The Common Inkcap (Coprinopsis atramentaria) or Inky Cap Mushroom

This afternoon Spring and her mum and I went to Eaton's Center in downtown Toronto. They wandered off looking at clothes and shoes and eyeglasses and I plopped myself down in a comfortable chair with a handful of books. I picked up a Peterson's Guide to Eastern North American Forests, a couple of books on Black Bears and most importantly - Roger Philip's Mushroom manual: "Mushrooms: A Comprehensive Guide with Over 1,2500 Detailed Photograph".

After a few minutes I settled on the Mushroom manual and pored through it cover to cover. I'd have bought it, but it was $36.00 and that was a little much... maybe for Christmas. Or Thanksgiving. Or the coming Civic Holiday in August (in case Spring is reading this)...

Once we got home I snuffled about in the back garden and located a couple of mushrooms that were growing in the grass, just above a buried, rotting 4x4 chunk of wood that has likely been their since the house was built in 1956.

Knowing that Roger Philip's Mushroom manual has a companion web site, I brought the mushrooms inside (carefully not disturbing them to make identification easier), cut the smaller one in half, lengthwise along the stem and through the cap, and lay half of that on a white sheet of paper to collect any spores that would have dropped and examined it all carefully under a light.

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The mushroom smelled very little, if anything kind of like a typical market-bought button mushroom, but maybe a little more sour. The cap was conical or bell-shaped, and brown to beige in colouration. The stem was white, hollow and fractured easily when pressed between my fingers. I didn't see a ring around the stem, but there did appear to be a small flap that might have been the remnants of a ring (volva or veil) there.

Using a mushroom-identification quiz found on the Roger's Mushroom site, I narrowed it down to 23 posssibilities. Carefully considering each one, I finally isolated the 'Common Inkcap', also known as Tippler's Bane (for reasons I shall explain shortly).

Below are a few interesting things I discovered from reading various sources:
  • It is edible.
  • It is poisonous if consumed with alcohol, or if alcohol consumed within a few days of eating the mushroom. This is the reason it is known as Tippler's (someone who drinks) Bane... It won't kill you, but basically gives you the symptoms of a horrific hangover.
  • When the caps produce enzymes that cause the material to auto-digest (mushrooms do this to release any remaining spores caught in the gills or pore beneath their caps), it is called 'deliquescence'. This deliquesced cap material is black, and when boiled up with a little water and cloves, makes a great, long-lasting black drawing ink.
After cooking up a cupful of these Common Inkcaps in butter, with salt and pepper, it would be wise to avoid a glass of wine for a week or so:
"The poisonous effects of C. atramentaria are caused by a molecule named coprine, or N5-1-hydroxycyclopropyl-L-glutamine (shown below), which is metabolized to 1-aminocyclopropanol. This latter compound then inhibits the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which normally oxidizes alcohol (i.e., ethanol) into acetaldehyde.
After alcohol intake under the influence of coprine, the concentration of acetaldehyde in the blood may be 5 to 10 times higher than that found during metabolism of the same amount of alcohol alone. As acetaldehyde is one of the major causes of the symptoms of a "hangover" this produces immediate and severe negative reaction to alcohol intake. Some 5-10 minutes after alcohol intake, the unfortunate victim may experience the effects of a severe hangover for a period of 30 minutes up to several hours. Symptoms include flushing of the skin, accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting. The ill effects of coprine may be felt if alcohol is consumed for up to several days after eating the mushroom. The biochemical mechanism of action of coprine and the resultant symptoms are similar to the drug disulfiram, used to treat chronic alcoholism."
I also recognized a few mushrooms that I've seen down in the valley and in other places I've wandered, in the Roger Philip's Mushroom book. Can't wait to learn more about mushrooms!



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