Mushrooms





Without giving descriptive attention to those Mushrooms (Agarics,

Boleti, and others) which are edible, and [363] of which

over a hundred may be enumerated, as beyond our purpose when

treating of curative Herbal Simples, notice will be bestowed

here on two productions of the Mushroom nature--the Puff Ball and

the Fly Agaric,--because of their medicinal qualities.



It may be first briefly stated that the Agaricus campestris, or field

Mushroom, is the kind most commonly eaten in England, being

highly nitrogenous, and containing much fat. This may be readily

distinguished from any harmful fungus by the pink colour of its

gills, the solidity of its stem, the fragrant anise-like odour which it

possesses, and the separability of its outer skin. Other edible

Mushrooms which grow with us, and are even of a better quality

than the above, are the Agaricus augustus and the Agaricus

elvensis, not to mention the Chanatrelle, said to be unapproachable

for excellence.



The Greeks were aware of edible fungi, and knew of injurious sorts

which produced a sense of choking, whilst subsequent wasting of

the body occurred. Athenaeus quotes an author who said: You will

be choked like those who waste after eating mushrooms. The

Romans also esteemed some fungi as of so exquisite a flavour that

these would be stolen sooner than silver or gold by anyone entrusted

with their delivery:--



Argentum, atque aurum facile est laenamque togamque.

Mittere, boletos mittere difficile est.



Mushrooms were styled by Porphry deorum filii, and without

seed, as produced by the midwifery of autumnal thunderstorms, and

portending the mischief which these cause. They are generally

reported to have something noxious in them, and not without

reason; but they were exalted to the second course of the Caesarean

tables with the noble title 'bromatheon,' [364] a dainty fit for the

gods, to whom they sent the Emperor Claudius, as they have many

since to the other world. So true it is he who eats Mushrooms

many times, nil amplius edit, eats no more of anything.



The poisonous kinds may be commonly recognised by their possessing

permanently white gills which do not touch the stem; and

a thin ring, or frill, is borne by the stem at some distance from

the top, whilst the bottom of the stem is surrounded by a loose

sheath, or volva. If phalline is the active poisonous principle, this

is not rendered inert by heat in cooking; but the helvellic acid of

other sorts disappears during the process, and its fungi are thus

made non-poisonous. There is a popular belief that Mushrooms

which grow near iron, copper, or other metals, are deadly; the same

idea obtaining in the custom of putting a coin in the water used for

boiling Mushrooms in order that it may attract and detach any

poison, and so serve to make them wholesome.



In Essex there is an old saying:--



When the moon is at the full,

Mushrooms you may freely pull;

But when the moon is on the wane,

Wait till you think to pluck again.



Even the most poisonous species may be eaten with impunity after

repeated maceration in salt and water, or vinegar and water--which

custom is generally adopted in the South of Europe, where the diet

of the poorer classes largely includes the fungi which they gather;

but when so treated the several Mushrooms lose much of their soluble

nutritive qualities as well as their flavour. For the most part,

Agarics with salmon-coloured spores are injurious, likewise fungi

having a rancid or fetid odour, and an acrid, pungent, peppery taste.

Celsus said: If anyone shall have eaten [365] noxious fungi, let him

take radishes with vinegar and water, or with salt and vinegar.



Wholesome Mushrooms afford nourishment which is a capital

substitute for butchers' meat, and almost equally sustaining. If a

poisonous fungus has been eaten, its ill-effects may nowadays be

promptly met by antidotes injected beneath the skin, and by taking

small doses of strychnia in coffee.



Gerard says: I give my advice to those that love such strange and

new fangled meats to beware of licking honey among thorns, lest

the sweetness of the one do not countervail the sharpness and

pricking of the other. With regard to Mushrooms generally, Horace

said:--



Pratensibus optima fungis

Natura est; aliis male creditur.



The meadow Mushrooms are in kind the best;

'Tis ill to trust in any of the rest.



