Mushroom hunting has been going on for thousands of years, but it can be difficult to identify which wild mushrooms are actually edible, especially when there are varieties that can be poisonous. Mushrooms are naturally nutritious, especially for those who eat only organic or vegetarian food. A handful of popular mushrooms that grow in the western United States are edible; they can be used for everything from topping pizzas to simmering in stews. Overall, though, exercise great caution when hunting for, identifying and consuming wild mushrooms.
Wear closed-toe shoes when searching for wild mushrooms, as you will usually be in the forest and don't want to risk injuring a toe or stepping on anything harmful. Bring brown paper bags to collect each variety of mushrooms you find.
Search for morels, some of the most popular and delicious wild mushrooms in the country. Look for these mushrooms in sandy moist soil, after the first spring blossoms appear. They like to flourish around ash, apple, cottonwood or elm trees, especially if around streams or hillsides. Morels are easy to identify because they resemble a sponge, pinecone and honeycomb shape and texture.There are three types of morels, which range from gray to light tan or golden brown, to gold. They can range from 2 inches to 1 foot tall, and the bottom edge of the mushroom cap will always be directly attached to the stem.
Look for one of the most gourmet of wild edible mushrooms, chanterelles. These can be recognized by there fruity or flowering aroma, almost like a pear or apricots. They also are usually a bright yellow or gold color, harboring under oaks to conifers from June to September. The texture is smooth and firm on top, and can be smooth or gilled underneath the cap. These range from 2 to 8 inches tall, and usually grow in clusters.
Look for oyster mushrooms which resemble their name with an oyster-like shell. They range from white to tan, with gills running down a short stem with very soft flesh.These mushrooms always grow on wood, whether it is the side of a tree or fallen logs. They range from 2 to 8 inches wide, and grow in groups. Look for them during spring, summer, fall and even sometimes winter.
Harvest porcini mushrooms (known as King Bolete in the United States) during late summer to early fall. These have a smooth, spongy-textured top that is shaped like a dome. These can be easily identified by picturing a bolete as a hamburger bun on a stalk. King Boletes can grow individually or in groups, ranging from reddish brown to light tan, up to ten inches tall and one to ten inches wide. Look for them in the summer and fall on the ground near trees, especially pines.
Carefully pick the mushrooms by cutting them off at the ground from the stalk, or plucking the caps off. Store them in the brown bags until you get home. Wash thoroughly.