I said I didn't know that was safe. Wilson said it was and that you could actually even eat a small amount, tasting to help ID.

There were a few even he couldn't ID, not uncommon in the mushroom world.

One that was easily identifiable was the inky cap. It's edible, but also sometimes poisonous.

The earthstar mushroom may or may not be edible, depending on the variety and age, but it's fascinating. The center is actually a little sac, which when pressed, puffs out dark little clouds of spores. When stamped against a white paper plate, it's like a tiny coffee-colored makeup puff.

Mushroom club is open to the public. Dues are a mere $10 for the remainder of the year (since it's after September 1). Membership includes the monthly newsletter and access to all activities, including guided forays. The local mushroom season ends early November.

At the next meeting, Wilson's boss, Gregory Mueller, will speak. Mueller is one of the authors Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois & Surrounding States: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide. A celebrity mycologist, he was the Field Museum's fungi curator for 23 years, and is now the Chicago Botanic Garden's VP of Science and Academic Programs.

Happy hunting, but remember the first rule of mushroom club.