HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


I wish I knew how to recognize which mushrooms are edible.

I was walking the dog this morning when I spotted a beautiful mushroom peeking out from under a hedge at the apartment building next door. I was surprised _ aren't mushrooms supposed to grow when it's damp? The weather has been dry lately. Anyway, I couldn't resist picking it. It was slighly smaller than a portobello. But I had to throw it away, since I don't know the first thing about which mushrooms are edible and which would make me sick. How many of you do know? Do you go foraging for mushrooms in the fall?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. i forage for only ones I am 100% sure about. I stay away from lbm (little brown mushrooms) and white mushrooms as there are a TON of each and they all look the same to me, poisonous or not.

    Spring of this year my boyfriend and I went out to look for morels and as we were driving to our destination I spotted a bright neon orange and yellow out of the corner of my eye. I made him stop the car and I found a huge chicken of woods mushroom. It was so beautiful we had to pick it for me to take home. I braised them in some chicken stock and boy were they tasty.

    I'm going to give foraging a try this fall, but if I'm not 100% sure about it i leave it be and let my boyfriend (the photographer) take as many photos of it as he wants to.

    Here in Maryland I tend to find a larger variety of mushrooms than I did back in Boston.

    Oh and last spring I only found 2 morels ): They are terribly hard to find. I'm not an expert so I don't have any "secret" hiding places.

    1. You need a pocket guide, sheets of white paper for spore prints, and a paper bag to store your booty. A camera will help, too, if you want to share information with others.

      10 Replies
      1. re: jayt90

        The guides are worse than useless. Those little buggers shift form so fast that it's impossible to peg them to an illustration in a pocket book produced and printed by the lowest tender. Highliner, Puffballs and morels are the edge for me.

        1. re: jayt90

          That white paper might cause a few problems with white spore prints. some of the more dangerous mushrooms have white prints.

          1. re: jsummers

            Thanks, I'll be heading out soon with two shades of paper, camera, and a guide with spore prints. There are no mentors nearby, and community college courses are somewhat rare. Does anyone have any good websites for advice?

            1. re: jayt90

              Let a friend know where you are off to, so you don't end up as a "missing person".

              1. re: jayt90

                just google up mycology, or mushroom identification. I'm sure you'll get plenty of results. Look for ones from universities. That reminds me, University of Michigan has a decent mycology dept. Good Luck!! Stay away from LBM's, Little Brown Mushrooms

                1. re: jayt90

                  Mushroomexpert.com used to be a good site. Haven't checked it in a while, though.

                  1. re: Nyleve

                    so dry here in southern indiana... aint no mushrooms right now... what a stone drag..

                  2. re: jayt90

                    Unless I'm mistaken - you can spore at home.Spoor comes out as the mushroom ages. Camera and guide are good. Do go on line or whatever to establish the tried and true of your area - look for those as opposed to identifying everything you come across - only a few mushrooms are choice edibles.
                    I have a deal with people in my community - I won't tell them where or what - but If they bring it to me - I will tell them if they have it right. Maybe you can find someone like that?
                    If nothing else the hunt is great. Its a cross between meditating and easter egg hunting.

                    1. re: coastie

                      cross between meditating and easter egg hunting. <-- Very well put coastie! and yes, you probably will want to do the spore prints at home.

                      1. re: coastie

                        I used to do spore prints as a science/art project w/ 4th graders on white & black construction paper. What fun.
                        Hunting is a little like shrooming. I call it armed hiking. Look out grouse (to be stuffed w/ wild mushrooms) here I come. Varruuumph, flap, flap, flap, boom; what a rush.

                2. The title of your post could wind up being your epitaph...please be careful.

                  1. So where do people learn this skill? Is it better/possible to just grow your own?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: yayadave

                      It is a family tradition in my family, that's where I learned it. We only pick one type (morels) and we know what to look for.

                      1. You also need to keep in mind that mushrooms of the same appearance may be safe in one part of the country and poisonous in another.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Bob Brooks

                          Poppy cock! The same specie is the same specie. There are look-a-likes, though. Here in Maine the Jack )'lantern resembles the chanterelle, a little bit. I grew up picking, took a course in Norway and picked w/ an experienced biochemist friend in finland, didn't pick at all in Bolivia. Here in Maine, it have a banner season, but I pick only the 8-10 species of which I am certain. Slightest doubt, leave it out.

                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                            Same species, yes but mushrooms do vary. Minute changes, genetic mutations. Differences in soil and temperature have a huge effect. Some parts of the country a thimble cap will make you slightly sick to the stomach, in others it reacts with alcohol - in mine, its a nice substitute for morels.......

                        2. Check your local adult ed courses and colleges for a course in mushroomery (mycology, actually). This can be useful for many reasons - it will teach you how to identify edible (and non-edible) mushrooms; how to take spore prints; where to look for mushrooms and when; and most importantly of all, it will teach you the proper respect for this activity. Knowing what can possibly happen to you if you pick the wrong mushroom is extremely important in order to make you appropriately cautious. It's a wonderful and rewarding thing to do, but there is little room for error. It ain't strawberry picking.

                          Tomorrow I hunt my local porcini patch. Yay!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Nyleve

                            Update. Porcini count, like, maybe 6 small ones. Not what I was hoping for but enough to add to tonight's risotto. Oh well - there's always next time.

