Book Review

Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of the World
by Ian R. hall, Steven L. Stephenson,
Peter K. Buchanan, Wang Yun and Anthony L.J. Cole

From the September 2003 Issue

Cover: Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of the World

The title of this new book did not attract our attention, but we learned it had a chapter on cultivation. That chapter comprises nearly 20 percent of the 371 page book. The other two chapters are entitled "Collecting Wild Mushrooms" and "A List of Wild Mushrooms." This book is really three small books in one binding. The chapters are not well related although a picker interested in Chapter 2 should also be interested in Chapter 3 and a grower interested in developing new species would be interested in the whole book. Let's take a look at each of these chapters then see how they fit together.

Cultivating Mushrooms

This chapter addresses the following species:

With the exception of Agaricus (6 pages), shiitake (10 pages), oyster (7 pages) and black truffle (11 pages), each species is addressed in about two pages, including photos. Clearly the treatments are introductory and too superficial to use as a basis for mushroom cultivation. In combination, however, the chapter provides a good overview of the typical ways these species are produced in various countries. The many color photos add a great deal to the discussion. For example, the shiitake section includes photos of of natural logs in three stages of production, an auger bag-filler commonly used to fill bags with sawdust in China, a low-tech Chinese pasteurization system, incubating shitake bags on shelves, two photos of shiitake fruiting from sawdust blocks, and interior and exterior photos of shade houses used in China.

The extra treatment of the black truffle is no surprise given Ian Hall's extensive work with that species. This section relies less on photos - truffles are not very photogenic - and includes the key points known about truffle cltivation that may also apply to cultivation of other mycorhizzal species. The critical nature of the fungal infection of the host tree, the importance of proper care upon setting the tree outside, and the key ecological considerations are highlighted. Although these details have been written up elsewhere, those sources are generally out of print. If you want to grow truffles you may want to buy this book just for the truffle section - before it too goes out of print.

Collecting Wild Mushrooms

This chapter provides an introduction to the knowledge you need if you want to pick wild edible mushrooms. It explains where to look for mushrooms and some of the techniques for identifying them - like making a spore print. Included are two circular dichotomous keys. One to identify mushrooms that have caps and stalks and one to identify other mushrooms and truffles. The species are limited to those discussed in Chapter 3 of the book. The authors are particularly concerned about collectors eating poisonous mushrooms. In addition to warnings in six languages, in the front of the book, Chapter 2 describes the syndromes associated with eating various poisonous mushrooms. It concludes with some advise to record information about your finds and describes how to photograph them.

A List of Wild Mushrooms

Chapter 3 makes up about half of the book. It's not really a list of wild mushrooms. It is written more like a field guide with some great photos that illustrate most species. The chapter "concentrates on important poisonous mushrooms and conspicuous edible species, particularly those with sizeable international markets." That fits with the title of the book. The species aree presented in 19 groups based upon general appearance (gills/central stalk/green spores; gills/central stalk/pink spores; etc.). A paragraph on each species describes the general habitat and the mushroom itself. Each of over 100 species is accompanied by at least one photo. Some species discussions, like matsutake, include further discussion and photos about commercial aspects of the mushroom.

Our Impression

We think the ideal reader for this book is a person familiar with mushrooms only through the supermarket with a notion that they would like to get involved with supplying those mushrooms. This book provides that reader the essential background needed to begin making career choices. You may want to purchase this book simply because it very likely will teach you something you didn't know about mushrooms - it's a worthy addition to your bookshelf. Better yet, you may want to purchase this book for your local public or high school library to encourage kids to think about the mushroom industry as a potential career.