An Introduction to identifying wild mushrooms
First things first and as a bit of a disclaimer, if you are not 100% sure what he mushroom you just found is and cant identify it with certainty the for expletives sake don’t put it in your mouth, some mushrooms are incredibly healthy and tasty others will cuss you up in a painful and agonizing way.
Some seemingly innocuous looking mushrooms have an evil twin that resembles the friendly mushroom so closely with the exception of a minor detail.
Ill be honest with you, I’ve seen and photographed mushrooms all over the world and have yet to eat anything I have found, I know that’s sounds daft but I just don’t trust my reading abilities that much and until I find a wild food guru who can teach me all he knows I’m going to keep it like that. Plus its pretty hard to photograph something you have eaten.
There are many things to look at when identifying wild mushrooms.
Shape and color is the easiest to identify and serves as a good start point, followed by the Stalk, Cap Gills and smell.
The Mushrooms Stalk
The is stalk is the trunk like structure that supports the cap of a mushroom, although not all mushrooms have stalks (other name is stipe) such as puffballs.
Defining characteristics of the stem are:
- The shape and size, length, width difference of width at top to the width at the bottom.
- The color
- Is it hollow
- Does it bruise, (change color after piercing with a sharp object)
- Is there a veil or not
- Is it brittle or soft
- Is is smooth or have hairs or scales
The Mushrooms Cap
Not every mushroom has a Cap, although for the most part his is more an exception than the rule.
Defining characteristics of the cap are:
- Most importantly is the shape and size
- Does it bruise, (change color after piercing with a sharp object)?
- Does it have gills, pores, or teeth on the underside of the cap?
- Does it have hairs, warts, or scales?
- Is it brittle or soft?
The Mushroom’s Gills
Defining characteristics of the Gills are:
- Are there gills or not?
- Are they gills like or are they sponge like
- What is the gill color?
- How close are the gills to each other?
The Mushrooms Smell
Many mushrooms don’t have a smell, some only have faint smells wilts others have very distinctive smells either way its still a useful defining character.
Defining characteristics of smell are:
- Is it fruity
- Or does it smell like almonds (If so its more then likely doing to mess you up)
- Or garlic
- or does is smell like death.
The Mushroom farmers identification tools
By far the best way to learn how to identify mushrooms as with any wild food is to spend time with someone who already knows, and has been doing it a long time, the longer and older the better as that’s always a good indication they they know what they are talking about.
Failing knowing an old wise mushroom guru books are a good choice, I would highly recommend using more then one. having more then one source allows you to cross reference.
Some things you might want to take with you on you’re mushroom adventures are:
- At least 2 good identification books
- A pocket knife
- a collection of bags (you may want to take some home or at least have evidence for a pathology or post mortem is things should go a bit wrong)
- A mini table top tripod
- A half descent digital camera
Some of my favorite Mushroom identification books:
- Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1
- Collins Gem – Mushrooms
- Collins Gem – Food For Free
Other Mushroom Identification books that look pretty good but I have yet to see are:
- The Easy Edible Mushroom Guide
- Collins Complete British Mushrooms and Toadstools: The essential photograph guide to Britain’s fungi (Collins Complete Guides)
- Complete Mushroom Book: The Quiet Hunt
- Mushroom Picker’s Foolproof Field Guide: The Expert Guide to Identifying, Picking and Using Wild Mushrooms
There is even a River Cottage DVD
Have fun and stay safe,