Although you can safely eat many types of mushrooms, some species contain toxins that can result in serious illness, even death. For those connoisseurs who prefer to pick their mushrooms in the wild, identification is critical. You should never ingest any mushroom without having identified it as a safe species.
Appearance and Taste
Although appearance does not necessarily identify a mushroom with 100 percent certainty, it's a good starting point. You can usually identify the common mushrooms based on appearance more readily than an obscure species. Mushroom hunters also use taste to help them identify the different varieties they find. Mushroom flavors differ, such as bitter, mild or peppery, depending on the species. You can safely test for taste, even in cases of toxic mushrooms, by breaking off a small portion and touching it to your tongue, advises the University of Florida.
Picture matching, comparing a mushroom specimen with a photograph in a reference book or field guide, can help identify a particular species of mushroom. You may tentatively identify some types of mushrooms from picture matching, but don't attempt to positively identify a species from picture matching alone, advises mushroom expert Dave Fischer, author of "Edible Mushrooms of North America." This might have serious consequences if you eat a wild mushroom without being absolutely certain of its safety.
One of the most helpful processes in mushroom identification, taking a spore print, involves a simple method the average amateur mushroom enthusiast can easily perform. Cut off the mushroom stem and put the cap on a white piece of paper. The gill side should touch the paper. Put the cap and paper into a sandwich bag. After 4 to 8 hours, remove the cap and look at the color of the spore pattern on the paper. Using a field guide, compare the color with what you would expect to see from a specific species.
When gathering mushrooms in the field to identify, don't put them in plastic bags. This might cause them to rot, advises Utah State University. Instead, collect your samples in paper bags. Record the exact location and type of habitat in which you found the mushroom. This might help with identification. Don't eat any wild mushrooms simply because you have seen animals eat them. That does not mean humans may consume the mushrooms safely.