Have you ever seen a wild mushroom and wondered if you could eat it? Before you put it in your mouth WAIT! If you are not 100% positive of the type of mushroom, you could be making a deadly mistake by eating it. It is vital that you always identify any wild edible mushrooms that you eat.
Since there are literally hundreds of edible species of mushrooms, this list illustrates some of the more distinctive mushrooms and their specific traits. Being able to successfully identify these characteristics and traits should help you to avoid the poisonous species.
If you are interested in knowing all the species of mushrooms that are in North America, a suggested field guide book called "National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms"
can be picked up fairly cheap and goes into great detail of every mushroom you might come across in your travels.
Since there are thousands of species of mushrooms, the last thing we want to do is have anyone get sick based off of our description. For this reason, the descriptions you read are sited from the Nation Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Once again, if you are not 100% positive of the species of mushroom do not eat it!
Before we jump into a few different types of mushrooms it is important to understand the anatomy of a mushroom. The following diagram can be referenced to get a visual understanding of what a description might be referring to.
Parts of a Mushroom:
Mushrooms have two parts. One part is underground and the other is above ground. The underground part is called the mycelium and it gets food for the mushroom. Depending on the amount of food it is able to collect it could die quickly or it can live for hundreds of years.
The umbrella-shaped portion of the mushroom, which is above ground is called the fruit or sporophore. The sporophore starts out as a small button which grows into a stalk and a cap. The Stalk or stem grows quickly because it is able to absorb a lot of water. The cap begins to unfold the larger it gets. Shortly after, small plates, called gills, appear under the mushroom’s cap. The gills have small spores on them which fall off the mushroom and can be carried away. Depending on where the spores land, they can develop into new mycelium and the process starts over again.
Let’s take a look at a few edible mushrooms:
Chanterelles (cantharellus spp.) – Belongs to the cantharellaceae-Chanterelle family.
Field Guide Description: “Bright yellow to orange cap with wavy margin and yellow-orange, forked, thick-edged ridges descending stalk; fragrant. The Chanterelle does not have true gills, but merely forked ridges descending the stalk; this is the easiest way to differentiate them from the poisonous look a like the Jack O’Lantern."
Cap: 3/8” – 6” wide; convex, becoming flat inrolled wavy margin, sunken in center; somewhat finely hairy oryellow to orange-yellow. Odorless or with fragrance like apricots; taste mild to spicy-peppery.
Fertile surface: Narrow, thickened ridges, forked and crossveined, nearly distant descending stalk; pale yellow to orange.
Stalk: 1" - 3" long, ¼" - 1" thick, sometimes enlarged at either end; smooth or with small, flattened fibers; yellowish to whitish, sometimes bruising orange. Flesh solid, white.
Spores: 8-11 x 4-6µ; elliptical, smooth, colorless.
Season: June - September in the Southeast; July - August in the Northeast; September - November in the Northwest; February in California.
Habitat: Single to many, on ground under oaks to conifers.
Parts Used: Cap and Stem fibrous to smooth;
Toxic Look a Like: Jack O’Lantern
Range: East North America and California
Identifying characteristics: Orange to yellowish-orange mushroom with sharp-edged gills descending stalk; in clusters on wood or buried wood.
Cap: 3" - 8" wide; convex to flat; usually circular at first, becoming sunken, with small central knob; margin incurved at first, then upturned and wavy to lobed; dry smooth, saffron-yellow.
Gills: descending stalk, close, narrow; yellow-orange.
Stalk: 3" - 8" long, 3/8" - 5/8" thick, narrowing at base; long, solid, smooth, dry, curved; saffron-yellow, darkening near base.
Spores: 3.5 - 5 µ; round or nearly round, smooth, colorless, nonamyloid.
When this species is gathered fresh and taken into a dark room, the gills give off a green glow.
Spore Print: Pale cream.
Habitat: Clustered at base of stumps and on buried roots of oak, or other deciduous wood.
Season: July - November; November - March in California.
Unlike the Chanterelles, the Jack O'Lantern has true, sharp, non-forking gills; this is possibly the simplest trait for distinguishing between the two. Furthermore, if the Jack O'Lantern's stem is peeled, the inside is orange, while the Chanterelle is a paler white on the inside stem.
Chicken Mushroom (AKA Sulfer shelf, Chicken of the Woods, Chicken Fungus) – Belongs to the Polyporaceae (Polypore Family).
NOTE: The polypore family does not have any toxic members so familiarizing yourself with a few of the more choicely edible members like the Chicken Mushroom, Beefsteak Mushroom and Hen of the Woods is a great starting point for any mushroom hunter.
