For best use, safest results and optimal benefits from wild mushrooms it is necessary to familiarize oneself with some basic information. Wild mushroom foraging can be a pleasant and fun experience that can provide nourishing foods and healing medicines, but as with all other living beings, the Fungi Kingdom must be respected and worked with appropriately.
When it comes to wild mushroom foraging, many approach or react to this topic with great fear and trepidation. However, this is not uncommon as it is the natural human instinct to fear anything it does not understand, or approach it from a state of ignorance. Therefore when researching or reading about wild mushrooms you will find many different approaches presented by the particular author or expert ranging from research-based science to intuition-based Shamanism. Find what resonates with you, but try not to get too influenced by the author’s bias, which can easily limit you on your personal journey. Note also that many books and guides today have to be very “legally friendly” in what they share and how they share it, which may not allow for an appropriate or accurate representation of a particular mushroom species or its use.
My personal approach when it comes to wild mushrooms is one that is rooted in intelligent caution and heart-centered wisdom, as opposed to any fear. I like to take a balanced approach that includes both the science and spiritual sides of life, and apply it to anything that I do. In fact I approach all of my work from a space of balance when it comes to focusing on both the details and the big picture. I also value the power of personal experience in forming our personal truth. Therefore, the information you will find shared on this site about mushrooms comes mainly from my personal experience, after I have identified a mushroom using an external guide (book, online, etc.).
My one personal rule that I follow when it comes to mushroom identification and consumption is that even though I may trust a particular specimen on various levels, I do not consume anything I have not identified with 100% certainty at this time in my journey. I recommend this practice to others foraging for wild mushrooms as well.
Whatever approach you choose to use for your personal wild mushroom foraging, I encourage each individual to have and always hold a very high sense of reverence and respect for nature. The deeper that one’s connection is with themselves and all life, the more positive, expansive, comprehensive and rewarding their experience will be with any species. Many people who approach wild mushroom foraging from the perspective of “free food” or “survival” alone, are missing a large dimension of nature’s purpose and potential. It is in these limited interactions that we are most prone to taking some risk or action that may work against us. We should not be ignorant of nature’s multidimensional existence where every living being includes a physical, energetic and spiritual component.
To best understand another living being, we must enter into a mutually harmonious relationship with them. Whether it is wild mushrooms, wild plants or any other aspect of nature, it is not meant to be dominated, controlled, used or abused without highly conscious regard for its sacredness and purpose.
Mushroom Roles and Benefits
The fungi kingdom, which includes the mushrooms is one of the most powerful and least understood groups of species that we share this planet with. Mushrooms have numerous roles that are each critical for the balance and survival of the bacteria, virus, plant and animal species. The role most commonly attributed to them is that of decomposers. However this is just one of their many amazing abilities that maintain healthy ecosystems.
From a nutritional and medicinal perspective, mushrooms are both extremely nutritious and potent healing agents. Where as ancient cultures revered mushrooms for their many beneficial uses, in our modern culture we have lived for many decades with the assumption that mushrooms are nutritionally insignificant and were only used for the enjoyment of their taste or texture. Today research is showing that mushrooms contain numerous valuable nutrients, including a rich variety of amino acids, fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
Mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light have also shown the presence of various forms of vitamin D (vitamin D2, D3 D4 and some provitamin D precursors). Several research studies have been conducted to date and can be found in journals like The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, or Dermato Endocrinology Journal. There is even research showing the presence of vitamin B12 in mushrooms, published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Medicinally, mushrooms have been used for centuries and recent studies on them have shown a variety of healing effects for various cancers, immune system functions and overall health. Most species have a range of antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic, and antitumor effects, as well as various, rich antioxidant concentrations. When it comes to understanding the healing potential locked within mushrooms, our modern day society is just barely starting to scratch the surface.
Edible, Inedible, Toxic or Poisonous?
While general guidelines are set in place for commonly accepted edible or poisonous mushrooms, one of the most important things to understand when dealing with any wild mushroom or plant is that they will each impact us on a very individual level. Mushrooms are powerful healers, and what our society may see as a negative symptom like nausea or vomiting, or the presence of a compound it calls toxic, may be the very healing agent, medicine, or response that a particular body needs at a particular time. Either way, it is important to do your research very thoroughly before considering to consume a wild mushroom, as cases (regardless how small) of severe poisoning and/or death have been recorded worldwide over time. The worst thing one can do whether a novice or seasoned expert is get overly confident or careless in their approach to wild mushroom foraging.
When it comes to labels like “inedible” and sometimes even “poisonous”, they are often used to describe mushrooms that we do not fully understand where their appropriate usage is concerned. This is not to say that we should consume or use wild mushrooms indiscriminately or ignore the information we have gathered thus far. On the contrary, we need to have a high level of understanding and respect for their use and function.