The St. George's Mushroom, an early one, takes, perhaps, the

highest place as an agaric for the table. Blewits (formerly sold in

Covent Garden market for Catsup), and Blue Caps, each all

autumnal species, are savoury fungi to be fried. They may be served

with bacon on toast.



A very old test as to the safety of Mushrooms is to stew with them

in the saucepan a small carefully-peeled onion. If after boiling for a

few minutes this comes out White, and clean-looking, the

Mushrooms may all be confidently eaten: but if it has turned blue,

or black, there are dangerous ones among them, and all should be

rejected.



The Puff Ball (Lycoperdon giganteum bovista) grows usually on

the borders of fields, in orchards, or meadows, also on dry downs,

and occasionally in gardens. It [366] should be collected as a Simple

in August and September. This Puff Ball is smooth, globose, and

yellowish-white when young, becoming afterwards brown. It

contains, when ripe, a large quantity of extremely fine brown black

powder, which is a capital application for stopping bleeding from

slight wounds and cuts. This also makes a good drying powder for

dusting on weeping eruptive sores between parts which approximate

to one another, as the fingers, toes, and armpits. The powder is very

inflammable, and when propelled in a hollow cone against lighted

spirit of wine on tow at the other end by a sudden jerk, its flash

serves to imitate lightning for stage purposes. It was formerly used

as tinder for lighting fires with the flint and steel.



When the fungus is burnt, its fumes exercise a narcotic property,

and will stupify bees, so that their honey may be removed. It has

been suggested that these fumes may take the place of chloroform

for minor surgical operations. The gas given off during combustion

is carbonic oxide.



Puff Balls vary in size from that of a moderately large turnip to the

bigness of a man's head. Their form is oval, depressed a little at the

top, and the colour is a pure white both without and within. The

surface is smooth at first, but at length cracking, and as the fungus

ripens it becomes discoloured and dry; then the interior is resolved

into a yellow mass of delicate threads, mixed with a powder of

minute spores, about the month of September.



When young and pulpy the Puff Ball is excellent to be eaten, and is

especially esteemed in Italy; but it deteriorates very rapidly after

being gathered, and should not be used at table if it has become

stained with yellow marks. When purely white it may be cut into

thick [367] slices of a quarter-of-an-inch, and fried in fresh butter,

with pepper, salt; and pounded herbs, and each slice should be first

dipped in the yolk of an egg; the Puff Ball will also make an

excellent omelette. Small Puff Balls are common on lawns, heaths,

and pastures. These are harmless, and eatable as long as their flesh

remains quite white. The Society of Amateur Botanists, 1863, had

its origin (as described by the president, Mr. M. C. Cooke), over a

cup of tea and fried Puff Balls, in Great Turnstile.



Pieces of its dried inner woolly substance, with a profusion of

minute snuff-coloured spores, have been long kept by the wise old

women of villages for use to staunch wounds and incisions; whilst a

ready surgical appliance to a deep cut is to bind a piece of Puff Ball

over it, and leave it until healing has taken place. In Norfolk large

Puff Balls found at the margins of cornfields are known as Bulfers,

or Bulfists, and are regarded with aversion.



In medicine a trituration (H.) is made of this fungus, and its spores,

rubbed up with inert sugar of milk powdered, and it proves an

effective remedy against dull, stupid, sleepy headache, with passive

itchy pimples about the skin. From five to ten grains of the

trituration, diluted to the third decimal strength, should be given

twice a day, with a little water, for two or three weeks.



Sir B. Richardson found that even by smelling at a strong tincture of

the fungus great heaviness of the head was produced; and he has

successfully employed the same tincture for relieving an analogous

condition when coming on of its own accord. But the Puff Ball,

whether in tincture (H.) or in trituration, is chiefly of service for

curing the itchy pimply skin of tettery subjects, especially if this

is aggravated by washing. Likewise the remedy is of essential use in

some forms [368] of eczema, especially in what is known as bakers',

or grocers' itch. Five drops of the diluted tincture may be given with

a spoonful of water three times in the day; and the affected parts

should be sponged equally often with a lotion made of one part of

the stronger tincture to four parts of water, or thin strained gruel.

