This is just a short warning to not go foraging without a good understanding of what is safe to consume. A lot of wild mushrooms are not edible and can be quite dangerous. So, we only recommend foraging if you have completely understood which is safe or not. If you are unsure it’s safest not to eat it.
Mushrooms are widely used in whole foods plant-based cooking because they are delicious and nutritious. Most mushrooms also have a dense texture which makes them an excellent substitution for meat in many dishes. A good variety of mushrooms are available at the grocery store, but you can find many more interesting types wild foraging. If you’re interested in finding some of these mushrooms yourself and discovering the vast range of mushrooms in the world, you’re in for a treat.
The Basics of Mushroom Foraging
There are over 10,000 types of wild fungus in the UK, and only a small percentage are good edibles. Before you get out there in the woods, there are a few basic things to know.
- First and foremost, never ever eat a mushroom that has not been identified 100%.
- To be a good mushroom forager takes time, practice, and a little dedication. You aren’t going to just walk into the woods and walk out with a basket full of delectable finds. This is not a quick and easy hobby.
- Get some identification books and study them. Learn about gills and false gills, cap sizes and shapes, stem adornment, spore prints, staining colours, and location indicators. It’s a lot of information at first, but you can break it down to make it easier. We find it best to focus on one or two easier species at first, then go from there.
- The best way to get started is to go foraging with a local group; there, you can make connections with people who can help with identification.
- Be respectful to the earth and mushroom habitats. If we destroy their habitat, the mushrooms will not come back. Tread lightly.
- Always try a small cooked portion of the mushroom first before eating a bunch. Some people are allergic to certain species – this varies widely by individual and mushroom, so there is no overarching rule.
Three Common UK Mushrooms to Get You Started
- Horse Mushroom (Agaricus arvensis) – This one likely will look familiar to you because it is a relative of the common commercially grown button mushroom and portobello. It gets quite large, has a white cap, dark brown gills, and a stout white stem. The flesh has a distinct anise-seed smell. Horse mushrooms grow in meadows, pastures, lawns, and parks. It has one common look-alike, but that one stains yellow when cut open.
- Penny Buns (Boletus edulis) – One of the best edibles, Penny Buns grow in the woods in autumn. The caps are brown (like a bread bun), the pores are white (no gills), and the stem is thick and bulbous, with a fine netting underneath the cap. Penny Buns have few look-alikes, the main ones being either bitter-tasting or blue-stainers.
- Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) – A stunning polypore mushroom that grows in layers up dying hardwood trees. Chicken of the Woods is bright orange to light yellow with dense, white flesh and an earthy smell. This mushroom mimics chicken in cooking with a similar texture, but it does need good seasoning. Do not forage this mushroom off Yew trees, as the fungus may take up the toxicity of the tree.
Foraging mushrooms is great fun; it’s like a scavenger hunt in the woods, plus it gets us out in nature exercising and interacting with the natural world. Mushroom foraging is an excellent activity for kids, too (they usually have better eyesight for spotting things!). Be patient and take your time learning the species, and soon a whole new world of food will be opened up to you.
For more information on safety with mushroom foraging here is a fantastic website we support: https://www.wildfooduk.com/articles/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-poisonous-and-edible-mushrooms