Monday, October 27, 2008

Short-Stemmed Russula (Russula brevipes)

Season: July through October
Edibility: Not reccomended!

Well it's late October in Rhode Island, and freezing temperatures are very near. Mushrooms are not completely done for the year- but they are rapidly becoming scarce. After a dry spell for a couple weeks we finally had a good rain two days ago- and a few mushrooms have popped up. Today's mushroom, Russula brevipes is one of the most common mushrooms this time of year in this area. Russula's are very common, and infamous for being very hard to positively identify.

In general, members of the genus Russula are fairly large, gilled with a white underside and a cap that most often is a variation of white or red. They are so common and generally unedible (due to a bitter or acrid taste, as well as some species being poisonous) that they have earned themselves the acronym JAR (Just Another Russula). Bear in mind however that the rule with mushrooms is that there are always exceptions! There are some species that are supposed to be delicious, and many different colors, sizes and variations within the genus. Positive ID is often difficult if not nigh impossible. Russula's are often confused with another genus- the Lactarius genus (known as milky caps) with the primary distinguishing factor being that Lactarius species exude a milky liquid when injured.

As far as chowin' down on these guys- here is my recommendation. Many of the poisonous Russula's are red capped- so I would avoid those. A few of the white capped (and in particular a green capped variety) can be tasty, however the odds are that what you find will either taste like nothing, or have quite an acrid or bitter taste. If you really want to try one out and you are pretty darn sure you have a Russula, taste a tiny bit. Chew it- and then spit it out. If it tastes great- then you are lucky and got a good variety. I would also suggest waiting at least 5 minutes after you taste it- as often the bitter flavor will slowly develop in your mouth. If it is bitter, or bland- don't bother with it.

Most people avoid eating Russula as the vast majority are no good for eating- and many species can make you vomit/quite unhappy. The samples I collected today are probably Russula brevipes- one of the most common species. I did taste two of them- both were exceedingly bland- with a slow bitterness developing in my mouth. I always spit out any mushrooms I taste and rinse my mouth thoroughly afterwards. No reason to take undue risk!

To learn more about various Russula species check out the wikipedia page or the MushroomExpert.

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