Sometimes when a full meal of the Puff Ball fried in butter, or

stewed in milk, has been taken, undoubted evidences of its narcotic

effects have shown themselves.



Gerard said: In divers parts of England, where people dwell far

from neighbours, they carry the Puff Balls kindled with fire, which

lasteth long. In Latin they were named Lupi crepitum, or Wolfs'

Fists. The powder of them is fitly applied to merigals, kibed heels,

and such like; the dust or powder thereof is very dangerous for the

eyes, for it bath been observed that divers have been poreblind even

after when some small quantity thereof hath been blown into their

eyes. This fungus has been called Molly Puff, from its resemblance

to a powder puff; also Devil's Snuff Box, Fuss Balls, and Puck Fists

(from feist, crepitus ani, and Puck, the impish king of the

fairies). In Scotland the Puff Ball is the blind man's e'en, because

it has been believed that its dust will cause blindness; and in

Wales it is the bag of smoke.



The Fly Agaric, or Bug Agaric (Agaricus muscarius) gives the

name of Mushroom to all the tribe of Fungi as used for the

destruction of flies (mousches). Albertus Magnus describes it as

Vocatus fungus muscarum eo quidem lacte pulverisatus interficit

muscas: and this seems to be the real source of the word, which

has by caprice become transmitted from a poisonous sort to the

wholesome kinds exclusively. The pileus of the Fly Agaric is broad,

convex, and of a rich orange scarlet [369] colour, with a striate

margin and white gills. It gets its name, as also that of Flybane,

from being used in milk to kill flies; and it is called Bug Agaric

from having been formerly employed to smear over bedsteads so as

to destroy bugs. It inhabits dry places, especially birchwoods, and

pinewoods, having a bright red upper surface studded with brown

warts; and when taken as a poisonous agent it causes intoxication,

delirium, and death through narcotism. It is more common in

Scotland than in England. This Mushroom is highly poisonous, and

therefore the remedial preparations are only to be given in a diluted

form. For medicinal purposes a tincture is made (H.) from the fresh

fungus: and a trituration of the dried fungus powdered and mixed

with inert sugar of milk also powdered. These preparations are kept

specially by the homoeopathic chemists: and the use of the Fly

Agaric has been adopted by the school which they represent for

curatively treating an irritable spinal cord, with soreness, twitching

of the limbs, dragging of the legs, unsteadiness of the head,

neuralgic pains in the arms and legs (as if caused by sharp ice),

some giddiness, a coating of yellow fur on the lining mucous

membranes, together with a crawling, or burning, and eruptive skin.

In fact for a lamentably depraved condition of all the bodily health,

such as characterises advanced locomotor ataxy, and allied spinal

degradations leading to general physical failure. Just such a totality

of symptoms has been recorded by provers after taking the fungus

for some length of time in toxical quantities. The tincture should be

used of the third decimal strength, five drops for a dose twice or

three times a day with a spoonful of water; or the trituration of the

third decimal strength, for each dose as much of the powder as will

lie on the flat surface of [370] a sixpence. Chilblains may be

mitigated by taking the tincture of this Agaric, and by applying

some of the stronger tincture on cotton wool over the swollen and

itching parts alt night.



Muscarin is the leading active principle of the Fly Agaric, in

conjunction with agaricin, mycose, and mannite. It stimulates, when

swallowed in strong doses, certain nerves which tend to retard the

action of the heart. Both our Fly Agaric and the White Agaric of the

United States serve to relieve the night sweats of advanced

pulmonary consumption, and they have severally proved of supreme

palliative use against the cough, the sleeplessness, and the other

worst symptoms of this, wasting disease, as also for drying up the

milk in weaning. Each of these fungi when taken by mistake will

salivate profusely, and provoke both immoderate, and untimely

laughter. When the action of the heart is laboured and feeble

through lack of nervous power, muscarin, or the tincture of Fly

Agaric, in a much diluted potency will relieve this trouble. The dose

of Muscarin, or Agaricin, is from a sixth to half a grain in a pill.

