Is mushroom foraging safe? Aren’t wild mushrooms dangerous? I get those questions a lot. Yes… and yes. You can forage safely if you respect a few common-sense rules and avoid dangerous myths.
RISKS OF MUSHROOM FORAGING AND HOW TO MAKE IT SAFE
Mushroom foraging is as safe as you make it for yourself. Its risks are that you could consume poisonous mushrooms or mushrooms in bad condition.
For your safety, forage only edible mushrooms that you can identify with 100% certainty. Toss mushrooms that show signs of deterioration.
Let’s examine the risks of foraging and solutions to them in more detail.
LEARN TO RECOGNIZE SOME EDIBLE MUSHROOM TYPES
To tell an edible mushroom, you need to learn that specific mushroom species’ signs. There are no general rules for mushroom identification. Some people claim that it is safe to forage mushrooms with pores, that poisonous mushrooms taste bitter or are a specific color. Those are dangerous myths.
King boletes (porcini) are great candidates to be the first species you learn. They are easy to recognize, fleshy, and delicious.
Learning to recognize new mushroom species is a process. It is not a shame to leave most of the mushrooms behind and only forage one or two species you can safely recognize. Mushroom foraging is a matter of patience. As you gain experience, you will add more species to your “foraging portfolio.”
On mushroomgrove.com, I describe and recommend some mushrooms that are easy and safe to identify. You can start with some of those. Or you can find a mushroom and ask about it. Whichever approach you chose, make sure that you don’t consume any mushrooms you aren’t certain about.
There are literally thousands of wild mushroom species, and some of them are quite deadly. When in doubt, toss them!
Find out more about how to learn mushrooms here: This is how you become a mushroom forager
Eating this mushroom could be fatal. It is the infamous death cap. The myths are wrong – it has a nice taste.
ASK AN EXPERT
Do you know an experienced mushroom forager? Perhaps an expert mycologist? They will probably be willing to check your finds and confirm your mushroom identification for you. Most of us who are into mushrooms love to talk about them and identify them. In fact, I have photos sent to me all the time.
It is possible to take quality photos of mushrooms with a phone and have mushrooms identified online. Just make sure that you ask someone who is both experienced in mushroom identification and would admit if they are unsure. If you don’t know any mushroom experts, you still have some good options.
With a phone or a good camera, you can take detailed pics of mushrooms and have them identified.
There are mycology and mushroom identification groups on Facebook. You could find your local one and join it. And there’s probably a mycology society where you live that you can e-mail your photos.
To identify your mushroom from photography, an expert might need:
- A photo of the top of the cap.
- A photo of the bottom of the cap.
- A photo of the stem.
- Information about the smell.
- Information about the biotope, especially trees that grew around the mushroom.
YOU CAN TOUCH POISONOUS MUSHROOMS
You will not get poisoned by touching or holding a poisonous mushroom. You would have to consume the poison for it to cause you harm. This means that you can pick up a mushroom and examine it without the fear of poisoning yourself.
This is very important. If you were afraid to touch mushrooms, your learning process would be much slower.
AVOID MUSHROOMS IN BAD CONDITION
Mushrooms contain proteins. While this makes them desirable for the human diet, it is also a reason why botulotoxin can develop in them, just like in meat. To avoid food poisoning, don’t consume old mushrooms. You can tell that a mushroom is too old when it develops darker spots, wrinkles, or other changes to its normal texture.
WHEN FORAGING MUSHROOMS, USE A BASKET OR A SPECIAL BAG
Without access to air, botulinum toxin appears in mushrooms faster. Therefore, it is risky to transport and store mushrooms in plastic. Always keep mushrooms in a way that guarantees access to air, never in a plastic bag! A special flat basket or a special airy bag are the top choices.
Use a basket to forage mushrooms.
If you find mushrooms unexpectedly while you don’t have a basket with you, you can improvise by creating a bag from a scarf or an airy shirt.
STOP MUSHROOM FORAGING WHEN IT STARTS FREEZING
Mushrooms are mostly water. When a mushroom freezes, the water inside it becomes ice, increasing its volume and tearing the mushroom from the inside. When that happens, the mushroom dies. Once the temperature goes up, bacteria activate inside the mushroom, and it goes putrid pretty fast.
Don’t forage mushrooms that were frozen and unfroze again!
Velvet shanks are among the few mushrooms able to survive frost thanks to their inner chemistry.
There are exceptions to this rule. Mushroom species like oyster mushrooms, late oysters, wood ears, and velvet shanks handle freezing temperatures quite well – you can forage them during winter!
AVOID MUSHROOMS THAT HAVE MOLD ON THEM
Molds on mushrooms are often poisonous. Don’t forage mushrooms with mold on them, and toss any mushroom with signs of mold. Don’t keep the parts that seem to be healthy. The mold’s mycelium spreads through the mushroom and isn’t visible to the human eye.
Mushroom poisoning can lead to permanent damage to organs and death. Avoid it by foraging safely.
NEVER CONSUME RAW MUSHROOMS…
Raw mushrooms are tougher to digest, and some contain thermo-labile chemicals that would be harmful to the human body. For example, known delicacies blusher and wood blewit contain thermo-labile poisons that go away with cooking.
When we speak about the edibility of mushrooms, it always means after heat preparation.
These beautiful wood blewit mushrooms are very healthy – as long as you cook them!
EXCEPTIONS: SPECIES THAT YOU CAN EAT RAW, EVEN ON THE SPOT
There are a couple of mushrooms that can be consumed raw. The most known of these is the tawny milkcap, which is also delicious, and foragers often consume it on site. Another example would be the cat’s tooth fungus, which tastes like mild jelly candy and is a great ingredient for a vegetable salad.
PROCESS MUSHROOMS SOON AFTER FORAGING
Mushrooms will keep longer if stored in a fridge. If they seem to be fading, it is best to throw them away. Mushrooms develop botulinum toxin quickly! You will find all information about this topic in my guide to storing mushrooms.
As you follow these guidelines, you will sometimes come home empty-handed. Don’t worry. The number of mushrooms that you know, forage, and eat will grow steadily as long as you keep foraging safely.