5 Easy-To-Identify Edible Mushrooms For The Beginning Mushroom Hunter

chickenofthewoodswildfoodism2In the world of foraging, few organisms conjure up more fear and mystery than mushrooms.  Tell someone you harvest wild berries, and he thinks to himself what a great hobby.  Tell another person you hunt wild mushrooms, and she fears for your life.

“Aren’t you scared?”

“What if it’s poisonous?”

“I could never pick wild mushrooms, they’re much too dangerous.”

The fungal kingdom, it seems, is a bit of an enigma.  In 1991, a paper was published suggesting that, although 1.5 million fungi were thought to have inhabited the earth, only about 70,000, or 4.7%, of fungal organisms were identified at that time (1).  Today, it is estimated that there are 5.1 million fungal species in existence, and the number of identified species is still quite small in comparison.

It’s true, out of 5.1 million fungal species, some of them are quite toxic.  Destroying Angel, Deadly Galerina, and Death Cap aren’t just fancy names, though they may or may not be hit singles from late 80’s heavy metal bands…

Destroyingangelwildfoodism

Amatoxin, forever popularized by their hit single, “Destroying Angel”

It’s easy to focus all our attention on the dangers of wild mushroom hunting, and of course the risks are valid concerns.  One must absolutely know what he or she has in hand before even thinking about pulling out the butter, salt, and frying pan.

There is another side to wild mushroom hunting, however.  The medicinal side.  The healing side.  The delicious side.

Obviously, several mushrooms are edible.  A quick trip to the grocery store confirms this.  Many individuals are interested in going one step further by foraging edible mushrooms, yet have no idea where to start.  It can all appear quite daunting at first, especially after realizing you’re dealing with 5.1 million potential species (okay, this is an exaggeration … much of this large number does not pertain to mushrooms in their fruiting body stages, but rather to microscopic fungi, such as yeasts and molds).

So where do we start?

Well, why don’t we begin with the most easily identifiable wild edible mushrooms?  You know, the ones that when you see them you think, “Yep, that’s exactly it!”

In this post, I have put together a list of 5 easy-to-identify edible mushrooms.  These mushrooms are fairly conspicuous, they’re delicious, and they require a hefty stretch of the imagination to misidentify as toxic look-alikes.

Note:  I live in western Pennsylvania.  This list, therefore, is based on my experiences with the organisms in this area.

  • Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

lionsmanelearnyourland2016

Not all mushrooms look like the portobellos and the shiitakes found in the grocery store.  Lion’s mane, for one, certainly does not.  It is one of the most unique-looking mushrooms, with its unbranched body of icicle-like spines and soft white tissue.  Accordingly, lion’s mane is a great mushroom for beginning mushroom hunters.

Very few mushrooms resemble lion’s mane, and the ones that do are taxonomically placed in the same genus (Hericium).  These include bear’s head (H. abietis), coral tooth (H. coralloides), and bear’s head tooth (H. americanum), among others.  What distinguishes lion’s mane from its relatives are its long spines (1-4 cm long) and unbranched fruiting body.  All species of Hericium are considered to be edible.

Also known as the pom-pom mushroom, lion’s mane is one of the most delectable mushrooms in the fungal kingdom, resembling crab meat in taste and texture.  Additionally, lion’s mane has been well researched for its role in improving cognitive health, producing neuro-regenerative effects in numerous studies (2, 3, 4).

Look for lion’s mane on the wounds of living hardwood trees, such as oaks and maples, as well as on recently felled trees.  It can be found in the summer months through autumn.

  • Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)

chickmushroomnorthparklearnyourland

While lion’s mane is one of the easiest mushrooms to identify, its presence is a bit more rare than some of the other choice edibles.  Take chicken of the woods, for example.  Once you develop a search image for this fungus, you’ll start seeing it everywhere (okay, maybe not on Mount Kilimanjaro, but you get my point).

Chicken of the woods (chicken mushroom, sulphur shelf) grows in clusters on both standing and downed trees, emerging as knob-like growths and soon developing into numerous shelves.  The color is an unmistakable yellowish-orange, and the pore surface is yellow (for L. sulphureus, and white for the closely related L. cincinnatus … both edible).  Always make sure the underside has pores.  If it has gills, you won’t be having chicken for dinner.

The chicken mushroom resembles … get this … chicken in taste and texture, and is best collected when young.  As it ages, the chicken mushroom becomes too tough to eat, though the outer edges can still be salvaged and used in dishes.  Like all wild mushrooms, it requires cooking before consumption.

