How to identify poisonous mushrooms

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Kenyan kids living at the coast, western and central parts of the country have been warned to watch out for deadly poisonous mushrooms which increase with the onset of rains.

“There is only one per cent of poisonous mushrooms can kill you and they are mostly found in the Arabuko Sokoke Forest in the north coast and the Kayas of the south coast, Kakamega Forest in western Kenya and Mt.Kenya forest area,” said Victor Otieno, a Project Assistant at the Botany Department in the National Museums of Kenya.

There however over 10000 species of mushrooms in the world and telling the poisonous ones apart can become quite challenging.

“The good news is that only one per cent can kill you. Half of them are inedible meaning that they are either to chew or just plain indigestible. A quarter of them are edible but tasteless while 20 per cent will make you sick. It is only the remaining four per cent that are the good and tasty to eat,” said Victor.

The 20 per cent of mushrooms that make one sick irritate the digestive tract.

“In mild cases, this means that you will throw up after eating the mushrooms. In more severe cases, it means that your entire digestive tract becomes extremely upset and expels whatever is inside it, in whatever direction is quickest. In very severe cases, your digestive tract continues trying to expel whatever is in it for a few days,” said Victor.

When it comes to distinguishing mushrooms, Victor warns that there is blanket way to tell them apart. One just needs to learn their charactersitics.

 “There is no single rule that allows you to determine if a mushroom is edible. Similarly, it would be wrong to say that all white mushrooms are edible or all brown ones or all red ones can be eaten. The only way to identify a wild mushroom is to know the characteristics of the mushroom that you are identifying,” said Victor.

Inorder to avoid making mistakes, Victor also advises that one should  know not only the mushroom they want, but also mushrooms that look like your desired mushrooms.

“If you know your “lookalikes,” you are less likely to misidentify mushrooms as a result of your failure to note a couple key characteristics,” he said.

When identifying a mushroom, one gathers their information along four main areas: description of size, colour; smell; touch; taste.

The smell of mushrooms vary from amazing to not so pleasant therefore the various descriptives terms can help in identification.

Not only do mushrooms differ in their smell but also their touch.

“They are fuzzy, slimy, dry, smooth, spiny, hairy, scaly, waxy among others. When identifying a mushroom it is important to note how it feels,” said Victor.

Lastly, once you have learned a bit about mushrooms, “you can begin tasting them to help you identify them. This method is not recommended to beginners only experienced collectors can do so.”

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