Foraging for wild mushrooms can be a fun hobby and a delicious way to add variety to your diet. However, it does come with risks, as some wild mushrooms are poisonous and can cause severe illness or even death if consumed. So how do you know which wild mushrooms are safe to eat?
– Yes, some wild mushrooms are safe to eat, but proper identification is crucial. Edible species include chanterelles, puffballs, chicken of the woods, and morels.
– Poisonous mushrooms to avoid include the death cap, destroying angels, and the autumns skullcap. Look out for mushrooms with white gills, sac-like volvas, red on cap or stem, and convex caps.
– Only collect and eat mushrooms that you are 100% able to identify. Use field guides and spore prints to properly ID.
– Some mushrooms cause mild reactions like vomiting or diarrhea. Deadly poisonous mushrooms can cause organ failure and death.
– Cooking or peeling wild mushrooms does not detoxify toxins. Only eat properly identified edible raw or cooked mushrooms.
– Beginner foragers should only collect puffballs, chicken of the woods, and morels. Leave unknown mushrooms alone.
Edible Wild Mushrooms
Here are some examples of popular edible mushroom species that can be collected in the wild:
Morels (Morchella sp.) are one of the most prized edible mushrooms. They have a distinctive honeycomb-like conical cap and hollow stem. They have a nutty, earthy flavor. Morels grow in the spring in wooded areas.
Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) have a bright yellow-orange color and a funnel-shaped cap. They have a fruity aroma and taste amazing sautéed in butter. Chanterelles grow in summer and fall on the ground of hardwood forests.
Giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) are easy to identify large white balls that develop purple brown spores as they mature. The interior is white and firm when young. Sliced puffballs are great breaded and fried. They grow in fields and meadows.
Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) is named for its meaty texture similar to chicken breast meat. It has bright yellow-orange shelf-like caps that grow in overlapping clusters on tree trunks and roots. It has a mild, lemony flavor.
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are commonly found growing on decaying wood. They have whitish-gray caps in overlapping clusters. They have a mild, sweet flavor and velvety texture perfect for sautéing.
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) has long, cascading white tendrils rather than a cap. It grows on both living and dead trees and has a mild seafood-like flavor. It is a unique edible mushroom great for soups and stews.
Black trumpets (Craterellus cornucopioides) have a jet black color and trumpet-like shape. They have an earthy, smoky flavor with hints of nuttiness or fruity sweetness. They are found under hardwood trees in summer and fall.
Hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum repandum) have a pale orange-brown cap and branch-like teeth hanging underneath instead of gills. They have a subtle woody taste and firm texture. They grow on the ground in fall under mixed woods.
Hen of the Woods
Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) is an impressive clustered mushroom that looks like a ruffled chicken. It has a mild, woodsy taste. This large mushroom grows at the base of oak trees in clusters.
Lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) do not resemble their name, but they do have a distinctive seafood flavor. They are actually parasitized Russula or Lactarius mushrooms that take on a reddish color. They grow on the ground, usuall near Russula mushrooms.
Poisonous Wild Mushrooms to Avoid
While foraging for wild mushrooms can be rewarding, there are also many poisonous species to watch out for. Never eat a mushroom unless you are 100% certain you have identified it correctly. Here are some of the most toxic mushroom species to avoid:
The death cap (Amanita phalloides) is one of the most deadly poisonous mushrooms in the world. They have a greenish-yellow cap, white gills, white sac-like volva at the base, and a round bulb at the base of the stalk. It causes kidney and liver failure.
Destroying angels (Amanita sp.) look similar to edible button mushrooms but are extremely poisonous. They have a white cap and stalk, thin white gills, and volva at the base. They contain deadly amatoxins like the death cap.
The autumn skullcap (Galerina marginata) has a reddish-brown cap that can look similar to edible honey mushrooms. However, they contain deadly amatoxins. Look for a thin stem with brown gills rather than white.
This mushroom has a striking blood-red cap but is toxic. It causes vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and numbness in the limbs. Avoid red-capped wild mushrooms.
Jack O’Lantern Mushrooms
Jack o’lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius and others) grow in clusters at the base of trees and stumps, glowing an eerie green in the dark. These oranges and yellow mushrooms cause gastrointestinal issues if eaten.
Fly amanitas (Amanita muscaria) are red with white dots. They are toxic and hallucinogenic due to the psychoactive chemicals ibotenic acid and muscimol. They cause a dangerous elevated heart rate and should be avoided.
Some mushroom species resemble morels but are toxic. False morels like Gyromitra esculenta contain a carcinogenic toxin called gyromitrin that can be fatal if eaten raw. Only eat true morels after checking key identifying characteristics.
Sulphur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) grow in clusters on wood, causing root rot. They have greenish-yellow caps, green gills, and sulfur taste. They can cause harsh gastrointestinal symptoms and should be avoided.
Webcap mushrooms like the toxic Cortinarius rubellus have a spiderweb veil hanging from the cap when young. Many Cortinarius species contain deadly orellanine toxin that causes kidney damage within 3-20 days of ingestion.
