Taste like chicken, but with poison
September 24, 2008 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Should-I-eat-it-Filter?: It's not bad or old, but it was growing in poison ivy. It is a wild mushroom.

One of my favorites. Chicken of the woods. It has both the taste and texture of chicken. On the way home I spotted it on the side of the road. I told my wife and then after her night class, she stopped and harvested it. When she brought it in I noticed bits of poison ivy poking out of it Mostly stems but also a few leaves and berries. I'm sure this was poison ivy.

So, we've gotten rid of the ivy, but should we just throw away the mushrooms? Did growing amongst poison ivy make it inedible? One stem was actually growing through the mushroom, and it obviously touched the leaves. We would obviously cook it, sauteed in butter, but does it even matter? Eat it or don't eat it?
posted by Toekneesan to Science & Nature (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well washing it will not remove all the irritating compound, it's not water soluble, and I've read accounts of forest fire fighters being exposed to the irritating chemical in the air after poison ivy plants were burned so cooking it is not likely to destroy all of the chemical.

Want a poison ivy outbreak in your mouth and throat? (Hint: You don't.)
posted by Science! at 5:37 PM on September 24, 2008


The poison ivy oils will still be on it. I know those oils are not removed by simply rinsing (it requires soap when washing off of anything else), and I don't know if they would degrade during the cooking process. I wouldn't risk it.
posted by schroedinger at 5:39 PM on September 24, 2008


This doesn't sound like a hot idea.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:42 PM on September 24, 2008


General life tip: If it sounds like a bad idea with potentially horrible consequences, it probably is.
posted by gnutron at 5:54 PM on September 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


Burning poison ivy creates blister-causing smoke. I doubt cooking it will get rid of the urishol if burning doesn´t destroy it.

Here´s a product that´s supposedly good for getting rid of the rash. Maybe if it´s edible, you can try gargling with it after eating the mushroom. I wouldn´t eat it unless you have good health insurance and are feeling adventurous. Blisters may not be limited to only your mouth and throat.

Wait a minute -- you removed the poison ivy? I hope you wore gloves. Don´t rub your eyes.
posted by yohko at 5:56 PM on September 24, 2008


Do you know anyone who is highly allergic to poison ivy? Have you seen what poison ivy does when it's near a mucous membrane? My father and sister have experienced such a situation, unfortunately. My sister more than once -- like, couldn't open her eyes for some time.

For the love of whatever, do not eat this. And don't touch your eyes for the next month (hyperbole). Maybe you can salvage and figure out how to grow your own crop with any available spores!
posted by giraffe at 5:59 PM on September 24, 2008


This is one of the only times I have ever said this on MeFi:

No, don't eat. My thought was the same as yohko's -- if burning doesn't destroy the irritating compound, a saute in butter will definitely not render them safe and non-itchy.
posted by desuetude at 6:06 PM on September 24, 2008


DO NOT EAT IT. DO NOT TOUCH IT. DO NOT TOUCH IT AND THEN GO TO THE BATHROOM!
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:06 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, then, it's unanimous, isn't it?
posted by beagle at 6:27 PM on September 24, 2008


My wife is not very allergic to poison ivy, I'm moderately sensitive.

Things to consider, inhaling the oil puts it in the lungs, eating it doesn't. In fact, there is a folk cure for sensitivity to poison ivy that advises eating a small leaf or two every day to build a tolerance. This is even practiced today among those in the lumber industry. It's also been documented in the journals of early settlers after observing indigenous Americans doing it.

Yeah, we handled it with care.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:30 PM on September 24, 2008


That you're even thinking about eating this is totally insane. Don't eat it. Throw it directly away.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 6:47 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Uh, yeah, as a kid my dad had to be hospitalized because he got poison ivy internally. I really don't think your saliva and digestive enzymes are enough to kill the toxins!
posted by min at 7:03 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


No, you shouldn't eat it. What kind of moron would you have to be to think this was a good idea?