These medicines increase the secretion of tears, saliva, bile, and

sweating, but they materially lessen the quantity of urine.

Belladonna is found to be the best antidote. From the Oak Agaric,

touchwood, or spunk,--when cut into thin slices and beaten with

a hammer until soft,--is made Amadou, or German tinder. This is

then soaked in a solution of nitre and dried; it afterwards forms an

excellent elastic astringent application for staying bleedings and for

bed sores. The Larch Agaric is powdered, and given in Germany as

a purgative, its dose being from twenty to sixty grains.



In Belgium the Polyporus Officinalis is used medicinally [371] as

an aperient, and to check profuse sweating. By the Malays the

Polyporus Sanguineus is used outwardly for leprosy.



Truffles (Tuber cibarium) may receive a passing notice whilst

treating of fungi, though they are really subterranean tubers of an

edible sort found in the earth, especially beneath beech trees, and

uprooted by dogs trained for the purpose. They somewhat resemble

our English earth nuts, which swine discover by their scent. The

ancients called the Truffle lycoperdon, because supposing it to

spring from the dung of wolves. In Athens the children of Cherips

had the rights of citizenship granted them because their father had

invented a choice ragout concocted of Truffles. But delicate and

weak stomachs find them difficult to digest. Pliny said, Those

kinds which remain hard after cooking are injurious; whilst others,

naturally harmful if they admit of being cooked thoroughly well,

and if eaten with saltpetre, or, still better, dressed with meat, or

with pear stalks, are safe and innocent.



In Italy these tubers are fried in oil and dusted with pepper. For

epicures they are mixed with the liver of fattened geese in pate de

foie gras. Also, greedy swine are taught to discover and root them

out, being of a chestnut colour and heavy rank hercline smell, and

found not seldom in England. Black Truffles are chiefly used: but

there are also red and white varieties, the best tubers being light of

weight in proportion to their size, with an agreeable odour, and

elastic to the touch.



They are stimulating and heating, insomuch, that for delicate

children who are atrophied, and require a multum in parvo of

fatty and nitrogenous food in a compact but light form, which is

fairly easy of digestion, [372] the pate de foie gras on bread is a

capital prescription. Truffles grow in clusters several inches below

the soil, being found commonly on the downs of Wiltshire,

Hampshire and Kent; also in oak and chestnut forests. Dogs have

been trained to discriminate their scent below the surface of the soil,

and to assist in digging them out. There is a Garlic Truffle of a small

inferior sort which is put into stews; and the best Truffles are

frequently found full of perforations. The presence of the tubers

beneath the ground is denoted by the appearance above of a

beautiful little fly having a violet colour--this insect being never

seen except in the neighbourhood of Truffles. They are subject to

the depredations of certain animalcules, which excavate the tubers

so that they soon become riddled with worms. These, after passing

through a chrysalis state, develop into the violet flies. Gerard called

Truffles Spanish fussebals. They were not known to English

epicures in Queen Elizabeth's day. Another appellation borne by

them formerly was Swines' bread, and they were supposed to be

engendered by thunderbolts. In Northern France they were first

popularised four hundred and fifty years ago, by John, Duke of

Berry, a reprobate gambler, third son of John the Good. The

Perigord Truffle has a dark skin, and smells of violets. Piedmontese

truffles suggest garlic: those of Burgundy are a little resinous: the

Neapolitan specimens are redolent of sulphur: and in the Gard

Department (France) they have an odour of musk. The English

truffle is white, and best used in salads. Dr. Warton, Poet Laureate,

1750, said Happy the grotto'ed hermit with his pulse, who wants no

truffles. A Girton girl under examination described the tuber as a

sort of sea-anemone on land. When once dug up truffles soon

[373] lose their perfume and aroma, so they are imported bedded in

the very earth which produced them.