                          2. Get a book for your area, check with the local us fish and wildlife dept. They may have an expert, or classes or at least a list of whats around - to help you narrow your choices.
                            I don't think I would eat much from someone who taught themselves out of a book strictly. I took years to learn my skill. Your local farmers market might give you some good examples - ask where it came from - they won't tell you exactly - but they if the are locally foraged they will be proud of that and tell you. You know that it grows, and what it looks like and will help you narrow your search. I think it helps to keep a notebook and don't seek to identify everything you find but - identify what you want to find and look for that. Note where you find things and when you find them as well as rainfall before and sunlight and temperature. Trees and other plant/soil conditions will be clues for next patch, once you find a pattern.

                            1. Befriend some Russian immigrants (I married one, but you don't need to go that far), they're pretty much all avid mushroom foragers, have been doing it since they were children, and the varieties found in the northeastern US in particular are identical to the ones they grew up with. Stick to the the basics (porcini, chanterelles, etc) and you'll be fine. In our quite extended circle of Russian friends I've never heard of anyone ever eating a bad 'shroom.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: BobB

                                I have some Russian friends.( Poles...Lithuanians..all those slavic countries) Good mushroomers. But not infallible, the false chantrelles here will kill you - and yet - looks exactly like the chantrelles found on the pacific coast. Every area is different. I would second the porcini as easy to identify and prolific both in range and amount

                                1. re: coastie

                                  My Grandma was from Lithuania and used to say that you are only bad at picking mushrooms once.

                              2. I used to pick mushrooms with an old-timer, immigrant Italian friend. He used to be quite choosy when picking ground or stump 'shrooms. However, he said that if the mushroom is growing on a living tree, it is non-poisonous (I'm talking southern quebec here).

                                He has since passed (embolism, not poisoning....I can hear you thinking "hmmmm") and I no longer forage. I am curious about the accuracy of that statement, maybe a well versed picker, or mycologist, can shed light on this?

                                On a slightly related topic, this same friend used to be quite territorial about his mushroom picking grounds. I remember him not speaking to his brother for two years - each accusing the other of 'stealing' mushrooms from their 'secret' spot...

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: porker

                                  Even if that statement is true, which I doubt, it could be very difficult to decide whether a tree is alive or not. In a densely wooded area, you could easily mix up which branch is attached to which tree, for instance. I would never use that kind of rule to ascertain edibility.

                                  I have a morel-picking spot which I have never revealed to anyone. Not even best friends. And I won't share my porcini zone with anyone other than the small number of people who already know where it is. And even then, I will often run out to pick without telling anyone else because I want to get there before they've figured out the mushrooms might be up. It's a cutthroat business.

                                  1. re: Nyleve

                                    I have never revealed to anyone. Not even best friends.

                                    Mushroom hunters are funny like that, lol..

                                2. Didn't I read somewhere that the guy who wrote The Horse Whisperer (Nicholas Evans?) got hospitalised for eating a bad mushroom?

                                  Anyway, here in London you can join an expert for a funghi forage in some of the local parks. Maybe there's a similar thing in NYC?

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: greedygirl

                                    Chowhounders are more widespread in their foraging than a few well used parks in New York and London.

                                    1. re: jayt90

                                      Indeed, but given the OP's user name it is not unreasonable to have thought she was in New York. Nothing wrong with a helpful tip.

                                  2. The Audubon Society Field Guide To North American Mushrooms is a decent guide. You need to learn to do a spore print to go along with other physical characteristics like gills attached or free, gill color, stalk short, long, thick walled, thin, solid or hollow. You must also learn their habitat. You wouldn't look for meadow mushrooms (a choice edible) in a stand of oak trees (where some deadly amanitas like to be). Lots of details in correctly identifying mushrooms. Amanitas are among the most dangerous mushrooms and all can be identified by the boot they are growing out of (its mostly under ground). Some of the best ones can resemble poisonous varieties and vice-versa. And, yes, we find em in the fall! Below is a pan of morels we found last spring. I wish these guys would grow in the fall!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: jsummers

                                      what choice mushrooms are abundant in the fall?

                                      1. re: bitsubeats

                                        Wild oyster mushrooms, chanterelles, porcini, armillaria mellea (honey mushrooms) - to name just a few. The vast majority of mushrooms are fall-growing so depending on where you live, there will be a different selection of mushrooms around your area. Morels, as mentioned above, are spring mushrooms - the only spring edible I know.

                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                            ugh I just realized that I passed a ton of baby (couldn't recognize them) cinnabar chanterelles and tons of boletes. I'm not familiar with either one so I just tend to stay away or poke them with a stick. (:

                                            1. re: bitsubeats

                                              Please don't poke 'em, let 'em stand so the spores dissipate.

                                    2. I live in s suburban residential area and there have been some incredible mushrooms here this summer, especially lots of boletes in August, but also some very active mushroom hunters - groups of dozens of mushrooms disappear overnight!

                                      The best thing to do, absent a friendly expert, is to join a mushroom club.

                                      1. I'm like you and don't know a lot about true wild mushrooms. Therefore, I must limit my foraging to the produce aisle.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: beth1

                                          I love the fact that in France all pharmacists are trained in the identification of wild mushrooms. So all you have to do is pop into your local chemist with your haul!