Warning and guidelines are being shared with the public and municipal authorities to prevent further cases of poisoning
Beirut, 21 December 2020: A number of scientists and mushroom experts have issued a warning to nature lovers and residents of Lebanon’s mountains not to pick and consume wild mushrooms to avoid further cases of poisoning, after repeated cases of poisoning requiring hospitalization.
“Many wild mushroom species in Lebanon are toxic and some are lethal. It is impossible to make confirmed species identification unless one has the necessary knowledge and expertise,” said Dr. Rana El Zein, Forest Ecology expert. “To avoid tragic events, we advise mushroom lovers to enjoy their diversity in their natural environment, and not to harvest any wild specimen unless one has solid knowledge and expertise in identification or is sure 100% of the species at hand.” We also urge people not to advance or advertise the edibility of mushroom species among peers, since visual identification of mushroom species is complex and tricky.
In fact, different mushroom species could look very similar in appearance, and visual distinction of these species could be very challenging even for the experts, hence their identification could only be performed with microscopic (spores) and molecular analyses (DNA). Besides, many mushroom species change their form during development, following damage by rain, animals or during decay; so unless people are well acquainted with the species in hand, they could easily be mistaken, and here lies the danger!
Eng. Darine Haddad – Head of the Mushroom Laboratory at the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) called on Lebanese municipal authorities, especially health and environment committees to warn residents of the dangers of consuming wild mushrooms. “We’re working on raising awareness and knowledge, and correcting some common misconceptions that might lead to new cases of poisoning,” Haddad said. “With the beginning of each season, many nature lovers get excited and might harvest and consume wild mushrooms thinking that their toxicity can be neutralized by soaking or cooking – that is wrong and dangerous!”
“Lebanon has a rich diversity of delicious edible species, and even a few that have medicinal use. Many families have kept a tradition of harvesting their local seasonal varieties – but these families have passed this knowledge and expertise on through generations, in the same location, and have learned to differentiate between edible and highly toxic species which have similar appearance and can appear in proximity to each other.”
Dr. El Zein and Eng. Haddad are both active on Lebanese social media pages and groups that are receiving more interest from nature and mushroom lovers. Romy Azar is specialist in environmental sciences and a digital creator who manages this activity online, to ‘ensure that a little knowledge from the internet does not become a dangerous thing,’ as she puts it.
“People mistakenly believe that a phone application or online reference can be enough to make a positive ID, and many send us pictures on the groups and to our personal phones asking about edibility,” Azar said. “The first thing we always tell people is that not even a specialist can verify if any species is edible from phone images and that this is a life or death responsibility that should be taken very seriously.”
One of the most active mushroom experts on the Lebanese pages and groups online is Iulia Demeter, a wild and edible mushroom guide and trainer from Romania. Iulia works on knowledge sharing and cooperation between mycologists, biologists and amateurs with field knowledge around Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
“The world of mushrooms is fascinating and can be very attractive to the curious among us,” Demeter said. “People are becoming more interested in culinary and medicinal mushrooms and are more enthusiastic about harvesting them in the wild, and we hope that with more knowledge and awareness, cases of poisoning due to mistaken identity can be avoided.”