Field Guide Description: “Single to overlapping clusters of fleshy, smooth, orange-red to orange-yellow caps with sulfur-yellow spores.”
Cap: 2" - 12" wide; usually overlapping, flat, semicircular to fan-shaped; salmon to sulfur-yellow to bright orange, weathering to white; smooth. Flesh ¼" - 1½" thick, white, light yellow or pale salmon.
Tubes: 1 - 4 mm long. Pores 2 - 4 per mm, angular, bright sulfur-yellow.
Stalk: (when present) rudimentary.
Spores: 5 - 7 x 3.5 - 5 µ; broadly elliptical to almost round, smooth, colorless.
Season: May - September
Habitat: On stumps, trunks, and logs of deciduous trees; also on living trees and buried roots.
Parts Used: Young mushroom
Cautions: This mushroom becomes somewhat indigestible as it ages, and in some, causes an allergic reaction, such as swollen lips. Specimens from a few tree hosts, such as eucalyptus, can cause digestive upset. A variety, L. semialbinus, has a salmon colored cap and white pores.
Uses: Wild Food Uses: Tastes great sautéed in butter and in soups. Vegetarian chicken soup. It has a texture similar to that of white meat chicken.
Continuing with the great tasting edible polypore family:
Beefsteak Polypore (Fistulina hepatica) – Belongs to the Fistulinaceae – Beefsteak family.
Field Guide Description: “Fleshy, somewhat gelatinous, juicy, spoon-shaped, to semicircular, flat, reddish cap with separate tubes and off-white to pinkish-yellow pores. The cap of this mushroom can be 3"-10" wide, while the flesh is 2-2½" thick. When present the stalk can be 2"-4" long, and 3/8"-1¼" thick, very short, and blood-red. Spores are oval, smooth and colorless to pale yellow. With a Spore print of pinkish-salmon.”
Habitat: On dead oak trunks and stumps, or at base of living oaks.
Parts Used: Entire young mushroom
Continuing with the great tasting edible polypore family:
Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) – Belongs to the Meripilaceae family.
Field Guide Description: Large, clustered mass of grayish-brown, fleshy, spoon shaped caps with whitish pores and lateral, white stalks branching from a compound base.
Caps: ¾" - 2¾" wide; overlapping, flat, fan to spoon shaped; grayish to gray-brown; dry, smooth or finely fibrous to roughened. Flesh 3 - 5 mm thick. White.
Tubes: 2 - 3 mm long; descending stalk. pores (1 -3 per mm) angular, white to yellowish.
Stalk: rudimentary or very short and thick; many-branched; white, smooth.
Spores: 5 - 7 x 3.5 - 5 µ; broadly elliptical, smooth, colorless.
Season: September – November
Habitat: On ground at base of oak and other deciduous trees, and some conifers; also on stumps.
Parts Used: Entire mushroom
Cautions: Remember that many gilled mushrooms grow in large clumps, but hen-of-the-woods is a pore fungus, and does not have gills. There are some similar species of pore fungi that are tough and inedible. If what you have tastes leathery and unpleasant, chances are you did not pick a Hen of the Woods.
Continuing with the great tasting edible polypore family:
Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) (AKA Abalone Mushroom, Tree Mushroom) – Belongs to the Pleurotaceae family.
Field Guide Description: "Broad, fleshy, white, gray or brown cap with broad, whitish or yellow tinged gills arising from attachment to wood or small, hairy, stub-like stalk; on wood."
Cap: 2" - 8" wide; oyster shaped, semicircular to elongated; margin lobed to wavy at times; moist, smooth; white to ash or brownish. Flesh thick, white. Odor pleasant.
Gills: descending stalk, close to nearly distant, narrow to broad, thick; white, becoming yellowish.
Stalk: (when present), ¼" - 3/8" long, ¼" - - 3/8" thick; off center to lateral, short, stout, solid; dry, white-hairy.
Spores: 7 - 9 x 3 - 3.5 µ; narrowly elliptical, smooth, colorless.
Season: This is one mushroom that can be enjoyed year round under favorable conditions.
Habitat: On many deciduous trees, especially willow and aspen; rarely on pine and hemlock; sometimes on buried stumps.
Parts Used: Entire mushroom
Cautions: This choice edible should be checked for white grubs.
Uses: Can be enjoyed raw or cooked.
Keep these previous four (Chicken Mushroom, Beefsteak Mushroom, Chanterelles and Hen of the Woods) members of the Polypore family in mind if ever hunting for mushrooms. They taste delicious in almost any recipe you might have. They are more easily recognizable than many other families of mushrooms when you know what you are looking for.
