Edible mushroom species have been found in association with 13,000 year old ruins in Chile, but the first reliable evidence of mushroom consumption dates to several hundred years BC in China. The Chinese value mushrooms for their medicinal properties as well as for food. Ancient Romans and Greeks, particularly the upper classes, used mushrooms for culinary purposes. Food tasters were employed by Roman Emperors to ensure that mushrooms were safe for consumption. Edible mushrooms are the fleshy and edible fruit bodies of several species of fungi. Mushrooms belong to the macro fungi, because their fruiting structures are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. They can appear either below ground (hypogeous) or above ground (epigeous) where they may be picked by hand. Edibility may be defined by criteria that include absence of poisonous effects on humans and desirable taste and aroma.
Edible mushrooms include many fungal species that are either harvested wild or cultivated. Easily cultivatable and common wild mushrooms are often available in markets, and those that are more difficult to obtain (such as the prized truffle and matsutake) may be collected on a smaller scale by private gatherers. Some preparations may render certain poisonous mushrooms fit for consumption.
Edible mushrooms are consumed by humans for their nutritional and medicinal values. Mushrooms consumed for health reasons are known as medicinal mushrooms. While hallucinogenic mushrooms (e.g. Psilocybin mushrooms) are occasionally consumed for recreational or religious purposes, they can produce severe nausea and disorientation, and are therefore not commonly considered edible mushrooms. Before assuming that any wild mushroom is edible, it should be identified and tested. Proper identification of the specie is the only safe way to ensure edibility. Some mushrooms that are edible for most people can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, and old or improperly stored specimens can cause food poisoning. Deadly poisonous mushrooms that are frequently confused with edible mushrooms are responsible for many fatal poisonings. This includes several species of the Amanita genus, in particular, Amanita phalloides, the death cap.
Edible mushroom in fresh cooked or processed forms are nutritionally sound, tasteful food source for most people and can be a significant dietary component for vegetarians. The nutritional value of edible mushrooms compares favorably to that of most vegetables. Within a single mushroom species, the nutrient content varies widely depending on habitat, the growing medium and handling procedures subsequent to harvest. Regular consumption of whole medicinal and edible mushrooms could introduce a functional or medicinal contribution within the individual’s diet. Medicinal mushrooms may prevent or treat “lifestyle-related diseases”. The extent of the health beneficial effect will depend on the level and regularity of consumption and the relevance of whole fresh medicinal mushrooms and concentrates to the particular disease.