Beyond edibility, the chicken mushroom is medicinal as well.  Research has shown that an extract from this mushroom possesses antimicrobial activity against the pathogen, Aspergillus flavus (5). Chicken mushroom is also a great source of antioxidants, including quercetin, kaempferol, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid (6), and it contains lanostanoids – molecules that have the ability to inhibit cancerous growths (7). What more could you ask for from a humble saprophyte?

Look for the chicken mushroom in the summer months through autumn.  To learn more about this fantastic fungus, I encourage you to check out a video I created on its identification, look-alikes, medicinal benefits, and more.

  • Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

maitakenp2016

The maitake mushroom (sheep’s head, hen-of-the-woods) is a choice edible and medicinal that always demands a good hunt.  While it’s easy to identify and widely distributed, the maitake mushroom can be somewhat tricky to locate compared to the showy chicken mushroom, as the former blends in well with the autumnal foliage.  Maitake contains overlapping gray to brown caps attached to a single base.  Individual specimens can be rather large and weigh several pounds.  Like other polypores (mushroom fruiting bodies with pores or tubes on the underside), maitake has no gills.

While not difficult to identify, maitake may resemble other non-toxic polypores.  The black staining polypore (Meripilus sumstinei) bruises black and can be found growing on buried wood.  Young specimens are edible, though they become too tough to consume with age.  The umbrella polypore (Polyporus umbellatus) is another edible look-alike which contains white to grayish caps, though this mushroom is multi-branched and not as common.

Maitake compliments a variety of dishes, lending a hearty flavor and tender texture.  In addition to its use as a food, maitake has been researched extensively for its medicinal properties, specifically in the areas of cancer and diabetes.

Maitake, with few look-alikes, is certainly one of the safest mushrooms to harvest.  Look for this gem under oak trees (and make sure you circle the tree … you may be pleasantly surprised to find a second or third), late summer through autumn.

To learn more about the maitake mushroom, I encourage you to check out this video I created on its identification, health benefits, and more!

  • Old man of the woods (Strobilomyces floccopus)

oldmanofthewoods2

Some mushroom enthusiasts may question my decision to include old man of the woods on this list, though my reasoning, which applies to the others included here, is this: it’s easy to identify, it’s edible, and it has few, if any, toxic look-alikes.

Old man of the woods is very unique.  Like most boletes (fungi in the Boletaceae family), it contains a spongy surface of pores under the cap rather than gills.  These pores are usually whitish or gray and become dark with age.  Its wooly cap is grayish-black with velvety darkened warts, and when cut in half, this mushroom will usually stain red.

Old man of the woods, unlike most polypores, grows on the ground among hardwoods and conifers.  Therefore, if you see a mushroom that fits this description (wooly grayish-black cap with warts, whitish pores that become dark, slowly staining red when cut, growing on the ground), it’s most likely old man of the woods.

Now, there is a close look-alike.  S. confusus resembles S. floccopus, though the former contains spiny-erected warts that are firmer to the touch than the wooly S. floccopus.  Regardless, they’re both edible (cooked, of course).  Some field guides consider old man of the woods unworthy of the dinner table.  I am a bit more optimistic, and enjoy consuming them regularly when presented with the opportunity.

Though one might think that this mushroom would blend in very well with the forest floor, I find them rather easy to locate.  Look for old man of the woods in the summer months.

*Note: Strobilomyces floccopus may be strictly a European species. The North American version is, at least macroscopically, identical in appearance and can be used in the same way.

And lastly, here’s a short little video on Old Man Of The Woods to help you properly identify this mushroom.

  • Yellow morels (Morchella esculenta group)

morel

Morel mushrooms need no introduction.  But heck, I’m going to give them one anyway!

Few mushrooms in the wild resemble morels, and the ones that do can be easily distinguished based on key defining features.  The yellow morel, for instance, retains a hollow and pitted head.  Likewise, a cross-section of the stalk typically reveals a hollow interior.  Additionally, the cap is attached to the stalk.

These features, once learned, will help you clearly separate morels from their look-alikes, including false morels, thimble morels, and stinkhorns.  False morels of the genus Gyromitra tend to retain a darker shade of red and have a wrinkled, brain-like, or convoluted cap.  These mushrooms are known to be toxic (to a degree).  Thimble morels (Verpa spp.) have free, “skirt-like” sides, and stinkhorns (Phallus spp.) have a sack or vulva at the base and are generally quite foul-smelling.

