How to Identify Edible Wild Mushrooms

Wild mushrooms are one of nature's gifts and quite delicious. The problem is that most people recognize the edible ones only if they find the mushrooms wrapped in cellophane and stacked in the cooler at the grocery. Several parts of the edible mushrooms are different from look-alike poisonous mushrooms, but it varies with the species. Knowing which ones are edible makes the difference between a feast and a trip to the emergency room.

Wild mushroom on mossy trunk in the forest
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You must be very careful when gathering wild mushrooms.
Morchella conica
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Start by learning about one type of edible mushroom.

Step 1

Select one type you want that grows in your area. Study the picture of the mushroom so you can identify it when you see it. Once you identify one easily, work on the next one.

Cluster of Jack-o-lantern Mushrooms
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Learn about which poisonous mushrooms resemble your mushroom.

Step 2

Learn all the poisonous mushrooms that look similar to this particular one. The chanterelle mushroom is quite edible but it has a poisonous cousin called the jack-o-lantern mushroom, Omphalotus olearius, which looks similar, smells similar and even tastes good. The difference between the two is gills, chanterelles have ridges, jack-o-lanterns have gills.

morel mushroom with back light
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A morel mushroom.

Step 3

Focus on the differences. False morels, Ptycoverpa bohemica, and morels, Morchella spp, have differences in the cap connection, the cap itself and the interior of the stem. False morels contain varying amounts of monomethyl hydrazine, MMH, a toxin.

Hen of the Woods fungi grows natural
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Hen-of-the-woods.

Step 4

Hunt for mushrooms that don't look like poisonous ones. Hen-of-the-woods, Grifola frondosa, grows on dying oaks and hardwoods. There are imposters that look similar but they taste bad and are not poisonous.

Collecting mushrooms in the woods
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Cut it open.

Step 5

Cut it open and see what's inside. Puffballs, Lycoperdon ssp and Calvatia ssp, are easy to spot but you have to cut one open to make certain what you found isn't an immature amanitas, Amanita spp. The amanitas have a developing stalk, with a cap and gills inside. The puffball should look pure white and solid like a white bread. The amanitas are highly toxic.

Tops of Mushrooms
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Make a spore print.

Step 6

Find out the spore color. You can make a spore print of a more mature mushroom to help identify the species. Simply take the cap off the stem of the mushroom and put it on top of a piece of clear glass. Cover it with a glass overnight. Lift away the mushroom to see the spore print. Field guides on mushrooms often tell you the color of the spore print.