Knowledge and use of edible mushrooms in two municipalities of the Sierra Tarahumara, Chihuahua, Mexico
© Quiñónez-Martínez et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
Received: 14 September 2013
Accepted: 25 May 2014
Published: 17 September 2014
The Sierra Madre Occidental of Chihuahua in Northern Mexico is inhabited by indigenous Raramuris, mestizos, and other ethnic groups. The territory consists of canyons and ravines with pine, oak and pine-oak forests in the higher plateaus. A great diversity of potentially edible mushrooms is found in forests of the Municipalities of Bocoyna and Urique. Their residents are the only consumers of wild mushrooms in the Northern Mexico; they have a long tradition of collecting and eating these during the “rainy season.” However, despite the wide diversity of edible mushrooms that grow in these areas, residents have a selective preference. This paper aims to record evidence of the knowledge and use of wild potentially edible mushroom species by inhabitants of towns in the Sierra Tarahumara of Chihuahua, Mexico.
Using a semi-structured technique, we surveyed 197 habitants from seven locations in Urique, Bocoyna, and the Cusarare area from 2010 to 2012. Known fungi, local nomenclature, species consumed, preparation methods, appreciation of taste, forms of preservation, criteria for differentiating toxic and edible fungi, other uses, economic aspects, and traditional teaching were recorded. To identify the recognized species, photographic stimuli of 22 local edible species and two toxic species were used.
The respondents reported preference for five species: Amanita rubescens, Agaricus campestris, Ustilago maydis, Hypomyces lactifluorum, and the Amanita caesarea complex. No apparent differences were found between ethnic groups in terms of preference, although mestizos used other species in Bocoyna (Boletus edulis and B. pinophilus). Some different uses of fungi are recognized by respondents, i.e. home decorations, medicine, as food in breeding rams, etc.
The studied population shows a great appreciation towards five species, mainly the A. caesarea complex, and an apparent lack of knowledge of nearly 20 species which are used as food in other areas of Mexico. There are no apparent differences among Sierra inhabitants in terms of gender, occupation, or language regarding the recognition and consumption of species. The rejection of certain species is due mainly to fear of poisoning and the traditional selective teaching of families in the mountain communities of the Sierra Tarahumara.
Wild mushrooms are a non-timber forest resource valued by mycophilic human populations around the world [12–14]; their use has been recorded in many countries, and they are exploited commercially as food or medicine [15, 16]. Recent studies (within the last 10 years) are scarce in the state of Chihuahua [17–20]. Moreno et al.  mentioned that there are about 450 species studied so far, and this number is considered low due to the magnitude of the ecological diversity and size of the region. This positions the Sierra Tarahumara as a region with a great richness and diversity of fungi within an important and rich culture inhabited by indigenous and mestizo people. However, due to the orographic conditions, which make it difficult to reach, plus the isolated way of living of the Raramuris, this region is one of the least studied as far as mycocultural patrimony is concerned . There are only a few studies that document ethnomycological data in the region [22–24]. In 2002, Moreno  conducted a study, specifically in two Raramuri populations (Panalachi and Tónachi) isolated from the influence of the mestizos, reporting 22 taxa with local ethnomycological importance. In a study conducted in the coniferous forest of the Sierra Tarahumara, Quiñonez et al.  reported a list of 50 wild mushrooms considered by the literature as potentially edible [27–29], including the results of a pilot survey on the potential use of some species by 50 people from the town of San Juanito, Chihuahua, highlighting the Amanita caesarea complex as the most consumed mushroom . Other studies in different parts of Mexico showed that wild mushroom consumption is not standard nor generalized in the country, meaning that people tend to consider them to a lesser extent as a reliable food source [30–32]. Fear of poisoning and potential mortality associated with mushroom consumption [11, 31, 32] could be the possible causes linked to the low use of the fungal resources in the area, a fact that was highlighted by different researchers in the country .
Therefore, the objective of this study was to register and systematize the knowledge and use of the edible mushrooms in some parts of the Sierra Taharumara and hence contribute to the documentation of a biocultural patrimony in the least studied regions of Mexico.
San Juanito, Bocoyna, Arareco, and Creel are located in the upper part of the Sierra Madre Occidental at 220 km southwest of the city of Chihuahua, at 27° 30’ and 28° 30’ latitude north and between 107° 00’ and 108° 00’ longitude west. They have an average altitude of 2,350 meters with a maximum of 3,400 m. In general, the vegetation communities are made up of pine forest (P), pine-oak forest (Pq), oak-pine forest (Qp) and chaparral. There are areas with steep slopes with the presence of shallow soils belonging to the groups of Ferozems and Lithosols, characterized by a thin horizon layer containing little organic matter (humus) and some areas with deep soils used as agricultural lands . The municipality of Bocoyna has a total of 505 villages with 28,766 inhabitants. Two urban areas are considered to have high number of inhabitants: San Juanito has 10,535 inhabitants, of which 152 are speakers of indigenous languages and Creel has 5,026 inhabitants with 350 Raramuris (the rest considered mestizos). The main activities of the inhabitants are local commerce, forestry, and tourism [34, 35]. Pitorreal, El Divisadero, and San Rafael in the municipality of Urique have an average altitude of 2,120 meters, with a maximum of 2,299 m and are located geographically between 27° 29’ and 27° 37’ latitude north, and 107° 52’ to 107° 46’ longitude west. The higher vegetation layer of these forests is formed mainly by the pine species: Pinus arizonica, P. engelmannii, P. durangensis, and P. leiophylla associated with oak species, mainly Quercus arizonica, Q. chihuahuensis, Q. jonesii, Q. mcvaughii, Q. crassifolia, Q. depressipes, Q. durifolia, and Q. hypoleucoides. Their combination forms plant communities of pine-oak forest (Pq) and oak-pine forest (Qp) [36, 37]. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), Pitorreal has a population of 14 inhabitants, El Divisadero11, and San Rafael 2,160 and the latter considered one the most important towns for being the most populous of the Municipality of Urique. The number of indigenous speakers in this location is 369. The main economic activities are forestry, tourism, and commerce .
