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Walking through the woods can become a joyous occasion when you spot a sumptuous looking mushroom ripe for the picking. But wait! Don’t eat it just yet, many wild mushrooms are deadly poisonous and can easily kill the unsuspecting victim.
This guide should give the average North American mushroom hunter a quick reference to the most easily identifiable and delicious edible mushrooms. Remember: If you are bringing home a specimen for the first time, always check with a local mycologist (mushroom expert) before serving it to yourself or family.
Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea)
Late summer-fall, open woods, fields
The Giant Puffball mushroom will have you wondering at it’s enormous size and “look out, don’t pop it” appearance. Resembling a white balloon or perhaps a cotton ball, this one is hard to miss. Prized for its classic mushroomy flavor and soft texture, the Giant Puffball goes well in lasagna, or battered and fried as a vegetarian meat substitute. Be sure to slice it rather thinly, as thick chunks of this mushroom can be quite the puffy mouthful (said from experience).
To verify that you indeed have a safe puffball mushroom, always slice your mushroom in half before taking home. If you observe what looks to be a partially formed mushroom cap inside: Beware. This is not a Puffball, but the early stage of a deadly mushroom of the Amanita genus.
Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)
The Golden Chanterelle is a cheery yellow-orange mushroom with a trumpet-like shape. One of the most distinctive things I have noticed about this mushroom is that it has a lovely fruity fragrance reminiscent of apricots. Chanterelles are delicious and have a pleasant tougher texture that allows them to hold their own in meals that are stirred more vigorously (like soups, stews, stir-fries, etc). My favorite way to eat them is in Asian dishes, where I cook them up in garlic and oil, and serve with fried noodles.
Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)
Summer-fall, near trees
Hen of the Woods is a beautiful white fan shaped mushroom. Of the “Polypore” clade, it has small pores on its underside instead of gills. Growing on or near trees, this species is also identifiable by its tenderness and grey-brown color . Most polypore mushrooms of larger size tend to be tough and woody. Hen of the woods however retains its tenderness up to a span of four inches or more!
King Bolete (Boletus edulis)
Summer-fall, near trees
King Boletes are one of those mushrooms that look like they came out of a fairy tale book. Often found standing tall and alone on the forest floor, they make quite an impact. Boletes, like polypores, have holes or “pores” on their underside instead of gills but they grow on the ground instead of on trees.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Summer-fall, on logs and stumps
Lion’s Mane is one of the stranger mushrooms I have ever come across. The object it most reminds me of is a drooping mop head! A relatively tender mushroom, the most savory parts are the ends of the frond like branches covering the main rooting structure. The entire mushroom can be eaten, but the inside is often significantly tougher.
Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Spring-fall, on logs and stumps
A classic favorite for ages, the Oyster Mushroom can often be found in the typical supermarket. Bright white, having a distinctive shape, and growing only on wounds in trees or stumps, the Oyster Mushroom is an easily identifiable species. When hunting, I most often find my Oyster mushrooms near a river or stream, but still within the confines of the forest.
Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)
Spring-fall, open fields
Shaggy Mane is part of the clade known as “Inky Caps”. When a specimen is getting older it is obvious why they are named this way; the cap will disintegrate into a black inky substance which contains the spores of this unique variety. For this reason it is best to nab your collection of shaggy manes before they begin to display that inky black substance around their gills. After collecting, eat quickly because the shaggy mane will dissolve itself in 4-6 hours.
Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta)
Late spring, damp forests
Of all the edible mushrooms, the Morel is the most prized and sought after. People have describe the flavor as being unique and smoky, like a fine aged meat. Yellow Morels (also known as the Common Morel) are the most plentiful and easy to find. That said, morels are a tricky bunch! Only appearing in the late spring, and in damp forests, morels are pricey for a reason. Despite many attempts, there have still been no successful commercial growing operations.
Interested in more details about a particular mushroom? Leave a comment below and I will get back to you!
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia