There is a fine line between delicious and dangerous when trying to determine whether or not a wild mushroom found on the forest floor is safe for the dinner table, or poisonous to consume. The latter being what you want to avoid at all costs because digesting unsafe fungi can cause serious illness, and in some cases, even death!
[WARNING: Never attempt to eat a mushroom unless you are able to positively identify the specimen in question!!]
Warnings, like the one above, can scare you from even considering such a thing as hunting mushrooms for fear of the unthinkable, but this is why it is wise to exercise extreme caution.
Don't Give Up Yet...
There are a few varieties of edible mushrooms that can be recognized by simple characteristics, such as shape, size, and color. A few of which we learned about while bushwhacking through the ASU Woods a few weekends ago. Our main objective during this PACT hosted Edible Mushroom Tour with Dr. John Walker, an ASU Biologist, who specializes in Mycology (The study of fungi), was to seek out the shrooms and learn identification techniques with the help of a professional guide.
I expected that during the duration of these explanations I would hear a ton of words that I hadn't ever heard before--and I did. It was almost like listening to someone speak a foreign language! One quick and basic rule of thumb that I thoroughly understood, though, was to completely avoid all fungi that had gills.
While there may be some that are safe to consume, it is still extremely difficult to identify them. Even a highly trained instructor is hesitant to eat from that category. Not something you want to take a chance with.
During our trudge through the forest, we encountered many different varieties of mushrooms. While they are all pretty too look at, I now know what to steer clear of, as well as a few tasty treats we could take home should we get lucky enough to come across them again. We did, however, have the very good fortune of accidentally stumbling upon a patch of Black Trumpets when trying to find our way back to the trail.
After a few hours of foraging, we were invited to go back to Dr. Walker's class room where he had a makeshift cooking station handy so that we could taste test what we found out in the field. We devoured the tender, crispy bits while at the same time trying to savor the flavor of the fleshy fungi. This was the part where a smaller group was favorable since that meant more to go around :)
Gain Knowledge & Build Confidence....
I actually feel a lot more confident about deeming certain delectables safe since attending this foray. I don't want to get into the technical verification 'tests' involved here on WW because I don't feel qualified to provide you with the proper information, but if you're interested in learning more, the info is plentiful. Whether you find a local specialist who might enjoy giving a tour in your hometown, or you dig into a comprehensive guide book to sharpen your skills, be sure that you do your homework before "testing the waters."
You can start by doing some research on what you could expect to find based on your geographical location. Look for, not only those that are edible, but others to avoid, as well as possibly poisonous lookalikes. One thing we didn't touch base on too much were spore prints, which is supposed to be another great way for the less experienced to identify edible wild mushrooms.
Yes, there are risks involved, but you just have to be aware and well informed to remain on the safe side. Even if you only head out with the intention of admiring and/or photographing them, think about going on your own mushroom hunting expedition once armed with new knowledge. I promise that you will make all sorts of interesting discoveries when you are closely paying attention to those often overlooked details!
Hope you have a wonderful weekend :o)