Yellow morels exhibit a wide variety of positive health effects.  For example, they are a fairly good source of vitamin D and antioxidants, they have been shown in the scientific literature to display protection against drug side effects, and they’ve been researched for their role in supporting immune system health (all referenced in the link above).

Look for morels in old apple orchards or in burned areas.  They’re also associated with tulip poplar, ash, beech, maple, and dead or dying elm trees.  In the eastern United States, they can be found in the spring months through early summer.

For more information on finding and identifying morel mushrooms, check out another article on this blog: How To Find And Identify Morel Mushrooms

If I had to include additional easy-to-identify mushrooms, I would extend this list to oyster mushrooms and chanterelles.  Heck, I would even throw in some puffballs and shaggy manes.  The ones that made the final cut, however, are those that I have found to be the easiest to identify.  I hardly need to think twice before bringing these delectable fungi home.

The mushrooms that earned their ranking are also the ones that, when taught to other beginning mushroom hunters, are identified with confidence and ease.  If you are just starting on the road to becoming an ardent mushroom hunter, use this list as a guide for helping you along your journey.  Remember, however, that the descriptions here are not complete and are only meant to briefly discern the listed mushrooms from their potential look-alikes.

A good habit (actually, an extremely wise habit) is to cross-reference your mushrooms with other resources, and always be absolutely positive with your identification before ingesting wild mushrooms in any form.  Your safest bet is to have an expert identify, or confirm the identification of, your specimens.  A quick online search will yield local mycologists as well as online forums to assist in the identification process.

There, that eases the fear of wild mushroom hunting just a little bit, wouldn’t ya say?

Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!


Let’s stay in touch!  To receive information from Adam Haritan on wild plant and mushroom identification, please enter your name and email address below.  Thank you!

LearnYourLandnewsletter

Additionally, don’t forget to check out the Facebook and Instagram pages to learn more about wild food nutrition and identification!

Adam Haritan

AdamReishi2017

 

Advertisements

46 comments

  1. Good info! Just bought some plugs to grow the chicken mushrooms. Wish me luck! Also, just found about 30lbs of Maitakes. YUM! West Central Indiana. Take a look at my good fortune: (remove space after pasting) ht tp://gvb1.gotdns.com/

      1. I found a couple of different mushrooms but I do not know how to send the picture. Please let me know how I can send these pic to you. Thanks

      2. Checking out your mushroom link. I noticed your pic of an edible yellow morel looks to be a non edible false morel. Let me know, this could be bad.

  2. I live in Sweden, was born and grown in Finland, so we have a bit different mushrooms here. But if I was to recomment five edible, easily recognizable mushrooms, I’d say:
    1) Chanterelles and a couple other mushrooms that look like it. Here in Scandinavia we don’t have any mushrooms that could be mistaken as these.
    2) Ceps – there is only one poisonous cep in Sweden and that has bright red gills (or tubes, to be correct). but “penny bun” or “porcini” is the best and not difficult to recognize.
    3) Saffron milkcap and some other milkcaps. The edible ones are pretty easy to recognize.
    4) Brittlegills – pretty easy to recognize because the gills are brittle, as they say, and when touched with tongue, the inedible ones taste bitter, the edible ones don’t taste anything. And there are no poisonous brittlegills at all.
    5) Wood hedgehog – another easily recognizable mushroom that’s edible.
    6) then there are the “odd” mushrooms, like the cauliflower mushroom, morels, inkcaps and puffballs.

    Now, milkcaps and brittlegills are typically Finnish food mushrooms – probably also used in Eastern Europe, where they grow – but not in Sweden.
    There is a story about a competition between a Finnish mushroom hunter and a Swedish one – they were let free in the same forest and after an hour came back – they had equally much mushrooms in their baskets, but the Finn had picked milkcaps and the Swede chanterelles, and neither had seen any of the mushroom the other had in their basket in the forest 😀

  3. I have some pic’s that I would like someone to tell me for sure that my amazing finds are what I think they are. I am a newbie at the mushroom hunting, but it is so fascinating.

  4. Hi
    I pick about 100 lbs of hen of the woods every year. a friend brought over three 8 to 10 lb mushrooms (Hen of the woods) yesterday. At least that’s what they look like. we live in Connecticut, USA, and its’ been a drought all summer until about 2 weeks ago. We recently had a lot of rain. I have never picked in August so am leery. What do you think? I can attach a foto if possible.