The Earth Nut (Bunium flexuosum) is also catted Hog Nut, Pig

Nut, Jur Nut, St. Anthony's Nut, Earth Chesnut, and Kipper Nut.

Caliban says, in the Tempest, I with my long nails-will dig thee Pig

Nuts. They are an excellent diuretic, serving to stimulate the

kidneys.



Pliny talked of fungi in general as a great delicacy to be eaten with

amber knives and a service of silver. But Seneca called them

voluptuaria venena. The Russians take some which we think to be

deleterious; but they first soak these in vinegar, which (adds Pliny),

being contrary to them neutralizes their dangerous qualities; also

they are rendered still more safe if cooked with pear stalks; indeed it

is good to eat pears immediately after all fungi. Almost every

species except the common Mushroom is characterized by the

majority of our countrymen as a toadstool; but this title really

appertains to the large group bearing the subgeneric name of

Tricholoma, which probably does not contain a single unwholesome

species. Other rustic names given to this group are Puckstools

and Puckfists. They are further known as Toad skeps (toad's cap)

in the Eastern counties.



Puck, the mischievous king of the fairies, has been commonly

identified with pogge, the toad, which was believed to sit upon most

of the unwholesome fungi; and the Champignon (or Paddock Stool)

was said to owe its growth to those wanton elves whose pastime is

to make midnight mushrooms. One of the toad stoo's (the

Clathrus cancellatus) is said to produce cancerous sores if

handled too freely. It has an abominably disgusting odour, and is

therefore named the lattice stinkhorn. The toad was popularly

thought to [374] impersonate the devil; and the toad-stool, pixie

stool, or paddock stool was believed to spring from the devil's

droppings.



The word Mushroom may have been derived from the French Moucheron,

or Mousseron, because of its growing among moss. The chief

chemical constituents of wholesome Mushrooms are albuminoids,

carbo-hydrates, fat, mineral matters, and water. When salted

they yield what is known as catsup, or ketchup (from the

Japanese kitchap). The second most edible fungus of this

nature is the Parasol Mushroom (Lepcota procera).



Edible Mushrooms, if kept uncooked, become dangerous: they cannot

be sent to table too soon. In Rome our favourite Pratiola is

held in very small esteem, and the worst wish an Italian can express

against his foe is that he may die of a Pratiola. If this species

were exposed for sale in the Roman markets it would be certainly

condemned by the inspector of fungi.



Fairy rings are produced by the spawn, or mycelium, beginning to

germinate where dropped by a bird or a beast, and exhausting the

soil of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and potash, from the centre

continuously outwards; whilst immediately within the enlarging ring

there is constantly a band of coarse rank grass fed by the manure of

the penultimate dead spawn. The innermost starved ground remains

poor and barren. In this duplicate way the rings grow larger and

larger.



Our edible Mushroom is a Pratella of the subgenus Psalliota,

and the Agaricus campestris of English botanists. In common

with the esculent Mushrooms of France it contains phosphate of

potassium--a cell salt essentially reparative of exhausted nerve

tissue and energy.



The old practice of testing Mushrooms with a silver [375] spoon,

which is supposed to become tarnished only when the juices are of

an injurious quality (i.e., when sulphur is developed therein under

decomposition) is not to be trusted. In cases of poisoning by

injurious fungi after the most violent symptoms may have been

relieved, and the patient rescued from immediate danger, yet great

emaciation will often follow from the subsequent effects of the

poison: and the skin may exhibit an abundant outbreak of a

vesicular eruption, whilst the health will remain perhaps

permanently injured. Strong alcoholic drinks should never be taken

together with, or immediately after eating Mushrooms, or other

innocent fungi. Experienced fungus eaters (mycophagists) have

found themselves suffering from severe pains, and some swellings

through taking whiskey and water shortly after the meal: whereas

precisely the same fungus, minus the whiskey, could be eaten with

impunity by these identical experimentalists.





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