The possible consequences (tastes like burning) are not worth the possible benefits (ooh, free and tasty).
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:05 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Your followup makes absolutely no sense. Are you looking for some kind of confirmation here?

Insane. Do not eat it.
posted by odinsdream at 7:05 PM on September 24, 2008


I don't know if poison ivy is different, but generally speaking, allergic reactions get worse with continued exposure.

Until someone starts mass-producing an FDA-approved poison ivy tolerance-improving pill that had been tested for 20 years, I would really hesitate doing anything that would involve itchy, swelling doom possibly coming to my mouth and throat.

I mean, what would happen if you had a "went down the wrong pipe" situation? Don't even eat this in the ER waiting room.
posted by giraffe at 7:09 PM on September 24, 2008


From one avid mycophage to another; DON'T EAT IT. Doing so is just a terrible idea. I know it's hard to let such a seemingly nice find go, but cooking will not destroy the urushiol. Toss it and, although it's probably too late by now, wash up with hot soapy water. Tomorrow, go to a pharmacy and buy some calamine lotion and Benadryl. You'll probably need it.
posted by cog_nate at 7:23 PM on September 24, 2008


My wife is not very allergic to poison ivy, I'm moderately sensitive

I was completely immune to poison ivy up until 2 years ago when a small spot on the back of my hand spread all over. It was really, really horrible. Allergic sensitivities change and you may not realize it until it's too late. Don't chance it.
posted by jrossi4r at 7:52 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, there is this recipe:

Harvest the tender parts. Slice them across the grain to bite-size pieces or strips. Put them in a pan with a quarter to a half inch of water (or chicken broth), salt, garlic, a dash of white pepper, and lots of butter. Boil them until the water cooks off (approx. 15 minutes) and let them fry in the remaining butter until they're a light golden-brown in places.
posted by telstar at 7:53 PM on September 24, 2008


Things to consider, inhaling the oil puts it in the lungs, eating it doesn't

Yeah, it's not a hot idea to hold your breath throughout an entire meal, either.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:59 PM on September 24, 2008


Things to consider, inhaling the oil puts it in the lungs, eating it doesn't

What makes you think your esophagus is a better place to have searing, itchy blisters than your trachea? Even if your stomach acids can completely break down the urushiol (and nobody here seems to have any evidence that they can), you would still be miserable and possibly in life-threatening danger. And if the ivy causes problems all the way through your GI tract? Yikes. I don't even want to imagine it.
posted by vytae at 8:31 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


too bad. i'd not eat it, too, but Hen of the Woods (what we call it out here) is certainly one of the most delicious and rarest of all things in the world. Yummy!
posted by luriete at 8:39 PM on September 24, 2008


But if you do, I request a trip report.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:00 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


The mushroom will be coated with poison ivy oils. Sautéing in butter will not change this noticeably.

This is not a good idea.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:35 PM on September 24, 2008


In fact, there is a folk cure for sensitivity to poison ivy that advises eating a small leaf or two every day to build a tolerance.

This is so funny, I was just talking to someone this evening about this very myth. And that's what it is - the person we discussed who tried this ended up in the hospital. DO NOT EAT!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:01 PM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hen of the woods and chicken of the woods are two different mushrooms. I find it a little concerning that you found it "on the side of the road", because at least in the UK it grows on trees.
posted by roofus at 1:19 AM on September 25, 2008



My wife is not very allergic to poison ivy, I'm moderately sensitive.

Things to consider, inhaling the oil puts it in the lungs, eating it doesn't. In fact, there is a folk cure for sensitivity to poison ivy that advises eating a small leaf or two every day to build a tolerance. This is even practiced today among those in the lumber industry. It's also been documented in the journals of early settlers after observing indigenous Americans doing it.

Yeah, we handled it with care.



Wow. You really like mushrooms, don't you?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:08 AM on September 25, 2008


Look man, you clearly want to eat the mushroom. You don't like the answers you're getting. So go and eat the mushroom! Enjoy yourself! And keep the speed-dial to 911 on the ready.
posted by schroedinger at 5:19 AM on September 25, 2008


Eat the phricking Laetiporus sulfurus, already!

