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Mushrooms at the Store, the Farmers Market, and in the Wild continued...

Supermarkets source their produce from a variety of sellers, so the mushrooms available this week may be from a different area as those offered last week. She advises her clients to shop at farmers markets when they can, buying from the same farmers each time. That way, they'll know they come from the same soil each time.

Some people may prefer to find their own mushrooms out in the wilderness.

"Foraging is definitely more popular these days," says 'Wildman' Steve Brill, who has been leading groups on gathering trips throughout New York State and the Northeast for nearly 30 years.

Brill credits the Internet, which has allowed information sharing among enthusiasts to flourish and spread. Yahoo groups, like Forage Ahead and NortheastMushrooms, as well as Facebook pages and meetup.com groups have brought people together to discuss and hunt their favorite mushrooms.

Safety First

Foraging is not without risks -- there are, of course, poisonous, even deadly mushrooms. The North American Mycological Association, which has been tracking mushroom poisonings for more than 30 years, receives an average of one report of a human death due to mushrooms each year. However, in 2009, there were four people who died after eating mushrooms containing a toxin called amatoxin, according to the North American Mycological Association.

Brill says that foraging intelligently will keep trouble at bay.

"You have to make an effort to mess up with mushrooms, and it's usually people who have no knowledge who do so," Brill says. “A lot of the fear is simply nature-phobia.”

Brill says that touching poisonous mushrooms is not dangerous, but he strongly advises only eating mushrooms that can be identified with 100% certainty -- and none should be eaten raw.

"Magic" Mushrooms

Finally, there are mushrooms that are eaten not for their nutritional content but for their psychedelic properties. Often called magic mushrooms, these fungi contain a hallucinogenic substance called psilocybin. 

In one such study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers at Johns Hopkins report that a single dose of psilocybin -- given in a research study that was closely supervised -- led to a long-lasting increase in openness, a personality trait related to imagination, creativity, feelings, and abstract ideas. The study authors suggest that psilocybin may prove useful in treating neuroticism and accompanying depression and anxiety, but it will take more research to learn how that works.

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