If you’re planning on going out foraging for mushrooms this Halloween, don’t get caught out.
‘If you have the slightest doubt about what you’re looking at, leave it alone…unless you’re 100% sure you have identified your mushroom as edible – i.e, you can put a name to it – leave it. Cap the wrong colour? Leave it. Growing at the wrong time of year? Leave it. In the wrong place? Leave it. Better to sacrifice a thousand meals than your health.’ says Phil Daoust in the Guardian.
Firstly, a wise investment is a field guide, ‘Mushrooms‘ by Roger Phillips, ‘The Easy Edible Mushroom Guide‘ by David Pegler, and ‘Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1‘ by John Wright, are all widely recommended.
Secondly, expert advice recommends one key tip: build up a small repertoire of mushrooms you can identify with 100% certainty, and stick to foraging for those. Preferably, pick a selection of mushrooms that can’t be easily muddled with poisonous varieties, or if they do have similar species, choose species that even if confused, will cause you no harm.
Hedgehog Fungus (Hydnum repandum)
Common in Woodland, from August to November. The cap is approximately 2-4 inches across, and characteristically, hedgehog fungus is the only fungus to have irregular spines under the cap.
Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)
Occurs occasionally on living trees, but especially oak. The top is reddish brown, and unsurprisingly, resembles a raw steak. The underside of the cap is covered in tiny yellow spores.
Field Blewit (Lepista saeva)
Common in grass pastures from October until December. The cap is between 2 and 5 inches across, and the underside is covered in greyish gills.
Giant Puffball (Langermannia gigantea)
Most commonly occurs in woods, fields, and under hedgerows, from August until October. The spherical fungus is about 4 – 12 inches across, with no apparent stalk.
If you’re keen to learn more about mushroom foraging, but would rather get some professional tuition first, Fungi Forays run ‘wild mushroom safaris’ in Mid Wales, more info here. Many more similar courses can be found around the country.
There is increasing concern about the effect of fashionable foraging on the environment, so here is some advice on foraging sustainably. Crucially, only ever take what you can eat, store, or preserve.