    I hate to lose them if they’re good and only have a little time left but don’t want to take a chance. If it were October I wouldn’t hesitate to cook them.

    Thank you for a response,
    Laurie

      1. Hi Adam i just want you to see my hunt of wild mashrooms i got the redish nice look mashrooms pleade could u help me are they ok to eat. This is my first time to hunt. Thanks

  5. Adam, I am looking at a mushroom I pulled form my backyard. It’s tooth shaped and has the color of a reishi mushroom across part of the top all around the base. The rest has the color of a button mushroom with a slight caramel. Reishis are not supposed to be out until December and this is summer. got any ides as to the type or if its edible?

    1. Hello, I’d like to try and help you identify it! Please send a photo and I can help you out: adam [at] learnyourland [dot] com and I’ll see what I can do! Thanks. — Adam

  6. Adam, thank you SO much for everything you are doing here. Your depth of knowledge and the information you share about mushroom edibility as well as medicinal effects is among the very best I have seen. You’re a rock star of the mushroom empire! 🙂

    I am about to send you a couple mushroom pictures to see if you are able to identify them.

    Also, I just found the first honey mushrooms of the season growing here in central Massachusetts. Today is a great day!

    Thanks again,

    — Jim

  7. Thank you for the information. I have a single photo of what I suspect to be Oyster mushroom. How worried shall I be about mis-identifying it?

  8. Hello Adam. I love your videos and articles! You definitely know your stuff.

    Would Aborted Entolomas be considered an easy-to-identify edible? Are there any toxic look alikes? I have harvested shrimp-of-the-woods before and they are in my top 5 edibles, but a in a recent flush I found, there were some that didn’t look like the normal “squiggly brain” pattern. Do shrimps vary greatly within a flush?

    Thanks!

  9. I live in Wisconsin and I have a ring of mushrooms growing in my backyard. It’s the oddest thing. Do you think they’re edible.

    1. I can’t tell you if they are edible, but I will advise you to grab your shovel and start digging in the center of the ring! You have found a troll’s treasure! They often bury gold! Identifying the type of mushroom can help determine which troll buried it.

  10. Can I send you pictures and relevant data on the mushrooms I find in nearby woods-western Massachusetts? Some are eaten by critters so I’d like to know if a human can eat them safely. Thanks.

  11. Hi I found gigantic mushroom and would love for you to take a look at it and tell me if it’s safe. Do you have email I could send pics. thank you, judy

  12. I have some fungus growing on a well shaded hackberry stump. Resembles chicken of the woods, but is white/beige. Older leaves are Ruffled and leathery. Edible? How do I know?

  13. Hi, reading your post has good info, but the pictures are not there. Could you repost them. I’m new to mushroom hunting and am looking at all sites for this.

  14. Amazing post, the medicinal benefits of mushroom it greatly underestimated or hidden. I also hear ‘turkey mushrooms’ are good for breast cancer.

    I am going out to my local woods to try to find some ‘sheep’s head’ and ‘chicken of the woods’ well in fact all of these. I bought a book but its a minefield sorting through the deadly one and edible, my confidence was very low. These one appear easy to identify, so lets give it a go. I wish there was a local group here in the UK like yours, it sounds great; may be and can rattle up some interest and get one going. Thanks

  15. Hi there!

    Thanks so much for sharing this information.

    Today I was out harvesting and I found what looks like a maitake but it was not attached to a tree or anything, it was kind of interaction open space. I picked it up easily like you said and brought it with me for ID’ing.

    Here’s My concern: after watching your video I realize that it is only July but although it has darkened with drying, it has not stained black.

    I’m not sure what to do at this point and would really appreciate your insight.

    Thanks again!

  16. Your morel picture is not a very good specimen, at all. We’ve harvested hundreds of morels, and looking at your picture, not even sure your picture is an actual morel. Do you have a more accurate depiction? It would be alarming if people were mis-identifying morels based on your photo.

  17. Really appreciate the info! on a side note I couldn’t find anything on the band Amatoxin or their song about the destroying angel. Would love to hear this. I googled the image posted and it appears it is the band protector, who seem to have no mushroom themed songs… though “protector of death” maybe? wishful thinking on my part maybe…… definitely good fodder for the death metal.

    1. Thanks, Emma! And regarding the band “Amatoxin”… that was just for fun. I always joke that most poisonous mushroom names sound like heavy/thrash/death metal band names. Thought I’d play around with that for this post. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s