First and foremost, foraging edible wild mushrooms is a venture that requires extreme caution. One false move and you could end up in the hospital.
Many wild mushrooms are not only delicious, but they are equally nutritious and safe to consume. However, some contain potent substances that can cause hallucinations and uncontrolled euphoria. Still, they are those that are outright lethal – they don’t stop at causing mere stomach upsets, but can kill you if ingested.
So, it is in your best interest to gain the necessary knowledge in identifying mushrooms before setting out to hunt them. One way to learn the practical skills of mushroom identification is to hunt with an experienced person. Besides increasing your field knowledge, doing so will significantly reduce your chances of picking harmful or poisonous mushrooms.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s see three edible wild mushrooms and five poisonous ones to steer clear of.
Three Edible Wild Mushrooms
1. Oyster Mushroom
You may not like seafood, but if you like mushrooms, you will probably love the oyster variety. Pleurotus ostreatus, aka oyster mushroom, is one of the tastiest edible wild mushrooms!
They grow on dead stumps, fallen branches, dying, or dead hardwoods such as oak trees and beech trees. They are usually found in clusters that are arranged like shelves on dead hardwoods. Their caps are shaped like oysters and can range from white to gray, depending on the time of the year.
Oysters can be enjoyed as a side dish when sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic and green onions.
Read more about these mushrooms in our guide How to Grow Oyster Mushrooms.
2. Maitake Mushroom
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) is a favorite edible mushroom variety among wild mushroom hunters.
They are usually found growing in shelf-like clusters on trees such as oak. They are native to China but can be found in parts of North America and Japan.
Maitakes are typically large mushrooms with a gray-brown color and with small pores underneath the caps. Older maitake mushrooms are usually reddish or orange and can cause stomach upset. For this reason, it is best to avoid them.
One good thing about the maitake mushroom is that it has no poisonous lookalikes, making it a safe option for new and experienced hunters.
This “feathery” mushroom is particularly tasty when served as topping on pies.
3. Chicken of the Woods Mushroom
Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) is a yellow or bright orange mushroom with a meaty flavor. It grows on hardwood trees in Europe, North America, and many other parts of the world.
The pieces of a chicken of the woods mushroom grow in overlapping shelf clusters with semi-circular caps. Chicken of the woods mushrooms have no gills. Instead, its tiny pores are found under the cap.
Read more in our Complete Guide to Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms.
Things to Remember When Preparing Mushrooms
Hunting mushrooms in the wild may be fun, but preparing them is even more fun! The following tips will help you enjoy your delicious picks.
- Before cooking mushrooms, it is important to clean them, but don’t use water at first. Instead, use a long-handle mushroom brush to remove dirt before placing them under running water very briefly.
- Always use a pierced colander strainer when washing mushrooms to prevent ruining the mushroom.
- Using flat-handle bamboo skewers for grilling mushrooms is great. However, remember to soak the bamboos in warm water for about half an hour before threading to prevent cooking them.
- Grill baskets are excellent alternatives to bamboo skewers, especially if you have large mushrooms such as the oyster mushroom.
Five Poisonous Mushrooms to Avoid
There are many species of mushrooms that are poisonous, and so you need to be very careful when picking wild mushrooms. Below are 5 of the more common poisonous mushroom species in North America.
1. Death Cap
The death cap (Amanita phalloides) is perhaps the deadliest of all mushrooms! The mushroom grows in several parts of the world and is responsible for many of the mushroom-related fatalities across the globe.
It has a pale green to wide yellow cap with white stems and gills. The stem also features a membrane skirt with a cup-like structure at the base.
The poison in death caps is not destroyed by heat, so even when they are cooked, they will still cause havoc within 6 to 12 hours of consumption. More disturbing is the fact that death caps can easily be confused with the edible Caesar’s mushrooms and straw mushrooms.
2. Destroying Angels
These are several species of the Amanita family that fall under the name Death Caps. They are usually white, and will quickly cause death if consumed. Death caps can be found in Europe and parts of North America.
3. False Morels
Gyromitra infula and Gyromitra esculenta, commonly known as false morels, look like the edible morel variety. However, they are not completely hollow like true morels.
While normally not deadly, false morels can cause severe intestinal problems if eaten. Read our guide Morel vs. False Morel, How to Tell the Difference for more information about these mushrooms.
The webcap species have two similar varieties – the Fool’s Webcap (Cortinarius orellanus) and the Deadly Webcap (Cortinarius rubellus). They are both deadly mushrooms, and because they look so much like other edible varieties, it is easy to pick them by mistake if you don’t know the difference.
Webcaps have a rusty brown to orange cap with widely spaced gills. They are found mainly in the forests of Europe.
Consuming webcaps can result in irreversible kidney failure.
5. Conocybe Filaris
Conocybe Filaris is commonly found growing on lawns, especially in the Pacific Northwest of the US. They are also found in Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world.
The smooth cap of conocybe filaris is shaped like a cone and tends to be brownish. Although it looks very innocent – appearing harmless on lawns – make no mistake about this fungus. It is listed among the seven most poisonous mushrooms in the world!
Conocybe Filaris is packed full of the exact mycotoxins as the death cap. Eating this mushroom will result in stomach problems within 6 to 24 hours, and can eventually cause death.
For more information about poisonous mushrooms, see our guide Common Poisonous Mushrooms to Watch Out For.
Hunting edible wild mushrooms can be both fun and rewarding, especially if you find one from any of the safe species.
Oyster, maitake, and chicken of the woods are regarded highly by mushroom hunters and are among the many delicious, nutritious, and safe varieties available in the wild.
However, if you have not had any experience in hunting mushrooms, it vital to hunt in the company of an expert. Regardless of how delicious the fungus may be, no edible wild mushroom is worth risking your life!
While you’re still here, take a few minutes to read our short guide on common edible mushrooms.
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