Another easily distinguishable mushroom is the Shaggy Mane.
Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) (AKA Shaggy ink cap or Lawyer’s wig) – Belongs to the Coprinaceae-Ink cap family.
Field Guide Description: "Cylindrical, shaggy-scaly, white cap turning inky from liquifying gills."
Cap: 1¼" - 2" wide, and 1 5/8" - 6" high; cylindrical, gradually expanding as gills liquify, leaving only stalk; dry, covered with flat scales becoming down-curled; white with light reddish-brown scales.
Gills: free or nearly so, very crowded; white becoming black and inky from margin to stalk top.
Stalk: 2 3/8" - 8"long, 3/8" - ¾" thick; bulbous, white; hollow, with central strand of minute fibers.
Veil: partial veil leaving ring on lower part of stalk.
Spores: 11-15 x 6.3-8.5 µ; smooth, elliptical, blunt, with pore at tip.
Season: May - early June: September - October; November-January in Southeast.
Habitat: Scattered to clustered and common, in grass, wood chips, and hard-packed soil.
Parts Used: Fruiting body
Cautions: Shaggy manes are best when picked before the caps begin to turn black. Until you become proficient at identifying this edible, it may be necessary to check for the developing ink to make sure you have the correct mushroom.
Morels (Morchella spp.) (AKA White Morel, Yellow Morel, Black Morel) – Belongs to the Morchellaceae-Morcella Family.
Field Guide Description: "The black morel; Black ribbed, honeycombed cap on whitish stalk."
Cap: ¾" - 1 5/8" wide, ¾" - 2" high; elongate and narrowly conical; with dark gray to black longitudinal and radial ribs (sometimes irregular), and long, yellow-brown pits; attached to stalk at base; hollow.
Stalk: 2" - 4" long, ¾" - 1 5/8" thick; whitish, granular to mealy; hollow.
Spores: 24 - 28 x 12 - 14 µ; elliptical, smooth, located in pits.
Season: April - May
Habitat: Moist woodlands, old orchards, burned areas, coniferous forests especially spruce, sandy soils.
Parts Used: Whole mushroom
Cautions: While a very tasty edible, some people do experience gastric upset when eating black morels. This may be due to the fact that black morels are thought to be composed of numerous varieties. This means that a person can eat black morels one time with no ill effect, and end up sick to their stomachs the next time.
Also, be aware of the False Morels, they are very toxic. There are roughly a dozen species of false morels that grow in the United States. Like the Morels, the false morels fruit in the spring as well as in the summer and fall.
It is fairly simple to tell the difference between a Morel and a false Morel in that they are quite different. False morels have caps that are wrinkled, brain-like or saddle opposed to the honeycomb look that the morel has.
The following mushrooms should be avoided. Also, you should make certain you know about these mushrooms as they have been known to be deadly. Eating one of these will certainly cause harm.
One of the most notorious mushrooms for cases of poisonings around the world is the Death Cap.
Death caps have a 6” wide cap, usually sticky to the touch. They can have a brownish, yellowish, greenish or whitish color to them. The gills on the cap are white and grows on a 5” stalk and has a white cup at its base.
Death caps are found primarily in the East and West Coasts of The United States. They are seen in September to November under pines, oaks, dogwoods and other trees.
Another mushroom to avoid is the Destroying Angel.
Destroying Angels have a pure white stalk and cap, which is where they get their name from. They belong to the genus Amanita, which is the same as the Death Caps. The cap, stalk, and gills of the Destroying Angel are white.
During the button stage, the Destroying Angel can easily be confused with the button mushroom, meadow mushroom, horse mushroom and puffballs. This is a perfect example of why it is vital that you know exactly what kind of mushroom you are eating before you eat it. Once again, if you are not 100% positive of the mushroom at hand, do not eat it!
There is a delicious world out there when it comes to edible mushrooms. That same world is also a very deadly and harmful one. If you are going to be doing any mushroom hunting or eating it is always a good idea to do some of your own research on the area that you are going to be hunting for them in. Find out all the different mushrooms that grow in your area so that you can easily distinguish between the tasty, bland and poisonous ones.
Again, in no way is this list of edible and non-edible mushrooms an exhaustive list. There are many great books that go into extensive details on each mushroom that grows in the United States. It is recommended to have one of these books in your survival kit since mushrooms grow in pretty much every part of the world and can easily make a tasty meal.
Please feel free to add a comment and let us know what your favorite wild edible mushroom is. Also, if you have any favorite recipes that calls for a wild mushroom we would love to hear it.