Edible mushroom identification is risky business. Many mushrooms are similar in appearance; telling a poisonous mushroom from an edible one can be difficult without guidance from an experienced mushroom hunter. Understanding the basics of edible mushrooms and common the pitfalls of edible mushroom identification can help keep you from picking mushrooms that might make you sick.
Successful edible mushroom identification starts with knowing your mushrooms, both edible and poisonous. In the wild, mushrooms often grow in clusters, and edible mushrooms which are growing next to poisonous mushrooms in the wild should be considered poisonous themselves. Foragers should ideally clean their hands between handling different types of mushrooms and store mushroom clusters in different paper bags.
Many types of edible mushrooms exist in the wild. Common types of edible mushrooms include the morel mushroom, the chanterelle mushroom, the meadow mushroom and the Chicken mushroom. The morel mushroom is spongy, and the chanterelle mushroom looks like an orange flower.
Visual identification of some mushrooms can be tricky if the edible mushrooms have nearby poisonous lookalikes. As do many edible mushrooms, morel and chanterelle have inedible lookalike doppelganger mushrooms. Extra care must be taken when identifying mushrooms with known lookalikes. At first glance, many poisonous white mushrooms in the wild look very similar to the common edible mushrooms in the grocery store.
Edible mushroom identification is best learned in person from a professional. Ninety-eight percent of mushrooms are not poisonous, according to "Wild Mushrooms and Poisoning", but the mushrooms which are poisonous can be very deadly, especially if you eat a big serving of them. You can find guides to teach you safe mushroom hunting in areas where mushroom foraging is popular.
Edible mushroom identification is not a trial and error process. You must know exactly what mushroom you are picking before it touches your hands, let alone your lips. Some fungi are so toxic that they poison any other mushrooms they touch, so you must not eat any mushroom placed into a bag with mushrooms you cannot identify. Some mushrooms poison through a slow toxic effect that shows no symptoms until you have already been seriously damaged. To be safe, avoid any contact with a mushroom you cannot identify as edible.
Even after mushrooms are identified as edible, caution is best when eating them for the first time. Though some mushrooms can be deadly in small amounts, most mushrooms are not deadly toxic in amounts less than a cup. Eat newly-identified edible mushrooms a few at a time and wait a day to observe for symptoms before eating them again.