Mushroom Hunting 101

Mushrooms are one of the most fun and rewarding things to forage for. They can be a bit mysterious and ephemeral, here one day and gone the next. Plus, reports of deadly poisons make one understandably wary. Now, it is true that it is unwise to eat just any old mushroom–among the ubiquitous little brown mushrooms (aka LBMs) some are delicious, while others will cause great pain or death, and they can look very similar. But with appropriate precautions it is possible to safely forage for mushrooms. The best way to get started is to pick one or two mushroom kinds in your area that are easy to identify. My own first serious mushroom foray was for morels, which are delicious and especially easy to identify. Make sure there are no poisonous look-alikes and practice your mushroom ID skills with a field guide. David Arora’s All That the Rain Promises is excellent despite the crazy-looking trombonist on the cover. As you build your mycological chops, look at what the mushroom looks like coming out of the soil, it’s stem, how the cap attaches to the stem, whether it has gills, pores, or teeth. Consider the mushroom color and the smell, as well as where it grows. Finally, try making your own spore print, by placing the mushroom on a piece of paper and covering it with a glass for a few hours. The color of the print is a useful diagnostic tool. Plus it’s really cool and you’ll feel like a scientist.

If you’re uncomfortable going mushrooming on your own, join a local mushroom club or mycological association. Many of these organizations have periodic mushroom outings where you can learn from more experienced foragers. Above all, always obey the three rules of mushroom hunting:

Rules for mushroom hunters

  1. NEVER eat a mushroom you haven’t positively identified beyond a shadow of a doubt.
  2. NEVER eat a mushroom uncooked (raw mushrooms are usually indigestible or even poisonous, the button mushrooms from the store are an exception)
  3. ALWAYS consume only a SMALL amount of mushroom at first. Mushrooms may disagree with some people even if they are generally considered safe and other people have consumed them without any trouble. Only if you don’t have any trouble, feel free to have some more.

Ultimately, have fun! Even inedible mushrooms are a joy to identify and make walks and hikes more interesting.


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