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Shiitake Mushrooms of all shapes and sizes
Shiitake Mushrooms of all shapes and sizes

While countless people (including myself) have indiscriminately consumed the various scaber stalks without penalty, I can no longer advocate this practice without a warning. Two summers ago, an elderly man was hospitalized in New Hampshire with life threatening internal bleeding and gastrointestinal distress following the consumption of Leccinum mushrooms. He had shared the Shiitake Mushrooms with two adults; one suffered less severe GI symptoms, and the other had no reaction whatsoever.

It is disconcerting to be told a food you have long enjoyed is potentially poisonous, and skeptics posted indignant comments following the publication of this report. One person who had been eating Leccinums since age two accused the author of “fear mongering,” and another life-long devotee said, “Now my two toddlers are eating them with no problems in both Russia and Boulder, Colorado.” However, the poisoning was not an isolated incident; the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center and North American Mycological Association have also reported Leccinum poisonings in recent years.

Leccinums of all shapes and sizes

How can one person’s food be another’s poison? Do Eastern Europeans simply have stomachs of steel? The record has not yet been set straight, and the fact thatLeccinum taxonomy is so murky makes it difficult to pinpoint whether the culprit is just one species or the entire genus. Given the rich history of humans consumingLeccinums of all shapes and sizes, I tend to agree with a mycologist whose opinion is summarized in this Fat of the Land article. He believes that a few percent of the population is allergic to the overall genus, and that this explains the discrepancy.

So, what is the upshot of all of this? If you have been eating Leccinums your whole life, do not fear – you obviously enjoy them more than I do, and your body seems to digest them just fine. If you have never tried a scaber stalk before, you’re not missing much. If you’re ever lost in the woods and stumble upon a patch they’d make good survival food, but they’re unlikely to make you everybody’s favorite chef in town.

If you must try them, start with just a few bites, and then put your feast on hold until the following day. By then, the risk of an allergic reaction will have passed. If your palate is anything like mine, your desire to eat more Leccinums just might have passed too!