Mushroom Poisoning Symptoms
If someone eats a poisonous mushroom, they can develop a range of concerning symptoms. Here are some common signs of mushroom poisoning:
– Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea – Starts within 6 hours of ingestion
– Abdominal cramps, dehydration
– Elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure
– Dizziness, disorientation, confusion
– Dilated pupils
– Vomiting and diarrhea persisting more than 6 hours
– Fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C)
– Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
– Signs of liver failure – painful liver, yellow skin/eyes, dark urine
– Changes in urination – little or no urine or dark urine
– Bruising, bleeding from gums, bloody vomit or stool
– Muscle cramps, joint pain, weakness, tremors
– Coma, organ failure, death
– Toxins like orellanine cause kidney damage 1-3 weeks after ingestion
– Amatoxins cause liver damage up to 1 week later
– Repeated vomiting, bloody urine, fever may then return
Table of Mushroom Toxicity and Onset of Symptoms
|Ibotenic acid, muscimol
|3 days – 3 weeks
Is it Safe to Cook Poisonous Mushrooms?
No, it is not safe to intentionally cook and eat known poisonous mushrooms. Cooking does not neutralize or destroy toxins in mushrooms. The poisoning compounds are heat stable. Whether eaten raw or cooked, you will still ingest the harmful toxins that can damage your health. Only eat mushrooms that you have confidently identified as edible varieties.
Do Not Rely on Folklore Methods
There are many myths that certain preparatory steps can make toxic mushrooms safe, but these folklore methods do not work:
– Peeling or skinning mushrooms
– Parboiling then discarding water
– Dehydrating, microwaving or canning
– Eating with salt, vinegar or milk
None of these techniques remove mushroom toxins. The entire mushroom contains the harmful compounds. Do not eat any amount if it is known to be poisonous. Proper identification is the only way to avoid poisoning.
Foraging Safety Tips for Beginners
If you want to start foraging for wild mushrooms, take precautions when mushroom hunting as a beginner:
Start with Easily Identified Species
Look for mushrooms with very distinct features hard to confuse with poisonous lookalikes, like:
– Puffballs – large white balls emerging from soil
– Chicken of the woods – colorful shelving mushroom on trees
– Morels – sponge-like cone caps with hollow stems
Avoid All-White Mushrooms
Many deadly species are all white. Do not eat small white gilled mushrooms, even if you think it resembles edible species. Misidentification can be fatal with little white mushrooms.
Use a Reputable Field Guide
Purchase a recommended wild mushroom field guide with excellent photos and descriptions. Learn the exact markings, colors, habitat, season, spore print colors and more for accurate identification.
Take Spore Prints
Take spore prints of mushrooms to better confirm identity. Place caps gill-side down on paper, leave overnight, and compare the spore color to guidebook descriptions.
When trying a new mushroom, first eat just a small portion to test for any reaction, and do not mix with other mushrooms. Wait at least 24 hours before consuming more.
Do not consume alcohol before or after eating wild mushrooms. Alcohol enhances toxicity and can increase the likelihood of a deadly reaction.
Know Your Limitations
If you have any doubts about the identity of a mushroom, do not eat it. Only experts should consume unidentified mushrooms after attempts to confirm an edible match.
What to Do if You Suspect Mushroom Poisoning
If you develop concerning symptoms after eating wild mushrooms, here is what you should do:
Seek Medical Treatment Immediately
Call 911, contact poison control, or go to an emergency room as quickly as possible. Rapid treatment is vital for the best chance of survival and recovery.
Bring the Mushroom for Identification
Bring remaining mushrooms, the whole specimens if possible, for identification in the hospital to determine the exact species and toxins involved.
Provide Timeline of Symptoms
Share when you ate the mushrooms, which parts, how they were prepared, when symptoms started, and how they progressed. timing helps determine severity and needed treatments.
State Other Medications and Medical Conditions
List other medicines, supplements, health conditions, allergies, pregnancy, etc, as these may impact treatment options. underlying health issues can increase the risks.
Warn Others Who May Have Eaten Them
Alert others who shared the mushrooms from the same source. They may be at risk and need evaluation even without symptoms yet. Quick action saves lives.
Receive Supportive Medical Care
Depending on the toxin, charcoal, hydration, antidotes, liver support, kidney dialysis, or other interventions may be used. Listen to medical team recommendations.
Expect a Long Hospital Stay
Toxin elimination is slow, so expect an extended hospitalization with frequent monitoring of organ function, bloodwork, and interventions to prevent permanent damage.
Wild mushroom foraging can be a rewarding hobby but also carries risks if poisonous varieties are accidentally consumed. With proper identification using field guides, spore prints, and other features, certain mushrooms can be safely eaten. However, look out for deadly species like the destroying angel and never consume unknown mushrooms. For beginners, stick to easy to identify edible mushrooms like morels and puffballs. If poisoning occurs, immediately seek emergency care for the best chances of recovery with proper identification of the mushroom consumed. While some wild mushrooms are safe to eat, extreme caution is warranted when foraging to avoid accidentally eating toxic fungi that can have severe and potentially fatal consequences. Only experienced mushroom hunters should consume less easily identifiable mushrooms after thoroughly confirming it matches edible species characteristics. For novices, only eat store-bought or personally cultivated mushrooms unless you are absolutely certain you have identified a wild one correctly as safe to ingest.