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Eating raw foraged mushrooms can be a bad idea

Mike Pomranz
Updated: August 13, 2018

As kids, we’re told not to eat random stuff we find in nature. Those leaves could be poisonous; those berries could be poisonous; those mushrooms could be poisonous. Then you grow up, go to college, and meet someone who's really into foraging. Your mind is blown: Parts of nature are edible! Still, all that inedible stuff hasn’t gone away, so you have to figure out a happy medium. You’d think a cookbook called Tales from a Forager’s Kitchen might serve as a good guide along this foraging path… except that just months after being released, it’s being pulled from shelves.

Johnna Holmgren, known on social media under the handle FoxMeetsBear, bills herself as a mother who likes “foraging in our woods, baking or cooking with the girls, gardening, learning about peaceful parenting or making some sort of magical mess.” She’s built a big following on Instagram, which apparently helped her land a publishing deal for a cookbook about cooking with foraged ingredients. However, her website also talks about what she’s not. "I am not a health professional, medical doctor, nor a nutritionist,” a disclaimer states, warning, “Some wild plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects.”

Of course, any book on foraging is going to have to come with some disclaimers, but after Tales from a Forager’s Kitchen was published in May, critics suggested the tome has some potentially serious issues baked right into the recipes themselves. BuzzFeed News spoke with experts who showed varying degrees of concern over recipes that included raw morel mushrooms (which can make you ill), raw elderberries (which can also make you ill, though to a lesser degree), and unleached acorns (which can reportedly be downright unpalatable).

In the end, the publisher, Rodale Books, felt the best course of action was to simply pull the book from stores entirely. “Rodale Books and our author Johnna Holmgren take very seriously the concerns expressed by readers regarding the preparation and cooking of recipes with raw ingredients (mushrooms and elderberries),” the company posted on its website. “In light of our review of these concerns, and because of our dedication to wellness, [we] have decided to discontinue the publication and promotion of the book. We are encouraging retailers to return their stock, and we are offering a full refund to consumers who have purchased the book.”

“We've become separated from the ingredients that form our food, and have lost an appreciation for how those ingredients came to be, how they grew, and how they were cultivated,” the promotional materials for the now-recalled book optimistically stated. To be fair, that sentiment can be true for all ingredients: In a modern society where so much is taken care of for us, we can lose sight of why we don’t eat something just as much as why we do.

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