Ways & How

How to Identify Wild Mushrooms

How to Identify Wild Mushrooms

There are different types of edible mushrooms and probably just as many types of poisonous mushrooms. Knowing how to identify wild mushrooms can spell the difference between life and death. You have to be a 100 percent sure that a wild mushroom is safe to eat before eating it; otherwise, do not risk it at all. Below are tips to help you identify mushrooms, but it is not a definitive guide, so do not rely on them as the only reference before popping a wild mushroom into your mouth.

  1. Identify the parts of the mushroom

    Most mushrooms have four main body parts. The cap is umbrella-shaped and located at the top of the mushroom. Underneath the cap are the gills, spines, tubes, and ridges, which release the spores to reproduce more mushrooms. The stalk is the stem of the mushroom on which the cap stands. Mycelium is the proper term for the roots of the mushroom that keep it on the ground or tree bark.

  2. Learn to make spore prints

    Making spore prints is fun and educational.

    Put on gloves and gently remove the stalk from the cap of the mushroom. Place the cap downward on a piece of glass or white paper. Cover with a big glass or jar so the mushroom will not be disturbed and to keep air from getting inside. Wait 24 hours before removing the jar and the cap. The paper will show the spores that fell from the ridges. Compare their color to a primer or field guide that contains pictures of spores and mushrooms. The primer is a useful reference when foraging in the wild and identifying mushrooms.

  3. Identify common edible mushrooms

    Here are some edible mushrooms that are easy to identify. All of the elements and characteristics have to be met before what you see matches the picture in the field guide. It bears repeating that you have to be absolutely sure that the mushroom is edible before consuming it.

    The Beefsteak Polypore looks and tastes like a beef steak, hence the name. When a young specimen is cut, it bleeds a reddish sauce like a steak cooked rare. The inside is pinkish, gelatinous, and marbled. Shaped like a spoon or a fan, the cap ranges from 3 to 10 inches wide and ¾ to 1 ½ inches high. It is soft, slimy, flat, and reddish. The spore print is reddish-salmon. Often, it has no stalk, but if does, it will be very short and blood-red. They are available from July to October.

    Chanterelles is a type of mushroom that is funnel- or trumpet-shaped. The caps have wavy edges and come in three colors: bright orange, yellow, and brownish-black. Fresh specimens have a pleasant, fruity scent. Chanterelles look like the Jack-o’-Lantern mushroom, which is toxic. To differentiate between the two, Chanterelles do not have gills but blunt-edged, forked ridges underneath the cap, while Jack-o’-Lanterns have sharp gills that are not forked. The cap smells like apricots and taste mild to peppery. The stem is yellowish, orange, or whitish. The spore print is pale buff to pale yellow.

You have started on your way to mastering how to identify wild mushrooms. Remember to avoid eating raw mushrooms because they are difficult to digest even when they’re edible. If the mushroom is mildly poisonous, cooking may remove the toxicity, but it is not a foolproof way to have edible mushrooms. Make sure that the mushroom you pick is of good quality—whole, fresh, firm, and intact. If insects or animals have bitten off a part of it, that might mean it’s edible, but you shouldn’t eat it based on that alone.


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