Tips for safe wild mushroom foraging this autumn

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Posted Aug 25 2017 by Jessie Watson Brown of Nettleseed
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

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’!

Wood blewit (Lepista nuda) – good to eat.

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.

Misidentification

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.

Amanita phalloides – aka death cap; as the name suggests – avoid.

Personal intolerance

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…

Morel (Morchella vulgaris): edible – go for it.

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.

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria); psychoactive and classified as poisonous, but can be eaten if cooked properly – but only if you really know what you’re doing.

Cooking

Some mushrooms are poisonous raw, so it’s generally good to cook whatever you forage.

Ink caps

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!

Ink caps (Coprinus comatus) – best for teetotallers?

Timing

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.

Scoth bonnets (Marasmius oreades): grow in ‘fairy rings’ and are edible and sweet-tasting.