In many parts of the world, mushrooms can be found growing wild in wooded areas or even your own backyard. Wild mushrooms range in flavor from very mild to quite rich and can create luscious dishes of all sorts. It is, however, critical that you correctly identify mushrooms to make sure that they are safe for consumption before eating or serving them--some mushrooms can be toxic.
Wild mushrooms are found in urban and rural areas and in all sorts of climates. Most varieties grow on live trees, in dead wood, or in the leaf litter on the ground. Many types of wild mushrooms grow near or on specific trees, making it easier to find and identify these fungi. Wild mushroom identification is specific to various regions, so take the time to learn what is typical in your area.
A number of types of wild mushrooms exist; however, some poisonous mushrooms can closely resemble edible ones. There are four clearly recognizable edible wild mushrooms that even the amateur can enjoy finding and cooking. The sulfur shell or chicken mushroom is made up of flat, overlapping fans ranging in color from orange to salmon. The giant puffball looks like a large, slightly dirty styrofoam ball, typically growing in well fertilized pasture lands. Morel mushrooms are a favorite, with a cone-like shape and an open, spongy appearance. The chanterelle is also quite easy to identify, with a bright orange to yellow cap, white flesh and a fruity aroma.
Examine several key mushroom features to identify the type of wild mushroom. Look at the color and shape of the mushroom and the color of its flesh. If you are unsure about a mushroom, take a spore print for additional information. Tape together a sheet of black paper and one of white paper side by side. Place the mushroom on the paper, with half the mushroom onto each sheet. Cover with a glass and allow to sit for 1-12 hours. Compare the spore print to a mushroom guide book.
Different types of fungi grow at different points during the year. Learn which edible mushrooms are growing in your area in the spring, summer and fall. Growing seasons can help you to accurately identify fungi, particularly if you are working with wild mushrooms that may have poisonous lookalikes. You will most commonly find good growth of wild mushrooms during damp times of year and after heavy rains.
Some wild mushrooms and fungi are poisonous. While most of these are not deadly, you should not eat any mushroom you cannot clearly and accurately identify. Do not rely on folklore or hearsay: The only way to avoid poisonous mushrooms is to always carefully and accurately identify your mushrooms. If you are unsure, take spore prints and photos, then carefully research your mushroom.
Avoid all little brown mushrooms, as these are far too difficult for an amateur to distinguish. Also avoid any amanita, parasol shaped mushrooms with white gills. The cream colored lepiota is found in yards throughout America, and is what many of us think of as a toadstool. This is a white, parasol-shaped mushroom with a green spore print. False morels have made many people ill. While a true morel has pits and indentations, the false morel has ridges and protrusions.