Tips for safe wild mushroom foraging this autumn
In this post, I’m sharing some of my recent explorations into the subtle nuances and helpful tips for safe mushroom foraging this autumn. Now, I don’t want to scare you, but I do think it’s very important.
This enquiry has been prompted by my recent experience on a walk through the hills of Wales, where I experienced my first ever wild mushroom poisoning, with good old Chicken of the Woods. For a start, don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into a list of symptom details, lets stick with what most books call ‘gastrointestinal upset’!
However, I survived to tell the tale, and the good thing is it was a bit of a wake up call. The most interesting point is, my friends and I ate a mushroom whose identity we had no doubt about, and had all eaten before. That rules out two of the most common mistakes – misidentification, and personal intolerance.
I always use the rule ‘if in doubt, leave it out’ – and maybe this has meant I’ve missed a few delicious mushroom meals, but it is a good way to stay safe. I never eat a mushroom if I don’t know what it is. And do not do a ‘google images’ search of what you think it might be – this is not adequate identification – check your mushroom with a few good books, and only eat if it matches the descriptions and photos.
What might be edible to some people can be poisonous to others – so always check your personal reaction to each new mushroom you try. Eat just a small amount of any new edible mushroom first, and wait for 24 hours to see. For this reason it is also a good idea to try one type at a time.
The whole experience in the forests of Wales points to the subtleties and risks with mushroom harvesting, there must be more to it than meets the eye. As I investigated a little deeper into the world of wild mushroom harvesting, here is some more of what I have learnt…
Edible / poisonous
A lot of books divide mushrooms into two categories – Edible and Poisonous. However, my recent experience tells me, as do most of the books if you read them thoroughly enough, that there are a number of factors which render what is classed as an ‘edible’ mushroom safe to eat or not.
For example – what the mushroom has grown on; Its said to be a bad idea to eat a Chicken of the Woods growing on yew as they can be poisonous.
Some mushrooms are poisonous raw, so it’s generally good to cook whatever you forage.
Ink Caps are an interesting case. They are edible, so long as you haven’t had any alcohol. If you drink alcohol within 72 hours before or after eating Ink Caps, they are poisonous, as a chemical within them leaves your liver unable to deal with the alcohol… worth knowing!
Its worth paying attention to all sorts of subtleties when picking mushrooms, like what tree it grows on, and the weather. Another important factor is the time of year. Some mushrooms tend to only grow in certain seasons. However, this is becoming less reliable as our climate changes.
If you are a beginner, going on a good mushroom identification walk with someone really experienced can help, as can getting a few good books.
I’m still not quite sure why we were all ill, and whether there were other factors involved, but it hasn’t put me off mushroom foraging!
Here’s some more safety advice when picking wild mushrooms.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Ian Hamilton August 25th, 2017
I find the use of the word “poisonous” contentious. Why not come right out and say “will kill/harm” or safe to eat. What is wrong with specifics and saying you are in for the “oh be joyfulls” if you eat this or that. Surely in this modern day we are used to “the words!!!” We all know them, anyway.Your advice to try a little and see what occurs is pretty sound to me. But if you know then dont go near it. But this word “poisonous” is I feel, a little miss leading.
Just a thought.
2Jessie Watson Brown August 25th, 2017
I agree of course – if you know a mushroom is going to cause you harm, then don’t ingest it, and don’t just try some to see.
The dictionary says: Poisonous: (of a substance or plant) causing or capable of causing death or illness if taken into the body.
and that was my understanding of the word, so I think that is relatively the same as saying “will kill/harm”. And I feel to use such a strong word, as generally it is true that if you choose the wrong mushroom and it could kill or harm you.
3Kim Brown August 25th, 2017
Excellent article Jessie – I run a nature based fb page and belong to bushcraft groups and have become increasingly concerned about bushcraft posts asking if something is edible – on the other hand it’s a delight to see people taking such an interest in this aspect of nature – so you strike a great balance. Thank you
4Jessie Watson Brown August 26th, 2017
Thank you Kim, and you make a great point – posting a photo on a Facebook group and hoping for an identification isn’t such a good idea – if its not clearly identifiable from books, I’d not eat it.
It can be so tempting, especially when you find a large amount of mushrooms, to want them to be edible and you could go round asking everyone until someone says ‘yes’! Not a safe strategy!
5Su Bristow November 13th, 2017
People sometimes have a strong reaction to unfamiliar foods. But it doesn’t mean the food is ‘poisonous’ necessarily, just that your system doesn’t know how to handle it. Eating a small amount and waiting for a day or two is always a good idea, and you may find you have no problem after that. Good hunting!
6Jane Goodall October 25th, 2020
Hi , enjoying the posts, just wanted to clarify , shaggy Ink cap is not poisonous with alcohol, only the common ink cap. Your image shows a shaggy ink cap. This appears to be a common misconception. A scam of the more scientific literature will confirm this . I can confirm personally that you can drink lots of alcohol with shaggy ink cap, I tested this on my husband first and then on my self ? The active compound that is responsible for common ink cap being known as ‘Tipplers Bain’ is not present in shaggy ink cap.
Shaggy ink cap must be one of the most easy identifiable species and is incredibly delicious as a soup.
Common ink cap is best left alone
7Dave Darby October 25th, 2020
Thanks for the info Jane
“I tested this on my husband first and then on my self”
– very wise