i remember when i first started foraging i bought linda runyon's books. they were worthless on their own. (the pictures are not good, the information is).
anyway, i really didnt feel comfortable eating anything more than clover. so then i bought john kallas' book on wild edibles and positively identified purslane. i was so terrified of putting that purslane in my mouth and so terrified of swallowing it because apparently purslane has like 2 toxic look alikes.
after two years i know a good amount of plants and am able to differentiate between the good ones and the bad ones easily.
mushrooms are a different story. they scare me because of all of the information/misinformation i have heard about it.
to add to my plight, i have not met in person any living person who knows of any mushroom aside from a morel. these people do not go into the woods. they are useless to my needs.
so my question is this,
is there a book about mushrooms like john kallas' book?
john's book takes the beginner by the hand and shows only 10 wild edibles in a two inch volume. chalk full of pictures, chalk full of information, chalk full of confidence. a few edibles, a lot of details.
enough details to empower a person with no living breathing mushroom mentor to consume the most basic and common of mushrooms.
do you know of such a book?
if i was dead sure i had an edible mushroom and ate a small (small small small) amount and waited 30 minutes, then more, and so on. would that be a good strategy to get started?
because im tired of not being able to eat these things.
Mushrooms require serious study, and probably the best way is by going on a hunt with an expert. But as you say, there aren't too many mushroom experts here. In the "old country" grandmothers would take their grandchildren mushroom hunting and that was the way you learned to forage for the good ones and avoid the toxic ones. That's the way my grandmother learned, but she didn't pass it on to me, I learned from books and university courses. Speaking of university courses, Tom Volk of the University of Wisconsin has some very informative web pages.
Perhaps the best way to start is to buy a general field guide like the National Audobon Society's Field Guide to Mushrooms. It has good color pictures and descriptions that can help you positively ID a mushroom. Only then, and when it says it is unquestionable edible, do you cook them up. And I mean cook them up. None of this slicing them raw into salads like you do with store bought mushrooms. Cultivated mushrooms are grown on sterilized media, and do not have the entire forest's worth of soil life inhabiting them.
Learn to recognize the local mushrooms in your area; some species can be relied upon to pop up the same time every year after a heavy rain. Pick a few of the most common ones you see, and take them home to make a spore prints and look them up in your guide. Also learn the characteristics of the genus Amanita. You always want to be able to recognize an Amanita so that you can exclude it from your collecting basket. When you know what "veil, ring, and volvulus" mean and can identify them in your sleep, then you can start collecting mushrooms that don't have them.
Mushroom collecting can be fun, but I have to say that even after all the years that I have done it, I'm no aficionado of wild mushrooms. To me, they all taste the same -- like mushrooms. The only one that is any different is the wood ear, which has a different taste and a much different texture. Most of the oaks in my neighborhood are colonized by wood ears, and I have more than I know what to do with in the wet winter months.
I would start with David Arora's book for beginners, 'All That the Rain Promises and More'. He is clear on the mushrooms with deadly look alikes, and the mushrooms that are relatively easy to identify, and writes this book from that perspective. The book is small and simple, and gets you in the game without too much information. It is the best intro for beginners, and funny too.
Taking a nibble and waiting isnt a good plan really. Some mushrooms are toxic enough that a nibble could kill you. Many others have delayed toxicity issues, so you could ingest a fatal dose and not know it in a few hours. Scary stuff, very different level of consequences than wild plants.
Having said that, in the Western US (where I am familiar), mushroom gathering is fairly straightforward. There are desirable species that grow here that I dont try to collect, because they have deadly look alikes. For example, enoki are excellent, but way to similar to deadly gallerina for my comfort zone. There is a saying that LBM's are for scientists only. LBMs are Little Brown Mushrooms. There are too many of them, many toxic, to be worth trying to distinguish. In contrast, ID on boletes is fairly straightforward, though not automatic.
The Telluride Mushroom Festival is a great opportunity to go on public mushroom gathering forays with top level experts. I dont think they even charge for the forays. It is mid August every year, and I highly reccomend it as a good opportunity to get in the field with the pros. Dont trust just any joker you meet on the trail. Lots of people have no clue, and lots of people are happy to spread misinformation. Mushroom people are generally quite guarded about their spots and their techniques.
Mushroom harvesting is a wonderful way to spend a day in the woods. It takes some good education, but the effort is worth it. Good luck!
