Mushrooms come in all shapes, colors and sizes and can be found everywhere in all parts of the world. Mushrooms are considered a vegetable but some are actually classified as fungi. People have been consuming mushrooms for ages. The first evidence that mushrooms were used as human food in prehistoric Europe is the recent find of a bowl of field mushrooms in a Bronze Age house near Nola in Italy. The Bible, although full of references to food of many kinds, never mentions mushrooms, either in praise or otherwise. Egyptian pharaohs and Roman emperors went so far as to forbid commoners from eating mushrooms, strictly reserving them for nobility only.
Today people from all over the world enjoy an array of mushrooms. The most popular and well mentioned varieties are Morrell, Shitake, Chanterelle, Portobello, White button and Truffle.
If you plan on foraging for wild shrooms, it is very important to become familiarized with mushrooms in general. You should invest in more than one book or guide to get as much information on them as possible. Certain varieties grow in specific regions so be sure and get something that pertains to your area or the area that you will be searching in.
With that being said, I will give you a few basic tips on identification.
Most of the very bright colorful mushrooms are poisonous. These are often red or spotted but poisonous mushrooms can come in other colors such as white as well so don’t assume anything is safe before you do your research! Color is a mushrooms only defense to tell you and other prey to keep away.
There are several ways to identify a mushroom. First some basic definitions.
Cap- The top visible part of the mushroom
Gills- Located under the cap of the mushroom
Stem/stalk- The elongated part that branches down from the cap
Ring/skirt- The thin part found on the stem right below the cap
Mycelium- The vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filament
So say you come across a patch of mushrooms, you want to know what it is. Just take one for now and leave the rest. You can go back later. First we need to identify. One way in identification is to see what kind of spore print it leaves. You should cut the stem off as close to the base of the cap as possible and set the cap on a piece of paper. Mushrooms drop their seeds (spore print) after Now cover with a jar for 2-4 hours (sometimes longer) and you will be able to lift the cap up and see what color of print was left.
Look for mushrooms that have been nibbled on by bugs or other animalsThe best way to learn about nature are from those who live in it. If an animal or bug is eating the mushroom then odds are it is safe for you to consume, but NOT ALWAYS! Please do not go by this statement only. You still need to complete the others steps in identification.
Another way is to flip the mushroom upside down and look at the gills. Are they attached? You can also smell the mushroom. Does it have an earthy smell? Does it have a fruity smell? Also pay attention to the size and where it was growing. Was it in grass? By trees? On wood? Was it in a group or was it solo? Does it have a ring or skirt? These are all important things to know if you want a proper identification.
You can take a very small amount of the mushroom less than the size of a pea, and chew with the top and bottom portion of your teeth allowing just the tip of your tongue to touch the mushroom flesh for just 20 seconds and then spit the flesh out. Now wait and take note of what you experience. Is there any kind of burning sensation? Numbing? Does it taste spicy? Peppery? If you answer yes to any of these then toss it out, wash your hands and do not attempt to consume any more. This is more than likely a non-edible mushroom.
If you’ve done all the steps in identification and feel confident that you have an edible mushroom, it’s still best practice to only consume one and then wait 24-hours before cooking up the rest.
I found these Russula brevipes in the South-western Coast of Oregon in the rainforest. I recognized them right away because a similar variety grows at my boyfriend Ryan’s house by Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. We cooked them up with some fish fry and they were amazing!
Below are just a few examples of both edible and non-edible mushrooms that we have found. I hope you enjoyed this blog and learned a thing or two about foraging for wild mushrooms!