Staying Safe

So, recently I was out and about teaching a friend about some of the edibles in the area. When we came across a giant patch of Jack-o-Lantern mushrooms, I pointed out how similar they were to Chicken of the Woods or Chanterelle to an untrained forager. I also pointed out that while not deadly, they are extremely toxic and can cause severe sickness if ingested.

This got me thinking that I really need to write about the importance of proper identification of wild edibles. In almost every blog I have written I have pointed out several look-alikes and how to tell the differences between whats delicious and what should be left behind. My motto is always “When in doubt, throw it out” and I stick to that!
Destroying Angel

Most of the things I have been posting on the blog are very easily identified, and don’t have any deadly counterparts. However one mushroom that I will be posting about soon (its almost in season) is the Shaggy Mane, or Inky Cap. Now, while in full adult form, its unmistakable, the young mushrooms (or buttons) look exactly like the deadly Destroying Angel. Small puffballs also look just like this mushroom. I recently ran across this article, which I found extremely interesting. It just reminds us the importance of taking your time to identify, and always using caution when eating something from the wild.

Its not just mushrooms that can cause problems! Hemlock flowers look dangerously close to Queen Anne’s lace, and are extremely poisonous. You can see the differences in the two here. Fiddleheads can all look exactly the same to the untrained eye, and only one species is properly edible. Although none will immediately make you sick, some have very high amounts of carcinogens in them, and are best avoided.

A few tips to help identify wild edibles:

Spore Prints. By making a spore print of a mushroom, you can tell almost immediately
Spore Print
what type you are dealing with. This article is a great example of how to make spore prints.
Not only that, but they are fun to make, and perhaps a great learning project for children!!
One of my favorite books!

Books. There are tons of resources out there. From your local bookstore, to the internet (heck, maybe even this blog?), use every resource available to you! The more you know, the better you will get!


Observation. What type of trees are they growing around? How are they growing? On the tree? Under it? Watch the plants for a year. Are they Ostrich ferns (edible) or a Braken fern (no s’good)? Watch them grow through the summer, and identify them in full form. You can come back next year and collect! Being patient can be difficult sometimes, but will always pay off in the long run.

Ask a Pro. Quite a few people have asked me to take them out. I am by no means an actual ‘pro’, but I do know what I’m doing enough to teach others. There are forums, events, and usually a local source you can find that would love to take you out and about! All you have to do is ask around!

Just always remember to be careful, stay educated, be observant and have fun!
So be safe and happy hunting!