There are thousands of wild mushroom species in America but you can’t eat them all.
Sadly, many mushroom species are too fibrous to chew easily or too small to be worth foraging for.
However, this still leaves hundreds of potentially tasty mushroom species out there and the good news is that only about 250 mushroom species are considered to be toxic.
That means if you learn a little bit about wild mushrooms, you can learn to get tasty treats and avoid the toxic ones.
Why Does Learning About Wild Mushrooms Matter?
There are over 6,000 cases a year of mushroom poisoning in the United States and nearly every year sees a fatality or two from eating the wrong mushrooms.
As you can see, learning about wild mushrooms can help get you fed and save your life.
How To Learn About Wild Mushrooms In The Right Way?
Learning about mushrooms is actually very easy and doing so and taking precautions makes foraging for mushrooms a superbly safe thing to do.
Here’s what everyone should do to get started:
- Join a fungi club. These are “mycological associations” to be precise and you can find them easily anywhere in the United States.
- Invest in a couple of field guides to mushrooms in the area you intend to forage. It’s better to have more than one, so you can cross-reference finds between them.
- Work out the genus of the mushroom first. (Look at what the mushroom was growing on or in, examine the stem, if necessary uproot the stem base to check out the structure, and take a spore print).
- If a mushroom is readily identifiable as edible, put it in a basket marked edible.
- If you can’t tell, put it in a basket marked “further identification needed”.
- You can’t get poisoned by touching a poisonous mushroom so don’t worry about handling mushrooms.
- Don’t take your dog with you, unless it’s on a very tight leash and you’re watching it all the time. Dogs are very often the victim of mushroom poisoning.
Then it’s really a question of learning the most common mushrooms and the “look-alikes” and how to tell them apart.
Let’s look at some examples.
Jack O’Lanterns Vs Chanterelles
The Jack O’Lantern mushroom is very similar to chanterelle mushrooms. Unfortunately, while chanterelles are super tasty, the Jack O’Lantern is poisonous.
You find chanterelles commonly around conifers on the West Coast and around oaks and hardwoods on the East Coast.
They grow in little clusters around the trees and often on the slopes of mountains.
So, how do you tell the two apart?
Jack O’Lanterns have gills that go all the way down the stalk. Chanterelles do not, instead, they have sort of gill-like markings on the cap that run to the stem.
If you peel them a Jack O’Lantern is an orange color inside. The chanterelle has a pale interior of a similar color to the stem.
False Morels Vs Morels
As you might expect it’s the false morel that’s bad for you and this is a very important distinction to learn to make because these are the most popular mushrooms among foragers.
Morels grow nearly everywhere (though not in Florida or Arizona).
You can find them easily in soil that’s around 50-58 degrees Fahrenheit (use a digital thermometer to test it).
The morel loves to grow in moist areas near most species of tree, but be careful – don’t eat morels from apple orchards unless the orchard is organic because morels absorb the pesticides used on trees.
How do you tell the morel from the false morel?
The caps of morels have a very honeycomb appearance to them, false morels have a cap with a short of saddle-shape on it or sometimes a brain-like look to them.
You can also slice them down the center. A false morel looks to be stuffed with cotton fibers, whereas a real morel is hollow inside.
Next Steps For Gathering Wild Mushrooms
Once you know the most commonly confused mushrooms in your area, you also need to work out what the most deadly mushrooms are (usually Destroying Angels and Death Caps) to make sure you avoid them entirely.
And then, finally, check out the most edible and least confusable mushrooms too.
You should make sure that your first few forages, if at all possible, are done with the guidance of someone with long experience of picking mushrooms in your area.
Final Thoughts On Wild Mushrooms
Wild mushrooms are super tasty and finding them is both safe and rewarding as long as you know what you’re doing.
We can strongly recommend buying some books and joining a group to get started.
Once you’ve had some guided practice at working out what’s what – you’ll be fine.
However, never forget the golden rule: If you are not 100% sure that a mushroom is safe, don’t eat it.
If you’d like to learn about how to identify puffball mushrooms check out our handy guide, you might also like to find out about how Adidas is making shoes out of mushrooms and how Uphoric Urth uses mushrooms to treat people’s ills.