Just as John mentioned, I learnt my first mushrooms from my grandparents here in Germany, who went for mushrooms every year in August/September. It always was a fascinating weekend trip. Many people here are familiar with some basic species, they are certain about. These are mostly boletes, some agarics growing on wood (e.g. honey fungus) and some special looking mushrooms like cauliflower mushroom (Sparassis crispa) and giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea). Not so many people are confident enough to collect other agarics.
Here are the basic rules I have learnt:
- Only eat mushrooms you can determine as edible without any doubt (or consult an expert).
- Leave the other ones in the wood.
- Don't collect the very old ones and the ones, that are already out of the ground. (These are often partially rotten. The same applies, by the way, for mushrooms lain around in a shop for two days or more.)
- Don't collect too young ones, that are not safe to determine yet.
- Clean them, if possible, directly after collecting in the wood. (I never did that, too much work...)
- Collect into airy baskets, do not use plastic bags. (They rot fast after squeezing or having condensed water around.)
- Fresh mushrooms can be stored for up to two days in a fridge (airy, e.g. wrapped in paper) and another two days, after they have been cooked or fried.
- Never eat a mushroom raw, lots of otherwise edible ones are toxic in raw condition (not deadly, but can cause digestive problems).*
For collecting I think it is best to turn them out of the ground. This method does not harm the mycelium too much, in contrast to just pulling them out. Cutting them loose with a knife leaves parts of the stem in the ground, which act as an invitation for insects or bacteria to eat more of the mycelium.
For boletes (Wikipedia is good for following the section): Here, there are only two toxic ones (causing digestive problems: Boletus satanas, devil's bolete; Boletus calopus, bitter beech bolete; they have a light gray hat and red stem) and one inedible one (very bitter: Tylopilus felleus, bitter bolete; one small mushroom can ruin a whole meal). The others are all edible and taste usually great. The difference between the bitter bolete and the similar Boletus edulis (cep, we call them stone mushrooms, they look a bit like stones and have a nice, stable tissue) is the gray-pink sponge of the bitter bolete versus yellow-white sponge of the stone mushrooms. Also, tasting a small piece raw and spitting it out is not dangerous here.
Blue staining on cuts or on areas after pressure is not an exclusion criterion for toxic ones here in the area. There are some very good, edible ones that stain blue on cuts: Boletus badius (bay bolete); Boletus luridus und Boletus erythropus (in German Hexenröhrlinge = witch boletes), Boletus chrysenteron (red cracking bolete). The first three should not be eaten raw, though.
The two witch boletes have also a red stem like the devil's bolete, that's why most people don't collect them. But the stem has a different texture, and their hat is brown.
All in all, there is very little danger, when only collecting boletes and frying them. The worst that can happen is heavy puking after having devil's bolete, the second worst a very bitter, inedible meal with the bitter bolete. I guess, the boletes are somewhat similar in the US, but of course, please look up all toxic or inedible ones first. Probably there are some other ones to be careful about.
* I tried it several times with the cultured Agaricus button mushrooms and it seems ok, though. Here my concern would be bacteria from the growing medium (compost/horse manure).
My father was a real mushroom geek in suburban New York and around the Northeast US. In winter he'd keep a knife and bag in the glove box, and slam on the brakes if he saw mushrooms in someone's yard or of the side of the rod. He had several books that he used for identification. I remember often hearing about the dangers of amanitas, and the nice friendly boletes. When dealing with a mushroom he wasnt' sure of, he'd take a spore print -- put the cap on a white plate under a bowl for several hours, to see how the spores fall and their color etc. I definitely thought the wild mushrooms were infinitely more delicious than the storebought ones. But now I don't know any mushrooms here so I don't eat any wild ones.
Works at a residential alternative high school in the Himalayas SECMOL.org . "Back home" is Cape Cod, E Coast USA.
definitely buy a field guild and read it cover to cover. Learn all the poisonous ones and one or two good ones to start. collect them many times before you ever eat one. I've enjoyed collecting the Polypore mushrooms because they are relatively safe. if you read a passage on the effects of Amanita Poisoning you won't ever make that mistake.
Keith Hansen wrote:definitely buy a field guild and read it cover to cover. Learn all the poisonous ones and one or two good ones to start. collect them many times before you ever eat one.