The Cusarare waterfall, in the municipality of Guachochi, is located 25 km southeast of Creel, Chihuahua. It has a fall of 30 m during the months of July to October, and the surrounding vegetation is made up of pine forest. This waterfall is one of the main tourist attractions and sources of income for some residents in the area, mainly the ethnic Raramuri group . The area of Cusarare has 106 inhabitants, and 19 of them are native speakers . All sites are characterized by the sale of handicrafts made by both indigenous and mestizo people, which they sell to domestic and foreign tourists visiting the tourist sites and towns in Bocoyna and Urique, mainly El Divisadero, Barrancas, and Creel.
Localities of the interviewed people of the Sierra Tarahumara
All respondents were asked if they were willing to be interviewed about their knowledge and use of wild mushrooms growing in the region where they live, informing them previously of the objectives of the study and that if they decided to participate, their answers would be used for a scientific publication. Only those who gave their express informed consent were subsequently interviewed, respecting the decision of those who refused to participate in the investigation. The study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of University Autonomy of Ciudad Juárez(CBE.ICB/20.08-14).
Results and discussion
Overview of the interviewed population
Occupation, gender, and ethnicity of the interviewed population (n = 197)
Frequency of recognition and use of species of edible mushrooms (N = 197 people)
Amanita caesarea complex
Amanita muscaria (L:Fr.) Lam
Amanita rubescens Pers
Ustilago maydis (DC.) Corda
Agaricus campestris L.: Fr.
Boletus pinophilus L.: Fr.
Amanita virosa (Fr.) Bertill
Boletus edulis Bull
Cantharellus cibarius Fr.
Russula brevipes Peck
Hypomyces lactifluorum Schwein. Tul & C.Tul
Lactarius deliciosus (L.) Gray
Hericium erinaceus (Bull.) Persoon
Schizophyllum commune Fr.
Auricularia polytricha (Mont.) Sacc.
Ramaria aff. flava Quél.
Laccaria laccata (Scop.) Cooke
Boletus chrysenteron Bull.
Lactarius indigo (Schwein.) Fr.
Boletellus russellii (Frost) Gilbert
Coprinus comatus O. F. (Müll.) Pers
Helvella lacunosa Afzel
Helvella crispa Bull
Morchella vulgaris (Pers.) Boudier
Frequency of consumption of edible species
Common designations by mestizos and Raramuris of some wild edible mushrooms of the Sierra Tarahumara (*Raramuri Language; **Nahuatl Name; 1 Local Names)
Amanita caesarea complex
*Morochike, *Morochic, *Morochiki, *Wicowi., 1Amarillo (Yellow), 1Árbol del hongo (Tree fungus), 1Faldita amarilla (Yellow skirt), 1Vestidito amarillo (Yellow dress), 1Hongo del agua (Water fungus)
*Sojáchic, *Sojáchi, *Serochi, *Sokowekeri, 1Hongo del agua (Water fungus)
1Trompa de cochi (Pig trunk), *Sokowekeri, 1Trompa (Horn)
*Repome, *Repomi, 1Bajío (Shallows), 1Semita (semite)
*Serochako, 1Esponja (Sponge), 1Gorro del padre (Father’s bonnet)
*Serochako, 1Esponja (Sponge), *Sonaka, 1Gorro del padre (Father’s bonnet), 1Panadero (Baker)
1Orejona (Big ears)
Ramaria aff. flava
1Cola de vaca (Tail of cow)
1Champiñón (Champignon), 1Hongo del prado (Fungi of lowland), 1Hongo del llano (Fungi of grass), 1Del monte (Of mount), *Wecowique, 1Llanero (Ranger), *Wecowi
1Hongo de la madera (Fungi of the timber), *Amuri, *Pim de amuri
**Huitlacoche, Hongo del maíz (Corn’s fungi), *witachori
*Guerechaka, *Gerechaka, 1Hongo malo (Bad fungi), 1rojo (red)
*Kokohurcobi, 1Ángel malo (Bad angel), 1Ángel venenoso (Poisonous angel)
Culinary information and recognition criteria of edible species
Amanita rubescens, known as “Sojachi,” is consumed after the cuticle of the pileus is removed and is then washed and cooked with tomato, onion, and garlic. Hypomyces lactifluorum (“cochi Trunk”) usually has a lot of dirt on it, and should be cleaned and washed several times. Amanita caesarea complex (called “Morochike” or “yellow skirt” or just “yellow”) is cut into pieces and cooked with meat or vegetables and typical spices of Mexico like: chili, *tortillas, corn, beans, and *nopal or as part of common dishes like *pozole (*common names of Mexican foods) or cooked with lard (animal fat) and accompanied by beans. Some people from San Juanito, Arareco and San Rafael claim to wash them in hot water and leave them soaking in water to remove any “hazard” they might carry. They cooked them with garlic in order to test whether they are toxic, using as an indicator a change to black color, indicating that they are poisonous and should not be eaten. This is a common practice throughout the country . However this is not a safe practice as many poisonous mushrooms will react one way or another with the garlic. Also, they admitted that many of the fungi shown in photographs are considered edible elsewhere but they prefer not to eat them for fear, and because they were traditionally considered as bad options. This is a common phenomenon in respect to the utilization of fungi. Moreno Fuentes  reported that in another area of the Sierra Tarahumara, the Raramuri did not consume the different species of the genera Boletus, Lactarius, or Russula, which are widely and frequently consumed elsewhere in the country. They prefer to consume only Morochike, Sojachi, and Llanero. In the Arareco area, two people mentioned that they use Pleurotus aff. ostreatus as food and call it Floera, “Amuri” or “Amuri Pin”. Some people eat Ramaria and they recognize R. aff. flava and call it “cow tail” (Table 4).
