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"Be Careful Out There"

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Some years ago on the popular TV drama "Hill Street Blues," we heard a cautionary line which applies to this situation, also. "Be careful out there."

Warm spring days bring out the hunters - mushroom hunters - tromping through woods and along streams, seeking the elusive morel. And while many real morels are hiding out there under the leaves, other fungi resembling them are there, and are often mistaken for morels. One is popularly called the "early" morel, and it is not a true morel. It is either a Verpa or a Gyromitra.

"Early Morels are from either the genera Verpa or Gyromitra and though there are people who eat these mushrooms without incident, there have been fatalities from them as well. Clearly, consumption of any mushrooms from these genera can be a very dangerous practice.

In older texts Verpa bohemica and V. conica are listed as edible but new evidence is contradictory. Newer texts list Verpa bohemica (the Wrinkled Thimble Cap) as poisonous and best avoided. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps and a loss of muscle coordination.

The other so-called "Early Morels" of the genus Gyromitra, G. esculenta and G. infula contain the toxin Gyromitrin, AKA: monomethylhydrazine. Related species including G. gigas, G. korfii and the genera Verpa and Helvella may also contain traces of hydrazines. Believe it or not, monomethylhydrazine is a key component of rocket fuel. " Liver damage can also occur.

The most trustworthy text on the subject insists that all Verpa bohemica and Verpa conica be parboiled twice. Parboil them, discarding all the liquid. Rinse them in cold water and parboil them again, again discarding all the liquid. Apparently, the parboiling removes the toxins.

Some people eat them every year and seem to suffer no ill effects. Others prefer not to learn about their effects the hard way, and leave them alone, especially if children might ingest them.

Practice the old adage: There are old mushroom hunters. There are bold mushroom hunters. There are no old, bold mushroom hunters.

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