Monday, November 23, 2015


I have been collecting wild mushrooms for a very long time: first in the mountains east of Salt Lake City where a friend who knew what he was doing introduced me to wild mushrooms. Then in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills in Northern California.

I always enjoyed finding something edible in the wilds: asparagus, berries of all sorts, walnuts and of course, mushrooms. I never gotten sick from eating the wrong mushroom but I only eat them if I have virtually 100% positive identification.

Over the decades I learned to recognize the edible ones without consulting one of my mushroom books. If you are new to wild mushroom collecting, the only advice any expert collector can give you: don’t unless you have a death wish. Many mushrooms are mildly poisonous but some are extremely so. And to make it worse, some of the deadly ones take close to a day to show symptoms by which time the toxins (amatoxin) absorb and they work on destroying your liver—you have a little time left to organize you funeral arrangements. But don’t yet despair: fatality is in only in 50% of people.

Start collecting with a truly knowledgeable person and at least one very good guidebook. You need to collect them while they are fairly young to pick them ahead of the almost inevitable maggots. There are mushrooms maggots leave alone but not many kinds. Collect them in paper bags, never mixing different species and with a pocket knife scrape off as much dirt as possible. Don’t ever use plastic bags, mushrooms with their high moisture contents suffocate and spoil in no time.

Identify them until you are absolutely positive what you have. It’s always a good idea to leave a small piece preserved before cooking, just in case of tummy problems crop up later; that way an expert can check your identification.

Here is a very pretty mushroom called Leucopaxillus, species is probably albissimus. It is not edible because it is tough and bitter but not poisonous. But so pretty, so tempting!

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