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Nature Notes by Dr. Frank Lang

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Shaggy Manes

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I recently saw a sight that makes the hearts of mycophiles everywhere go pitter-pat. I saw some shaggy manes. In the fall amateur and professional mushroom lovers start to pray for rain. If we are lucky, when it rains and when it freezes will be well placed in time, and mushrooms will appear in woods, and pastures, even gravel roadsides, in great variety and number.

Among the easily identifiable edible mushrooms are the shaggy manes, which pop up through the gravel along our local logging roads, some years, in great abundance. They stand, sometimes in clusters, like British soldiers in white shaggy busby hats with a touch of brown on top. Mycologists, those of us who study fungi, and mycophagists, those of us who eat fungi, call the shaggy mane by its scientific name Coprinus comatus. Coprinus, from the Greek, meaning dung, for many of its smaller coprophilous, dung-loving relatives, and comatus from the latin meaning long-haired, as in a shaggy mane. For you mycophagists who might worry about such things, the shaggy mane gets its nutrition from other sources in the soil.

As it ages, strange things happen to the shaggy mane. Its gills and cap deliquesce; that is, they self-digest and turn into a black fluid, as does its relative the inky cap, C. atramentarius. It is said the black fluid can be diluted with water and used as ink.

But the shaggy mane is better eaten. Picked when young, the mushroom is edible and choice, though somewhat watery and delicate of flavor when compared with other mushrooms. Flavor can be intensified by boiling off the water during cooking. Denis Benjamin, in his excellent book Mushrooms: Poisons and Panaceas suggests shaggy manes should be treated like corn. . . the butter should be melted in the pan before you pick them. He is joking, of course, but the speed with which they mature to deliquescence makes fast action necessary.

Although among the safest mushrooms, the shaggy mane may, very rarely, react with your physiology like the inky cap usually does with everyone when consumed with alcoholic beverages. Ears and nose turn red, and strange metallic tastes, lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat, and sometimes nausea or even worse are experienced. As some of you may know, these are the same symptoms of Antabuse or Disulfiram, the drug sometimes given to alcoholics to make consumption of booze an unpleasant experience. The toxins coprine and antabuse both interfere with alcohol metabolism causing acetaldehyde to accumulate in the blood. Fortunately ,for alcoholics and unwary mycophagists, recovery is normally spontaneous and complete.

Start looking for shaggy manes soon after the first rains. They pop up as if by magic. Eat them quickly for soon they turn to ink. Don't worry about coprine poisoning from shaggy manes; it is very rare and seldom fatal, just unpleasant. If you are really concerned, don't drink alcoholic beverages and dine on shaggy manes.

-- Dr. Frank Lang           





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