There are definite compounds in many mushrooms that will cause ill effects, especially if they are taken or used by a person at an inappropriate time, or in an inappropriate dose. For example some toxic compounds in mushrooms will produce ill effects if a healthy person should ingest them, yet be healing for a person suffering from a certain condition. It goes along the foundations common to homeopathy, where “like cures like”. But again as I shared above, we have ways to go as individuals and as a collective in order to fully understand the proper dosages and times of best use for safe and effective mushroom usage. It is common also that in a group of say 4 people who eat the same mushroom, 3 may be perfectly fine, while 1 of them will experience some ill effects. How a mushroom may affect us will be influenced by our personal state of health, diet, lifestyle choices, energetic balance and state of being.
Given the individualized effects of wild mushrooms, I rarely recommend or offer another person a particular mushroom that I am comfortable to eat or consume myself, unless it is one that is very commonly accepted by the collective. If the person feels aligned to the energy of the mushroom themselves that is a different story. However I hold a strong respect and connection to nature in the regard that what grows on my property or comes into my awareness per se is most suited for my being and aligned to my energies. (This still does not mean any indiscriminate use on my part.) It may however not be the best choice for another person. We must each tune into our inner guidance system to attract, find and connect with those species that are most in alignment with our personal needs. This is why to me wild mushrooms are as much a scientific journey, as they are a spiritual journey.
Many books or guides also use the label “inedible” when referring to many species, which can mean a number of things. From my personal experience what I have found this term to mean is that we either do not know enough yet about that particular mushroom, or it does not taste pleasant, or it is inedible in the most common form of consumption. For example many polypores are termed inedible, when in fact they are edible, but as a tea or tonic, or in powdered form, etc. So inedible is not equivalent to toxic or poisonous. Finally, it is also very important to cross reference several sources when trying to identify mushrooms, as what one may consider poisonous, or inedible, another may consider edible.
To date, after about 3 years of wild mushroom foraging, I have not once had any unpleasant or negative reaction with any mushroom that I harvested and consumed. The most negative aspect has simply been bringing home a great batch of edible mushrooms only to find out that they have been taken over by insects and wouldn’t make an appetizing meal.
- It is considered best practice to consume mushrooms cooked, rather than raw.
- Mushrooms are tougher for us to digest as their cell structure includes cell walls composed of chitin. Cooking mushrooms helps break down the chitin and makes them easier to digest.
- Many edible mushrooms contain compounds that may be considered harmful if eaten raw. This is another reason that mushrooms benefit from thorough cooking.
- It is best to eat a small amount only of any new mushroom species, to better understand any possible effects it may have on your body.
- Only pick and consume fresh mushrooms. Mushrooms that are old, wilting or decomposing should be avoided, just like you would avoid any other “old” food source.
- Mushrooms vary greatly by geographical location. What is considered an edible species in one area, may not be in another. Edible and poisonous ones from different areas may also resemble each other. Learn the local mushrooms of your area.
- It is wise to learn the few commonly considered “poisonous” mushrooms, such as those from the family of Amanita, Galerina and Lepiota among several others, and avoid them.
Tips for Successful Mushroom Identification
- Get one or more local guide books or apps from high quality sources or trusted experts. Specific resources that apply to your geographical area are of key importance for proper identification.
- Use several sources (books, websites, etc.) and compare images at various stages of the mushroom development. Colors, shapes, textures may vary widely so consulting multiple resources for cross referencing is very important. Different sources may also explain features differently, and/or provide conflicting information about the mushroom edibility.
- Do a spore print. This can be easily done to further identify a mushroom or rule out choices between several possibilities. A spore print can be done by placing the mushroom cap (gills down) on a flat surface. The color of the surface should be one uniform color, like a white plate or on a brown paper bag. Spore patterns are powdery and can easily be missed depending on the spore color and your surface color. Some people cover the mushroom, some leave it exposed. Spores will normally drop overnight, whose color can then be examined the next morning to narrow down your options.
- If in any doubt, it is best not to consume the mushroom.
- Learn as much as possible about potential look alike mushrooms of edible and poisonous species. Get to know the most common and trustworthy edible mushrooms, as well as the most common poisonous mushrooms to avoid.
Below are some words that are commonly used in reference to the mushrooms. It is valuable to become familiar with these for best understanding of the particular species and its uses.
Astringent: Drying or constricting agent/Having drying or constricting
Hypha(e): Long, branching filaments of a fungus, typically microscopic
Mycelium: Vegetative part of a fungus that consists of many hypha
Tonic: A substance in the form of a drink