Wild mushrooms guide | Which ones to eat and which to avoid
Producing a wild mushroom guide at first seemed to be quite an easy task. However, once I thought about it some more I realized what a major project it would be.
There are more than 45,000 types of mushroom identified to date. However, experts in mushrooms believe that this is just a fraction of the total number that might exist.
Even if I had the space to list every known mushroom species and you had the patience to wade through this tome, would you remember every species, and be able to identify them?
So while an encyclopedia of ten thousand species of mushrooms might be of interest to mushroom geeks, it would be of no practical use to the average person who wants to improve their knowledge on mushrooms.
PLEASE NOTE: this guide is intended only to educate. I do not advocate or even recommend that you go out and start picking mushrooms and eating them. This guide is intended to improve our survival knowledge.
I spent quite some time pondering on this and deciding how to produce the most useful wild mushroom guide. My conclusion was to think about what the a new prepper really needs to know about mushrooms.
- A general guide to mushrooms.
- A guide to the top poisonous species, so you can make sure you avoid them.
- Information about what to do if you eat a poisonous mushroom.
- A guide to the top edible species, so you can become familiar.
NINJA TIP: Always remember – if in doubt, leave it out. If you have any doubt about what a mushroom is DO NOT EAT IT!
Finally, there are many websites that have misidentified mushrooms with potentially fatal results. Any information I provide has to be sourced from experts and reliable sources, which I will quote.
All of this should enable me to produce a useful guide that only contains safe information but of course you must do your own due diligence and fact check with other sources.
A general guide to mushrooms
Mushrooms are fungi. They belong in a kingdom of their own, separate from plants and animals.
There are five Kingdoms of nature:
Mushrooms or Fungi are so important that they form their own kingdom, which is separate from that of plants. This difference is based on the way that fungi make their food.
Plants generally use the process of photosynthesis (making their nutrients from the sun’s energy). Animals eat and then use their digestive system to process that food to convert it into energy. Fungi (mushrooms) are very different and they generally send out mycelium into or surrounding a food source from which they absorb nutrients by secreting an enzyme. (Source –The Forestry Department of the Government of British Columbia)
There are over 45,000 species of mushrooms identified to date (Source -University of Tartu Natural History Museum).
There is no foolproof way of identifying which mushrooms are poisonous. You will often see methods given on the internet on how to test this, but according to scientists, these are not correct. The only way we know if a mushroom is poisonous or not is by knowing that they have previously been eaten and proved harmless. Examples of these methods include:
- A poisonous mushroom will turn silvery black when it is being cooked
- if you can peel the cap from the mushroom it is not poisonous.
- observing which mushrooms foraging animals consume will tell you which species are safe to eat
(Source –The Department of Botany, Hawaii University)
THESE METHODS OF CHECKING FOR POISONOUS MUSHROOMS ARE WRONG! DO NOT USE THESE RULES. THIS IS TOO SERIOUS AN ISSUE OT LISTEN TO ”OLD WIVES TALES”.
People have picked wild mushrooms for thousands of years and over time they have identified which ones are safe to eat. Currently, there are over 300 species that are known to be edible. (Others may be edible but there is no proof yet).
Of these 300 species, only 30 are domesticated, and of these only ten are grown commercially. Two varieties, Button oyster, and shiitake, make up over 70% of the world’s commercial production. The world mushroom market is dominated by Asian countries. (Source – University of Idaho Department of Plant, Soil, and Entomological Sciences)
Harvesting wild mushrooms
When picking wild mushrooms it is essential that as little disturbance to the growing area occurs as possible. You should only use a knife or scissors to cut them, and the cut should be above ground level.
Please note that some areas have a maximum amount that can be harvested by an individual.
NINJA TIP – National parks will normally only permit a maximum of one gallon of any particular species to be collected in one day. They will also often insist that only mushrooms that have reached a certain size be harvested. Check park rules for specific details of what that park permits. (Source – Olympic National Forest)
Top poisonous mushroom species
Lets have a more detailed look at the top ten most poisonous mushrooms. Remember these are not the only poisonous ones but the ones that you are more likely to come across.
The more important list is in the section after that where I list the top ten edible varieties. Varieties that you can confidently eat.
Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)
The Death Cap is quite possibly the most dangerous of all mushrooms. You can find the Death Cap in European countries traditionally, but there are reports that it is now spreading across North America.