Urushiol oils are not exuded by poison ivy; they are contained in the plant's juices. You don't get poison ivy by brushing across an undamaged leaf; you get it by crushing, tearing, or touching a damaged leaf (or root or stem...).

Poison ivy doesn't eject its poison any more than porcupines eject their quills. Cut away the parts that grew around the ivy, and enjoy.

(Also a mycophagic gatherer, and have studied Toxicodendron radicans informally for many years.)
posted by IAmBroom at 7:05 AM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


My initial response, upon reading the front-page part of your question, was DEAR GOD, NO.

After reading the more inside, my response is DEAR GOD, NO.

FWIW, I tend to fall more towards the "go ahead and eat it" end of the spectrum for "should I eat this" questions in general. My answer is still DEAR GOD, NO.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:55 AM on September 25, 2008


My intuition says that you shouldn't eat it.

As a side note: "Chicken of the Woods"? A mushroom that tastes like chicken? Dude, someone really needs to grow a lot of this and sell it to the converts to vegetarianism who really miss meat. It's a whole lot better idea than faux-burgers.
posted by Citrus at 12:04 PM on September 25, 2008


Urushiol oils are not exuded by poison ivy; they are contained in the plant's juices. You don't get poison ivy by brushing across an undamaged leaf; you get it by crushing, tearing, or touching a damaged leaf (or root or stem...).

Poison ivy doesn't eject its poison any more than porcupines eject their quills. Cut away the parts that grew around the ivy, and enjoy.


Okay, I'm not a mushroom gatherer. But by the description, it wasn't just touching poison ivy, it was growing within a big patch on the roadside (who knows how many dogs, squirrels, possums tromped through) and then harvested at night (bits of poison ivy stems were picked with the mushrooms.) Seems like a lot of opportunity for crushed and torn leaves and stems to be in contact with much of the surface of the mushroom.
posted by desuetude at 12:19 PM on September 25, 2008


Sorry we didn’t follow up sooner but we only just got back from the hospital.

Kidding.

A good customer, a nuclear engineer, once told me that the future belonged to those that could correctly assess risk in novel situations and among mostly unknown variables. That he told me on the day I was closing my business for good made me wonder if it was some comment on my business acumen. I think, with hindsight, that it had nothing to do with me specifically, but was just a very astute observation on the current state of affairs. I thought about it twice in the past couple of days. Once when deciding if I should eat possibly tainted, free and delicious food, and once while I listened to the news about the financial crisis.

I don’t believe that most people who might eat poison ivy would have a catastrophic reaction to it. There is simply too much evidence to the contrary. Euell Gibbons and Tom Brown both did it. And there is lots of evidence of it in the historic record. The practice is referred to as Mithridatism and if you listen to the NPR story I linked to above, you’ll discover that while not well understood, it has a real place in medicine. Think of the studies that show kids who grow up in homes with cats and dogs are significantly less likely to get asthma and allergies. Yes, about 85% of the population will develop some reaction to poison ivy when they come in contact with it, but it appears that contact needs to occur on the skin. Yes some who eat it will have a major reaction, but it appears not near the number or to the severity of those who react when they touch it. And I suppose the devil is in the details. If you can avoid touching it, as this video demonstrates, it appears you might be even safer.

A Google search on “eating poison ivy” can quickly find folks who tell of doing this themselves. One of my favorite comments was from a person who said the only reaction he ever experienced was itchy butt, once when he ate too much. Like the morning after too many hot peppers, but scratchier.

So I don’t think I’m insane or a moron for posing the question. I was hoping someone with an expertise might answer. Just what is the risk? I’m not talking about eating the ivy, just something growing with the ivy. What is the risk for the average person?

Yes, I like mushrooms, I like them a lot. This particular mushroom is one of my favorites and we found a whole bunch. But even this mushroom can be problematic. A small percentage of the population may get a stomach ache from it, just like with dairy. In my experience the risk seems more closely tied to the age of the mushroom. The older and more fibrous, the more likely it can’t be digested. So should anyone eat this mushroom? Probably not, but if you can identify it and can determine its age, well then it’s a delicacy. The risk is worth taking.

