Wild mushrooms, when correctly identified, are a healthy and tasty snack to add to your diet. Mushrooms form as fruits of fungi that develop in wet, decaying areas such as tree bark and soil. Since mushrooms peak at different times during the year, you can hunt anytime between late spring and the middle of autumn to harvest a bountiful supply of mushrooms. Looking out for and identifying poisonous mushrooms are equally important. Familiarize yourself with both safe and unsafe wild mushrooms.
Recognizing Edible Wild Mushrooms and Picking Them
If you are unsure about the species of a mushroom, take no chances — throw it away and do not eat it.
Take notes of the mushroom species you find in certain locations. Note sites where you found poisonous species.
Poisonous mushrooms can range from mild to deadly. Eating a poisonous mushroom can result in diarrhea, vomiting and headaches.
Mushrooms can absorb toxins in their environment. Avoid mushrooms found by roads and in areas with high pollution or near fields where farmers use pesticides.
Scavenge for mushrooms in their natural habitat, heavily wooded forests. They commonly grow near and on trees. Familiarize yourself with the types of mushrooms, both poisonous and safe, that you find by their respective tree species. Knowing which tree that a certain mushroom grows near or on helps ease the process of finding your favorite mushrooms and avoiding the types that can make you sick.
Identifying mushrooms is the key to having a safe hunt; common mushrooms that are safe to eat include puffballs and sulfur shelf. Look for puffballs by scanning the forest for round and perfectly white mushrooms similar to golf balls. Slice the puffball from top to bottom to observe the interior color; if it is perfectly white, the mushroom is safe to eat. Sulfur shelf mushrooms grow in clusters on trees and are orange or bright yellow in color; no poisonous look-alikes exist for this type.
Avoid picking any kind of mushroom that has a parasol-shaped cap with white gills on the underside, as this is the amanita mushroom. Consumption of this mushroom can cause death. Also look out for jack-o-lanterns, mushrooms that are bright orange, like pumpkins, and grow in clumps. They are known to have a sweet smell and taste but cause severe stomach pains when eaten.
Put a layer of wax paper in your basket. Pinch the mushroom as close to its base as possible, and lift the mushroom gently from the ground and place it in the basket. Use your garden spade for mushrooms that are hard to take from the ground. Dig a small area around the base and pry the roots from the soil. Pick mushrooms directly from a tree if you find that kind.
Rinse all mushrooms in water to remove dirt and grime, and let them air dry.
- mushroom image by Earl Robbins from Fotolia.com