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Our Newsletter

A Foreword into your First Forage for Fungal Foods

Cathy's Lab - a slice of science pie for the mushroom minded

- Cathy Scott is Chief Science Officer at Everything Mushrooms; she handles all the mycelium! Cathy is also a tremendous cook and dedicated fungal fanatic. This little slice of our web space is dedicated to Cathy's experiments, recipies, and mushroom musings. Be sure to check this page regularly for updates on some of the exciting things happening "behind the scenes" in Cathy's Lab at Everything Mushrooms.


- posted July 22, 2013

Do not rely on just the information found here to identify edible mushrooms. Consult field guides and other websites before eating any foraged mushroom. Always cook foraged mushroom before eating.

Like most Americans I was taught to never put wild mushrooms anywhere near my mouth. It wasn't a suggestion, it was a unquestionable dogma so early ingrained, I can't even really remember the first time I was scolded. As a teen I remember hearing a story on the news; a European immigrant had poisoned her whole family after adding wild mushrooms to a pasta sauce. The whole family ended up in the hospital and a few of the children even lost their livers. Apparently the mushrooms looked like an edible mushroom that grew in their homeland. I smugly thought- how stupid, permanently altering your children's health just for a little extra flavor in a sauce, how could anyone not know mushrooms are dangerous. This further cemented the doctrine in my mind- never eat a wild mushroom. Even after my love of nature led to a degree in botany and years of spending countless hours in the woods, never did I even begin to think about actually eating a wild mushroom.

bolete.jpg amanita-hatching-from-eggs.jpg

LEFT: Bolete     RIGHT: Poisonous amanitas hatching from "eggs."

The truth is, there are some very dangerous mushrooms that flourish all over the United States. The most innocent little white ones, which resemble the white button mushrooms, can be some of the most dangerous. So it is very important to educate yourself before you put even a small bit of wild mushroom in your mouth. You may feel you need to be taught by an expert, that's not a bad idea if you want to be able to identify and eat all of the edible varieties out there. However there are plenty of easy to identify wild mushrooms that you can forage with the aid of a good book and feel perfectly safe eating.


ABOVE: Morel mushrooms, a spring treat that are easy to identify

One of the easiest to identify are morels. After you have eaten one of these little land fish battered in egg and fried in butter you can understand why some people spend all their free time searching for mushrooms. For me it was the gateway wild edible mushroom. Every April I set out on the first nice day after a rain in search of these beauties. Nothing inedible looks quite like them. The false morel has a more brain-like, rather than honeycomb appearance. To be absolutely sure you have found a real morel, cut one in half. Morels have a completely hollow open inner chamber. After your dissection, look closely and you will notice that there are no gills, like those fond on grocery store mushrooms. No gills, honeycomb, hollow inner chamber, cap is attached to the stem, growing out of the ground and out in the spring time; these are some of the rules to identifying a morel. Observation and simple rules like these can take the fear out of eating wild mushrooms (Kuo 2005; Lonik 2012) .

A great way to get started is to get to know some of the easy to identify mushroom species, like chicken of the woods, chanterelles, boletes and the rules associated with them. Like most good rules there are exceptions, in this case some very tasty exceptions. Rules can encompass how the mushrooms look, how they smell, where they are growing (out of the ground, cow patty or on the side of a stump), how they are growing (in clusters or as a single unit), time of they year when they appear and many others. Spore printing is another great indicator, you put a mushroom on a pieced of paper or aluminum foil, cover with a bowl and forget about it over night. Come back in the morning after the mushroom has shed its spores onto the paper. The color of the spores can be used as one more indicator of species.

chicken03-07.25.jpg spore-print.jpg

LEFT: Chicken of the woods, an easy to identify tasty summer mushroom    RIGHT: Spore prints can be used to help ID mushrooms

One rule to get you started: forget any mushrooms with gills, especially white gills (it isn't a bad idea to wash your hands after you have handled a mushroom with white gills). Stick with mushrooms with pores, teeth or ridges. Boletes are a yummy example of a mushroom with pores and a clear set of rules for edible species. Rules include eating only young fresh specimens with a pleasant odor, don't eat boletes with red or orange pore surfaces, avoid boletes that bruise or stain blue or green, and stay away from boletes with an orange cap (Kuo).

In addition to the tasty treats you can find mushrooming, it also opens your eyes to a whole new world and helps you appreciate the biology and ecology of fungi. Once you have trained your eyes by looking at pictures or morels and other species you will be amazed at the mushrooms and other things you will see. Mushrooms can be as colorful as flowers, some can be used as Dyes (A Rainbow Beneath My Feet- A Mushroom Dyer's Field Guide by Arleen Rainis Bessette and Alen E Bessette) and spore prints can be used to make art.


ABOVE: Colorful mushrooms expand nature's palette

If want to forage for wild mushrooms but you are a complete novice, the book I would recommend is "Mushrooming Without Fear" by Alexander Schwab . This guide is full of beautiful color photos and details to exactly what rules to follow to be absolutely sure you can take a bite. Some of my favorite guides are "Mushrooms Demystified" by David Arora and The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms by Gary H. Lincoff and Carol Nehring.

Most National Parks and Forests allow foraging for mushrooms (http://www.morelmushroomhunting.com/newsletter_august_2008.htm). It is best to call state or local parks in your area to ask if foraging for fungi is allowed.

Don't try to identify foraged wild musrooms based on our story--consult a more comprehensive source like these:


Arora, D. (1986). Mushrooms Demystified. Berkeley, California, Ten Speed Press.

Kuo, M. "The Mushroom Expert." 2013, from http://www.mushroomexpert.com/boletus.html

Kuo, M. (2005). Morels. Ann Arbor, Michigan, The University of Michigan Press.

Lincoff, G. and T. Laessoe (2002). Smithsonian Handbooks Mushrooms. New York, New York, A Dorling Kindersley Book.

Lincoff, G. and C. Nehring (1981). National Audubon Society, Field Guide to Mushrooms: North America. New York, Alfred A. Knopf.

Lockwood, T. (2009). The Good, the Bad and the Deadly, DVD.

Lockwood, T. (2009). The Mushroom Identification Trilogy, DVD.

Lonik, L. (2012). The Curious Morel. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Stackpole Books.

Schwab, A. (2006). Mushrooming without fear: The beginner's guide to collecting safe and delicious mushrooms. New York, New York, Skyhorse Publishing.