We live in the country and poison ivy is pretty common out here. We also camp a lot and our favorite spots come with a lot of poison ivy. One of the best defenses is being able to spot it. We’re pretty good at it. But that’s not a perfect defense. For me reaction to exposure seems to vary. Never terrible or serious. And not progressively worse. I doubt eating these mushrooms would harm me. But allergic reactions are a strange and often unpredictable thing. Often people think they are spreading it through things they touch or by scratching but I've read since I asked this that the thinking these days seems to be that repeated breakouts after the initial exposure may also be related to the body storing the chemical in the lymphatic system from where, over time, it occasionally travels back to the skin. In other words, urushiol not be the universal acid/alien spit we sometimes think it is.

So I figured I needed to investigate further. I went back to where I spotted the mushroom, indeed on the side of a tree, same place you’re likely to find poison ivy. Sure enough, there was poison ivy growing under and through where the mushroom was. I also spotted a porcupine and what appeared to be oyster mushrooms, also growing in ivy.

I also posed the question to a few experts to get their take on the matter. The first, a friend and the author of the book Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic Told me he would eat these mushrooms. Though he added the caveat that he seemed pretty immune to poison ivy and he wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating them. I also tracked down the author of the book Nature's Revenge: The Secrets of Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac, and Their Remedies, Susan Hauser. She was kind enough to reply that it was indeed a tricky dilemma. She figured there probably wasn’t much risk, as we were talking about something in contact with the ivy, not the ivy itself. But she did note that urushiol was really unpredictable, and the reason it’s use in Mithridatism is stalled is because it is hard to predict how folks will react to it, even folks with repeated exposures. She said if I did try it, I should cut out where the ivy was, just to be safe. Ultimately though, she doubted it was really worth the risk. I also wrote to Dr. Jim Marks, the scientist doing the research the NPR story focused on. Unfortunately, he has yet to reply.

When my younger daughter was under a year old, she was sitting on my wife’s lap and eating off her plate. At one point she reached over to someone else’s plate and grabbed a shrimp. When I noticed, she had already taken a small bite. We took it away and kept an eye on her. She later got some hives, but nothing too serious. Two years later at a funeral, she took advantage of the situation to clean out the seafood bar while folks were distracted mourning. No reaction whatsoever. So we figured we should test the mushrooms on her.

Kidding, again.

We threw them away. And I kind of regret it. I composted them the morning after my wife brought them home. Perhaps influenced a bit by the rather shrill response I read here. I suppose when I was a younger guy I might have risked it. And I really think the risk to me, and it would have just been me, though my wife seemed eager to eat them too, would have been minimal. I had to make the same decision when I came across those oyster mushrooms. Though truthfully they were also a bit old and looked a little nibbled on already.

There is a product, by the way Citrus, made for vegetarians that appears to be a relative to Laetiporus, it’s called Quorn. Though I suspect it’s some form of hybrid. The box has no indication of just what kind of mushroom they're using. This development moves us only a few steps away from Acromyrmex coronatus, the fungus cultivating ant. Maybe this is how the singularity will feed itself?

Anyway, if I hear back from Dr. Marks, I’ll be sure to add his opinion.

Have I confirmed my own bias? Perhaps, but I didn't eat them. Maybe I also confirmed my own doubts in the process.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:55 AM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


All of the experts you asked said that they wouldn't recommend that you eat it, which is pretty much the response you got here. Who's shrill?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:13 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well I finally heard back from Dr. James G. Marks, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Department of Dermatology (cited in the NPR story above), and while he qualified his answer by saying that he had no idea if the mushroom pictured was an edible species, he did think that the mushroom was probably safe to eat in spite of the ivy growing with it. He suggested that I wash the mushroom with soap and water before eating it.

Thought I'd pass it on lest we convince others that there is a conclusive reason to throw away free and delicious food.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:01 PM on October 20, 2008


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