|Traditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)|
Kamba: ikunu, makunu (plural) Kikuyu: makunu Kisii: oboba, amandegere, amoba (plural) Luhya (Bukusu): bubwoba Luhya (Marachi): luoba Luhya (Samia): obwoba Luhya (Tachoni): obwaba, bumbo Luo: obuolo, obwolo Maa: osuyai Mbeere: ikunu Meru: makunu Pokot: kelyomough, oota, ooten (plural) Swahili: uyoga Taita: voga Tharaka: ikunu Turkana: ebaale
Mushrooms belong to a group of plants without chlorophyll known as fungi. As these types of fungi are relatively large, they are referred to as Macrofungi. They originate from a mass (mycelium) of tiny branches which originally germinate from tiny spores distributed by wind and growing where the situations are favourable. The mycelium obtains food from the substrate, usually dead organic matter such as dead plant material and dung. The spores germinate when conditions become favourable especially during the rainy season. The fruiting body-the umbrella-like structure seen above ground (pileus) or cap- is borne by a stem-like structure, the stipe. The underside of the pileus bears gills which produce spores. There are many edible species of mushrooms classified into several genera, some, especially those bearing the "deathcup" can be very poisonous. The following are the commonest:
· Termitomyces are fungi found growing on or near termite mounds. These usually have no ring on the stipe. They have a large white cap up to 12 cm across depending on the species, a large stalk and a long "root". They are found on termite mounds where termites cultivate the spores deep in the mound in special "fungus gardens". The spores germinate when conditions become conducive, sending the fruiting body above the mound.
· Agaricus species have a pileus which is smooth, free gills, stipe with a ring (left when the cap breaks away), and brown spores. Some cultivated mushrooms belong to this genus. A common wild example is A. campestris (English: field mushrooms) which has a white cap hardly more than 4 cm across and pink gills and is found in grassland. The gills turn dark brown with age.
· Amanita'. some species of this genus are edible but others are deadly poisonous. Amanita spp. should thus be identified beyond reasonable doubt as many cases of mushroom poisoning are caused by members of this genus. The genus is distinguished by its green to yellowish-green cap, radial streaks, a ring (annulus) on the stalk and a cup at the stalk base. Several other genera with edible members exist in Kenya. More work, however, needs to be done on the classification of macrofungi in Kenya.
Distribution: Edible mushrooms are found all over the country.
Ecology: Depending on the species, they may be found on termite mounds, fallen logs, near and on houses and even on bare ground and roadsides.
Uses: Mushrooms are still used a great deal in stews by the Pokot, Turkana (Ng'ikebootok), Luo, Luhya and coastal peoples, especially the Giriama.
The Giriama recognize up to six edible types known as: zhoga-utuwe, zhoga-nyama, zhoga-muuyu (on baobabs), zhoga-mkulu (on Diospyros sp.), zhoga-mayonda and zhoga-kazonzo (these names usually reflect the kind of substrate).
The Luo use up to five types known by the names obuoch-oruka (white, large, on termite mounds), obuoch-omegere (omejre) (small, found in groups, near houses, roadsides and along streams and which in day gone by were mixed with milk and blood) obuoch-alando (small, red-topped, several together on the ground), obuoch-atieno (with dull spotted top, often growing together with obuoch-alando), obuoch-opumo (ofumo) (brown, small, on termite mounds).
The Pokot eat at least five types of fungi. Examples are oota, the common Termitomyces found on termite mounds, and tree-trunk fungi called embeei and samandar, usually found on fallen logs. Others are sorkopi and ghum.
Preparation: The pileus and the stipe are harvested and stewed with meat, alone or cooked with other vegetables (Turkana). They may be boiled or fried and often eaten with ugali. They may be dried and stored. The pokot may eat samandar cooked or raw. Among the Luo the mushrooms are dried, covered with dry banana stems, okola rabolo or ondakla rabolo. These are hung above the fireplace for preservation. Dry mushrooms are softened by soaking in water. Fresh or softened mushrooms are boiled for about 15 minutes, and fresh milk added. Sometimes soda ash, or more often solution extracted from ashes (thutho), is added to soften them further before eating. Fresh ones may also be mixed with other vegetables, especially cowpeas (bo), apoth (Corchorus spp.), and muto (Crotalaria spp.). By simulating the field conditions (temperature, humidity and substrate), some species may be grown indoors. COMMERCIAL USE: Termitomyces species sold in Siaya, Kisumu, West Pokot (Chepararia, Kapenguria). Agaricus campestris is a common mushroom in the market.
Season: Normally available early in the rainy season.
Propagation: Mushrooms grow from tiny spores. They require special conditions for growth and hence it is difficult for the ordinary farmer to grow them. Mushrooms in the field sprout fast, last for a day or two then start to rot, disintegrating as maggots infest them. They have to be picked as soon as they appear. Folk knowledge of mushrooms, such as the time of emergence of each species and suitable preparation methods, is enormous.
Remarks: The use of mushrooms as food has declined considerably over recent years. But they are nutritious, tasty, widely distributed and readily available during the rainy season so their use should be encouraged. While there are many edible ones in the wild, a good number are, however, poisonous and there is no general rule to determine which is which. However, any species with a "death cup", especially just below the soil surface, should not be harvested. Mushrooms showing colours such as green should also be avoided. Perhaps the safest way is to rely on the knowledge and experience of the local community.