poisonous mushrooms

How to Safely Forage for Mushrooms

In this post, we talk about the importance of being careful and confident when picking mushrooms for culinary use. There are just a few tips that will teach you how to safely forage for mushrooms.

Be Cautious

Mushrooms are mysterious lifeforms. Many are edible. Many contain dangerous, or even deadly, toxins. There is much we don’t know about a lot of these toxins. The Destroying Angel (below) is a prime example of why it is crucial to educate yourself and be certain of what you have harvested before deciding whether or not to consume any mushroom.

This beautiful and inviting white mushroom appears harmless. If eaten, however, you would experience vomiting, diarrhea, liver and kidney failure, and, if not treated, death. The Destroying Angel is even more deadly because it is fairly common. We have found dozens of these deceptive mushrooms in just a couple of years of foraging experience.

Start Slow

It is easy to get excited about learning to identify and find edible mushrooms. Sometimes this excitement can cloud one’s judgment. There is no reason to rush into anything. You must always be absolutely positive of what you have identified because overconfidence can be a killer. That being said, most people aren’t aware of just how many species of edible mushrooms nature has to offer. In many locales, mushrooms have a dark reputation and are ignored completely because it is assumed all mushrooms are bad. That is not the case!

Start Easy

Some mushrooms are so unique, it would be virtually impossible to confuse them for something else. Other mushrooms have many lookalikes and can be virtually indistinguishable from several species. Until you’ve got some experience under your belt, it’s best to start easy then slowly diversify what you collect. As you become more comfortable identifying and describing the distinct features of different mushrooms, you’ll eventually be able to confidently add new mushrooms to your repertoire. For starters, some easy to identify mushrooms include the Chanterelle, Chicken Mushroom, Lion’s Mane, Yellow Morel, Oyster Mushroom, and Pheasant Back (Check those out here). Later down the road, you can branch out into some of the less easily identifiable Polypores, Boletes, Puffballs, Coral-Like mushrooms, and more.

General Tips

  • Get an identification book. Or two, or three.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. Another time will come.
  • If poisonous, cooking a mushroom does not make it not poisonous.
  • Before cooking, check all the mushrooms you’ve collected a second time to confirm your original identification and to verify nothing unintentional was accidentally mixed in.
  • When trying a new mushroom for the first time, don’t cook it with a bunch of spices that disguise the true flavor. Start simple, sautéing with just a little oil. I like avocado oil because it has less flavor and a higher smoke point than olive oil.
  • Only try one new mushroom at a time, and in small amounts over a long period of time, perhaps days.
  • Don’t gather mushrooms that are especially difficult to identify.
  • Never collect or eat mushrooms with sac-like structures at their base or buried just below the surface. This characteristic indicates a member of the Amanita family, which contains many poisonous mushrooms.
  • Be extremely cautious when foraging in a new region. Regional variation of local species could lead you to false-identify something with ‘confidence’.
  • Know your trees. Certain species can be narrowed down based purely on what they’re growing on. This can help, but never assume something is what you think it might be purely because of what it is growing on.
  • Some mushrooms do not mix well with alcohol.
  • Just because animals eat a certain kind of mushroom doesn’t mean you can.

Get Out There!

Although this is not a comprehensive guide on all of the do’s and don’ts of mushroom foraging, after reading this post you should have a much better understanding of how to safely forage for mushrooms. We hope that this guide will help you to begin your journey to become a mycophile, just like us!

Read more about Missouri Mushrooms here.

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