Mushroom or Toadstool - what's in a name?

boletus-splendidus1.jpg (187548 bytes)At one time there was the norm to refer to edible cap-and-stem fungi as mushrooms and all poisonous, inedible or doubtful ones, such as the lurid bolete shown here (left), as toadstools. The trouble was, fungi were distrusted by nearly everyone, and very few of the edible and wholesome fungi were categorised as mushrooms. 

Also significant is the fact that most fungi are neither good to eat nor poisonous: they are simply inedible - in the same way that cardboard cannot really be classed as good to eat even when its manufacturing process is such that it contains nothing that is toxic to human beings.

Field mushroomGiven the remarkably rapid appearance of quite large fruit bodies, including Agaricus campestris, Field Mushrooms, like these (left), which could emerge and change the landscape overnight following rain, it is understandable that fungi have long been treated with suspicion. The implication is that these 'toadstools' have something to do with darkness and evil.



Honey fungusMany good edible fungi are shunned by people who think that they are 'toadstools' and therefore poisonous. For example, provided it is properly cooked, Honey fungus, Armillaria mellea (left), is an edible and wholesome fungus.

The term 'toadstool' has very little real significance today. Even the words 'Mushroom' and 'fungi' need to be qualified with edible, inedible, hallucinogenic or poisonous if you really want to ensure that the message is clear and unambiguous.