The toxins that are contained in the Death Cap are resistant to cooking temperatures. Once ingested the Death Cap can damage cells throughout the body. This takes place within 6 to 12 hours and will show itself through violent pain in the abdomen, throwing up, and bloody diarrhea.
Those affected will be rapidly dehydrated and have a huge thirst. Deterioration of the kidneys and central nervous system takes place not long after that. Victims will have a lessening of urine output and blood sugar levels will also drop. Ultimately a coma and death will occur in more than 50% of cases.
Conocybe Filaris is a mushroom that is often seen on lawns in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, Europe, and Asia. It contains the same harmful toxins as the Death Cap Mushroom.
This mushroom can be deadly if eaten and it will produce gastrointestinal symptoms within as little as 6 to 24 hours of consumption.
This is sometimes confused with food poisoning or possibly stomach flu. It can be confusing as on some occasions the patient will appear to make a recovery but then has a serious reappearance of symptoms which is accompanied by liver and kidney failure.
Webcaps (Cortinarius species)
There are two species of webcaps (Cortinarius Rubellus and Cortinarius Orellanus), the latter is also referred to as Fools Webcap. These species are very dangerous as they look very much like some edible species of mushrooms.
These two mushrooms contain a poison called Orellanin, which in the beginning will generate symptoms that look very similar to common flu. The difficulty with this toxin is that it can take up to three weeks before symptoms show, by which time you will have forgotten eating the mushrooms.
This can result in misdiagnosis, and if the symptoms remain untreated then Kidney failure and death.
Autumn Skullcap (Galerina Marginata)
Galerina Marginata is widespread and found in most of the northern hemisphere, together with parts of Australia. This mushroom a mushroom that is connected with rotting wood. The poison it contains is the same as in the Death Cap mushroom.
Eating it will result in diarrhea, throwing up, hypothermia, and damage to the liver. If these symptoms are not treated then it can be fatal.
This mushroom does not look very much like any edible species but has still claimed several deaths from people trying to collect hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Destroying Angels (Amanita species)
The term Destroying Angels is the collective name for several species of mushrooms that are all white in appearance.
The problem is that they look somewhat similar to the regular button mushroom and meadow mushrooms, which of course are edible. They frequently are misidentified.
One of these collections of species is the Amanita Bisporigera is designated the most toxic North American mushroom.
It takes between 5 and 24 hours before symptoms start to appear and these symptoms will include throwing up, convulsions, diarrhea, failure of the liver and kidneys. The ultimate result is frequently death.
This rare fungus is native to Asia, Japan, Korea, and the Java islands in particular, but it has recently also been found in Northern Queensland, Australia. There have been several deaths in Japan and Korea.
These bright red mushrooms contain potent toxins that will unleash upon the unfortunate victim; hair loss, stomach pains, peeling skin, low blood pressure, kidney failure, and necrosis of the liver. Death will follow if left without treatment.
Deadly Dapperling (Lepiota Brunneoincarnata)
The Deadly Dapperling species is a gilled mushroom. It contains amatoxins, which is the name used to describe a collection of eight similar toxins that are found in poisonous mushrooms (including the Death Cap).
The mushroom is common in Europe and some parts of Asia and there have been cases where it has been mistaken for edible varieties and consumed. If eaten the result will be damage to the liver and potentially death if treatment is not sought.
While it is true that some otherwise-inedible species can be rendered safe by special preparation, many toxic species cannot be made toxin-free. Many fungal toxins are not particularly sensitive to heat and so are not broken down during cooking; in particular, α-amanitin, the poison produced by the death cap (Amanita phalloides) and others of the genus, is not denatured by heat.Wikipedia
There are many more mushrooms that are poisonous and a good rule of thumb is to assume every mushroom is toxic unless you know for sure that it is an edible variety.
(Source for this section is the Encyclopedia Brittanica and various academic websites)
What to do if you accidentally eat a poisonous mushroom
There is no single piece of advice for all mushrooms. There is rarely some medicine that you can take or vaccine. Each case will be slightly different as the type of toxins, amount ingested and individual reactions are variable.
YOU MUST SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE INGESTED A POISONOUS MUSHROOM.
You should do these things as a first aid measure while seeking medical help immediately:
- Try to vomit and collect any of it if (with gloves on) you can for medical professionals (particularly if you don’t have any of the mushroom left).
- Collect sample of mushroom you ate if possible (wear gloves obviously)
- Take photos of mushroom and surroundings of where it is growing
- Symptoms may NOT present immediately but most common are vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea.