Recorded other uses
Some housewives of San Juanito, mentioned the use of Amanita caesarea complex, H. lactifluorum, and A. muscaria as home decorations and mentioned using dried Helvella crispa to make necklaces. Some people of Pitorreal mentioned that Laccaria laccata is used medicinally but without specifying the practical use (Table 4). One relevant comment regarding alternative use was for a species of the genus Lycoperdon used by a Raramuri of El Divisadero for the medicinal purpose of removing skin warts by placing the inner opening of the fungus on the face. Another farmer mentioned that he used Boletus edulis and B. pinophilus as food in breeding rams. This use as a forage species is not very common. Ruan-Soto  reported the same use of Russula sp. for feeding sheep in the highlands of Chiapas in southern Mexico.
Storage of edible fungi
Ways of obtaining fungi
In other states of Mexico, such as Oaxaca and Chiapas, state fairs are organized on mushrooms to teach people and show them that wild mushrooms can be used as safe economic and food alternatives .
Based on feedback obtained from the reports of the children interviewed, in primary schools in the communities of Creel and San Juanito, teachers teach students how to distinguish edible mushrooms from poisonous species. This coincides with the studies by Moreno et al.  referring to textbooks for the fifth and sixth grades by the Ministry of Education (SEP) about fungi. The main features that people use to differentiate collected fungi are: appearance, color (e.g., red is bad, yellow at the top with white stem is bad, completely yellow is good), grains (flakes) or skirt (ring).
In the forests of the Sierra Tarahumara, there are records of around 450 species of fungi; 50 of them with edible importance at nationwide and apparently only 16 fungi species of those 50 are being consumed by the inhabitants of the municipalities of Bocoyna and Urique with Amanita caesarea complex being the most preferred by mestizos and Raramuris. We observed no apparent differences in the population studied in terms of gender, occupation, or language, regarding the recognition and consumption of species; however, this is not conclusive and so it is important to continue with a greater number of such studies to check whether this knowledge and use is differential.
There is no evidence that shows a meaningful comparison in terms of preferences for wild mushrooms, except for the naming of fungal species.
Many species considered as potentially edible in many regions of Mexico and around the world, such as Boletus edulis and Cantharellus cibarius, are not recognized as such by the mountain people of Chihuahua. There is a remarkable contrast between the high diversity of wildlife and the low use of species;, while the population knows and appreciates three species in particular, they lack this attention for more than 20 species considered edible in most of Mexico. There is a possibility that they fear poisoning due to some casualties that occurred in the past before the Fungus Fair was established. This event was proposed specifically to generate knowledge in these locations on edible mushroom species. Likewise, there are species that might be used for medicinal purposes but there is no formal study on those used by the Raramuri people for healing; we therefore recommend specific future studies for these purposes.
Finally, in Chihuahua, ethno-mycological development depends largely on two factors: 1) Dissemination of knowledge to villagers, including mestizos and Raramuris, regarding differentiation, the appropriate use of edible wild species growing in the forests of the Sierra Tarahumara, and 2) joining together with professionals, authorities, and the community at large in the conservation on forest resources and thus promoting a more stable environment for the development of wild mushrooms.
The authors thank the FOMIX-CONACYT (CHIH-2011-C03-174148) for financial support of this research. We especially thank Violeta Chacon, Santos Anguiano Filio, Carlos Mario Perez, Tabita Rios, and Mario Astorga for their participation in the interviews and data gathering. Special thanks to Mario Perez and Marisa Ordaz Velazquez for language corrections in the manuscript.
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