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MUSHROOM SEASON WARRANTS CAUTION : WILD FUNGI CAN BE FATAL, EXPERTS SAY.

Byline: Craig Marine San Francisco Examiner

They're delicious - but can be deadly.

Mushrooms have been sprouting across the West with the fall rain, marking the start of the heavy mushroom season that will continue into February. But experts warn that should you decide to go gathering, you'd better know what you're doing.

``Maybe 40 percent of the wild mushrooms will cause you some kind of discomfort, and two of them will kill you,'' said Erik Ramberg of the San Francisco Mycological Society. ``We don't recommend that anyone gather and eat wild mushrooms unless they have had at least a minimum of instruction from an expert.''

Amanita phalloides - commonly known as the death cap mushroom - poisoned five San Francisco Bay Area people earlier this year, forcing one 13-year-old girl to undergo a nine-hour partial liver transplant. In February, the girl, her two siblings and their mother became critically ill after picking the death caps near the Lafayette Reservoir. A Petaluma man also was stricken around the same time.

Unfortunately, it's not difficult to find a death cap.

``They look robust, they smell and look great, and from what the survivors say, they also taste pretty good,'' said Ron Russo, chief naturalist for the East Bay Regional Park District and author of ``The Magic World of Mushrooms.''

``The death caps are very common,'' added Ramberg. ``Anyone . . . who looks for mushrooms will run across them very easily and very quickly.''

The San Francisco Mycological Society offers excursions for pickers of all levels of expertise, from ``the absolute know-nothings to people who have been gathering for decades,'' Ramberg said.

``Everyone should have at least a minimum of training,'' he said. ``It doesn't take much to pick up a few basics. If you go on even one trip with us, we feel like you can pick up enough of the basics not to run into problems.''

Russo said one of the main problems with the death cap is the mushroom's delayed effect once it's eaten. It can be 14 hours after ingestion before any symptoms appear.

``People sometimes don't associate the symptoms with the mushrooms they may have eaten the day before,'' Russo said. ``It's very easy to miss the diagnosis since it has symptoms much like the flu. But before long it starts feeding on the organs - the liver, the kidneys - and it may be too late.''

The other deadly mushroom - galerina - is much smaller and a lot harder to find than the death cap, Ramberg said. ``It's a small wood-rotter - it only grows in rotting wood. It looks a lot less attractive than the death cap; it's only about the size of a fingertip. That's why 90 percent of the fatalities associated with mushrooms come from the death cap.''

``Learn from someone who knows what they're doing,'' he said. ``It could make all the difference in the world. It might even save your life.''

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Photo

Photo: Eating wild mushrooms can be an epicurean treat, but gathering gourmets must take care not to confuse death cap mushrooms, above, with edible varieties now sprouting throughout the West.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 1, 1996
Words:516
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