- Go to hospital and if this is not possible immediately, don’t hesitate to call 911 or call Poison Control Center on (1-800-222-1222)
Most treatments will include some type of detox procedure (activated charcoal and intravenous fluids) and if you eat one of the more unpleasant mushrooms you may be looking at an extended stay in hospital.
The hospital may want to admit you so they can keep a constant check on your condition. Many symptoms of mushroom poisoning can take days to appear but when they do they can attack your vital organs.
Top edibles species of mushrooms
The key purpose of this section is to help you identify species of mushrooms that are edible, and can safely be harvested and eaten
Button Mushrooms, also known as Agaricus Bisporus is a common edible mushroom that is found in meadows in Europe and North America.
Before it matures it has two color states, white and brown. These states have various secondary names. This variety of mushroom is commercially cultivated in over 70 countries and is the most widely-eaten mushroom in the world.
If outdoors looking for button mushrooms you should first check out the photo and section on Destroying Angels species above. This species is frequently mistaken for the button mushroom. See the destroying Angel right >
Oyster mushroom is a flat looking mushroom and very different in appearance and flavor from the common button mushroom. They also contain Lovastatin, a form of cholesterol-lowering statin.
They are found in temperate climates and also in tropical climates. Most varieties of this species are found growing on rotting timber
When out collecting Oyster mushrooms you should watch out for two poisonous varieties that look similar. The Jack-O-Lantern (shown 1st below) and the Ivory Funnel (2nd below) are both poisonous.
Shiitake mushrooms are a popular mushroom in Asia as they are seen to have a medicinal benefit as part of the ancient Asian medicine. They are similar in flavor to Portobellos with a meat-like texture that exudes an earthy flavor when cooked.
Although perfectly edible in moderation, in Asia (China and Japan) where consumption is higher, The Shiitake mushroom has been linked with Dermatitis.
Cremini mushrooms (sometimes referred to as Crimini mushrooms) are actually the same species as button mushrooms.
The story is that a farmer in Pennsylvania found a patch of white button mushrooms growing on his farm (at that time all button mushrooms were brown). He began to clone them and sell them as a new species. They do have a slightly stronger flavor than standard button mushrooms.
Portobellos are fully grown button mushrooms. They are the final stage of the button mushroom’s development. They have a heavier texture than the button mushroom and have more texture.
They still retain a mild flavor despite this. They are really good to form the base for a vegetarian burger, placed between two buns.
Chanterelle mushrooms have a bright yellow color and are very distinctive.
Beware as there are mushrooms that look similar to the Chanterelle Mushroom These are the Jack-o-Lantern and False Chanterelle. Both are poisonous and will cause sever stomach pains if you eat them. See the below (Jack-o-Lantern 1st below, and False Chanterelle 2nd below).
When searching for porcini mushrooms you need to look on the floor of hardwood forests, particularly near pine trees, chestnut, or spruce trees.
They are found throughout North America and Europe, amongst other places. Porcini are high in protein and fiber. However, they are low in carbohydrates and sugars. They can grow to be very large (up to 10 inches across) but normally they will get harvested when just about one inch across.
Where and When to find Wild Mushrooms
You can find mushrooms in a variety of places, however, the two best places to look for them are in pastures and woodlands. Grassland, where animals are normally kept, are the best grassy areas as the animals keep the grass from growing too high and mushrooms prefer the shorter grass.
A great tip that very few people know is to use Google Earth. You can actually see the rings that mushrooms make from space! You can also check what type of woodlands there are, coniferous or deciduous.
Most edible species of fungi prefer woodlands so these are a particularly fruitful place to search. Some mushrooms grow on the piles of decaying leaves on the forest floor and others have an even closer relationship with the trees, only growing in the vicinity of particular types of trees.
Autumn/Fall is a particularly good time to go foraging for mushrooms and if you look carefully you can sometimes come home with four or five kilos of mushrooms. Of course, check out that you are picking edible varieties of mushroom.
The most wonderful thing about mushrooms is that when you do find a nice patch of edible mushrooms, as long as you do minimal damage when you pick them, in just two weeks there will be more mushrooms waiting for you to pick. Crop after crop can be available for you.
Mushrooms are a wonderful free source of food in a survival situation that you can pick while having a pleasant stroll in the woodlands. As long as you take great care in first identifying them, you can return to that spot many times and reap new harvests.