Sorry Keith, but I think this is not gonna work (except buying a field guide). This way, no one will ever actually eat wild mushrooms... You start with curiosity, go on a mushroom hunt, knowing that the right ones taste much more interesting than the ones from a shop. You look for these few and know the similar ones, you could mistake them for. It is much more fun, to learn on the hunt from somebody else, than from a book. But a good guide book is necessary. On the way you learn to love the beauty and diversity of the wild mushrooms and the unexpected places, they appear on.
In the evening you come home with a delicious meal and the body soaked in oxygen...
(I'm sorry, if I sound condescending here. I have a slight problem with the language - when it is better to use "you" or "one". I'm only describing my experiences, so, no intent of patronizing...)
We went to a class on mushroom hunting that was held at a nearby state park and the teacher told us about a free guide book that is available from the US Dept of Agriculture & Forest Service. It is spiral bound with full-color, glossy pages and pictures of every mushroom.
We get morels every year.
We see Shaggy Manes but not enough for a meal normally.
We finally had our 1st Giant Puffball last week. I spotted it a friend's house while picking apple drops for my pigs and mentioned it to her but didn't take it - still only softball sized. My husband went the next week and saw the same one and picked it. It was volley ball sized. The flavor was good but the texture was weird for a mushroom. Sort of like medium texture tofu.
Can't remember the 3 other safe ones off hand.
Could be Hen of the Woods and Chicken of the Woods (sulfur shelf) but I'm not sure.
Do try to find a friend who has experience and remember:
There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters!
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Congratulations, Cj, on the Giant Puffball! Haven't found this one yet, only smaller puffballs (e.g. Common Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum). If they are older, the solid white interior becomes yellow, loses its structure and is then not edible anymore. If it was still like tofu, I guess it was the right time for harvesting!
This field guide (thank you for the link, Bethanny) might be usable as a start. The instructions in the beginning are good and the photos a good lead, but the species descriptions are not sufficient to determine edible mushrooms. The authors warn on several places about eating uncertain mushrooms, but don't provide this certainty in determination. A feature that is present in the field guides I know, but missing in this one, is a segment about "mistaking possibilities" (I don't know if this is the best way to phrase it in English) on each mushroom page. There, species with similar appearance are mentioned and how to distinguish the two from each other. If I know "oh, I can mistake this mushroom only with this other one and these are the differences", it gives the necessary certainty to collect them. I admit, this is probably more difficult to achieve over such a large area like the US. Regional field guides might be more useful with that.
Some additional thoughts I had, when I flipped through the pdf:
- Nobody I know of is doing spore prints here, although the spore color is a good attribute. I'll pick that up...
In nature the spore color can sometimes be seen already before collecting, on material below the caps. For instance when mushrooms are growing in groups or tufts, on the caps of the lower ones.
- Among all the warnings about Amanitas, nobody seems to mention, that Amanita pubescens (Blusher, we call it Pearl Mushroom) is a very good edible mushroom. Not so much for beginners because of the scary sisters (or brothers, whatever ), but actually nicely distinguishable. The Blusher is growing more often in forests here, than all the toxic Amanitas together. "Blusher" is actually a very good name, because it describes the attribute that all the toxic Amanitas don't have: It becomes red on cuts, bruises and on places after pressure. Also, its cap has red areas on top, but a pale Fly Agaric can look similar, so the red blushed sites on stem and gills are the best way to distinguish it. No toxic Amanita blushes, their flesh stays white!
I'm collecting Amanita pubescens since I was nine (I had an excellent mentor at this time) and it is worthwhile, because they can become quite large and grow in every type of forest. In the US everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, according to mushroomexpert.com.
There are two other edible Amanitas with gray caps (Amanita excelsa and Amanita vaginata), but they are harder to distinguish from the Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina) and I don't collect them.
- Also, they warn in the book strongely about the genus Cortinarius, which I can only understand as a warning to beginners. About 70% of this large group are edible species, a bit slimy sometimes, but often in beautiful colors (and the slimy skin can be stripped). I collect sometimes as an addition Cortinarius violaceus, muscigenus and mucosus. The taste of them alone is not great (a bit earthy), so it should be a mixed meal with other mushrooms. The danger to mistake Cortinarius traganus (which is only medium toxic, according to my books and wikipedia) or the two very toxic ones, Cortinarius rubellus and orellanus, for them is relative... It's a very large group though and definitely one of the more difficult ones.