Many people safely enjoy eating wild mushrooms, but mycologists are occasionally asked by doctors to identify mushrooms suspected in cases of poisoning. The following guidelines and instructions are intended to help mushroom collectors have safe and profitable forays.
How to Identify Mushrooms
The best way to learn how to identify mushrooms is to take a class. Mushroom clubs often offer classes and their members are willing to help beginners. Botanical gardens, biological stations, or universities may also offer extension courses on mushroom identification. Only good training and collecting practices produce correct identifications. NEVER eat any mushroom unless you are sure of its identification!
A number of field guides or mushroom books are available that can help, but you will need to study and compare different mushrooms. You will need to learn to use keys that will ask about the following:
Many mushrooms bear a superficial resemblance to one another. Through education and careful observation, collectors learn to distinguish species. You may need to collect both young and old mushrooms from a cluster or group to identify a species. Some important features may only be present at one stage of development.
Habitat and Substrate
Mushrooms are found almost everywhere, but not all mushrooms are found in all kinds of habitat. Where they grow, such as coniferous forest, oak forest, etc., is the mushrooms' habitat. Some mushrooms develop in only one kind of habitat, such as a bog, a forest, or an open lawn or meadow. What they actually emerge from, such as peat, a log, or soil, is the mushrooms' substrate.
Information about the structure and color of a mushroom's spore deposit helps in identification. Most spores are too small to be examined without the help of a microscope. Collectors can discover the spores' color by making a spore print.
Cut the stem off the cap and place the cap gill side down on a piece of white paper. If the gills are light-colored, placing a wedge of dark paper under part of the cap will help show the print of the light-colored spores. The cap must remain moist. Store the mounted cap in a plastic sandwich bag or a container with a lid.
After four to eight hours, remove the cap from the paper and allow the print to dry for ten minutes. A pattern of white or colored spores should be seen on the paper under the cap. If no spores can be seen, your cap may be from an immature or sterile specimen.
Dried spore prints can be preserved with the acrylic spray coating sold in art supply stores, and displayed as pictures.
Spore deposits can sometimes be seen in nature. Look for them on the stem, or on the ground beneath the cap. In a cluster, shorter mushrooms may be dusted with their taller neighbors' spores.
You will need:
Mushrooms should not be stored in plastic bags because they will rot. Select a plump mushroom and cut it off at ground level. Clean off any old leaves or other debris. Look carefully for fly larvae or worm holes. If you collect a group of one kind of mushroom, slice one open for a closer inspection. Discard any mushrooms that contain insects or worm holes.
If you decide to keep the mushroom(s), write down the location, habitat or substrate, and fresh color on a paper label. Place the mushrooms and label in a small paper bag, or a tube of wax paper. Twist the ends of the tube to keep the collection together. You do not want to risk mixing safe and poisonous species together.
Most mushrooms are edible, in the sense that eating them will not harm you. Not all of them taste good, and good taste is no guarantee of safety. People die every year from eating tasty but poisonous mushrooms. There are no so-called tests for telling a poisonous mushroom from a non-poisonous one. The tarnishing of silver coins cooked with mushrooms is no proof they are poisonous. Seeing an animal eat a mushroom is no guarantee of its safety. Animals' digestive systems and metabolisms are not identical to ours. Until you have some experience, be very careful.
Mushrooms contain many chemical compounds. The mushrooms on sale at the supermarket are species that are not only non-poisonous, but cause no irritating or allergic reaction for most people. The reaction from eating wild mushrooms is less predictable. If this is your first time eating a wild mushroom, even if others have safely eaten it before, or a book says it is safe, you must still be careful. You may be allergic or more sensitive than others. Use the following precautions when eating wild mushrooms:
If you have Trouble
CALL YOUR LOCAL PHYSICIAN, POISON CONTROL CENTER, OR HOSPITAL EMERGENCY ROOM!
WHEN YOU CALL: Be prepared to give them a description of the mushroom and have a mushroom ready for identification. If the victim has thrown up, either on their own or because of directions from a medical source, and that's the only pieces of the fungus you have, you must save them. Wrap the sample loosely in waxed paper--do not seal in plastic wrap. If the victim is seen by a physician, bring the mushroom sample with you. It may be necessary to take the mushroom to a local specialist for identification. More information on poisoning is available at:
Mushroom Clubs and Organizations
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Last update: 08 Dec 06. © 1998, Robert Fogel, Ivins, UT 84738. Edited by Patricia Rogers.