Edible mushrooms are the fleshy, fruiting bodies of several fungi species. Edibility is typically determined by the lack of poisonous effects on people and a desirable flavor and aroma. Edible mushrooms are either cultivated or harvested wild. Cultivated mushrooms are generally available at grocery stores, while wild mushrooms are typically picked by mushroom hunters. A mushroom must be properly identified as an edible species before eating it, as poisonous mushrooms can easily be confused with edible mushrooms.
Puffballs (Lycoperdon) are pear-shaped or round mushrooms that are typically gray, tan or white in color. A puffball’s insides start out solid white, but turn brown as the mushroom ages. These mushrooms range in size from an inch to a foot in diameter. Puffballs can be found in woods, pastures or lawns in the late summer and fall. They prefer growing on decaying wood or in rich soil. Puffballs should be eaten only if the inside is completely white. Brown or yellow insides don’t have a good flavor.
The shaggy mane mushroom (Coprinus comatus), also called a lawyer’s wig, has a long, white, cylindrical cap and white gills. This mushroom gets its name from its distinctive shaggy, brown scales. As the mushroom matures, the gills and cap dissolve into an inky, black fluid, leaving just the standing stalk. This edible mushroom is generally four to six inches tall. Shaggy manes sprout during the fall, spring and summer in wood chips, soil and grass. These delicate mushrooms should be eaten the same day they are picked.
Coral fungi (Clavariaceae) look like branching stems of tan, yellow or white coral. Also called doghair mushrooms and antler mushrooms, these fungi grow in clusters reaching up to eight inches high. Coral fungi grow during the fall and summer in wooded areas.
Morels (Morchella) are also called honeycomb, pine cone and sponge mushrooms because their surfaces are covered with distinct ridges and pits. These popular wild mushrooms range in size from two to 12 inches tall. The common morel (Morchella esculenta) has white ridges that turn yellow-brown as it ages. The black morel (Morchella elata) has gray ridges that blacken with maturity. Black morels taste best when picked young. Morels can be spotted from the spring to the early summer in river bottoms and moist woodlands.
Bearded tooth mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus) have clumps of hanging, white, fur-like growths that look similar to polar bear paws. This edible mushroom is pure white when young and fresh, but becomes yellow with age. Bearded tooth mushrooms can grow as large as a foot in diameter. These mushrooms sprout in the fall and summer on stumps, logs or trees.
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are large, white, ivory or tan mushrooms shaped like oyster shells. They are typically found growing in large clusters on decaying or live wood during the spring, summer, fall and warm winters. Oyster mushrooms reach two to eight inches in diameter.
Chanterelles (Cantharellaceae) are trumpet- or funnel-shaped mushrooms with wavy caps. Most chanterelles are yellow or bright orange, although the black trumpet is brown-black in color. European mushroom hunters search for these popular mushrooms during summer and fall months in wooded areas. Fresh chanterelle mushrooms have a fruity fragrance. These mushrooms are tough and need to be cooked for a long time before eating.