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Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America

A Complete Wild Food Guide

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Season: Spring & Summer

READ THIS Before Gathering and Eating Wild Mushrooms.

Urban, Rural or Both: Rural

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius). This is a fantastic mushroom, that is relatively straight forward to identify.

First, like many mushrooms, it forms a Mycorrhizal relationship with tree and shrub roots (they help each other), so you will find it in woods or around trees. I have only found it around Conifer trees myself, but I've read they can be found around Oaks and Birch. I have seen it around Birch, but there were Conifer trees there as well. It has a matte yellow/gold color. There is a cooked egg yolk quality to the color of it. The color is fairly consistent on the top, although it can have a patchy quality to the slight variations of the color.

One of the first ways, other that the color, that you recognize it, is the shape of the cap. The cap is funnel shaped, and the widely to close spaced shallow gills (false gills actually - called ridges) are visible from the side - you don't have to turn it upside down to see the gills. The gills are decurrent , which is a mushroomer's way of saying the gills run down onto the upper part of the stem. The edges of the upturned cap are wavy. There is a very uneven look to the cap upon first glance - sort of a raggedy, disheveled look to it. If you have a good nose, you should smell a very faint fruity kind of scent. Some say apricots, David Arora mentions a pumpkin like scent in Mushrooms Demystified (Pumpkins are a fruit).

If you take one, slice it in half from top to bottom, you will notice that the cap and stem are not two separate parts like on many mushrooms - it is impossible to tell where the stem ends and the cap begins. The flesh should be white, except right near the edges. The gills are shallow, and look more like folds in the flesh than sheets of paper, in fact, they are called Ridges or False Gills.

There are a few mushrooms that can be mistaken for this one, but the most common one is the False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) . This mushroom has real gills (like sheets of paper on edge, spread apart a little). The false gills of the true Chanterelle are like folds in the flesh of the mushroom, not thin sheets of paper. The underside of the false one is much more orange. If you look at a mushroom and are not sure, look at the gills or false gills. If they are forked - that is one gill turns into two near the edge (margin) of the cap, it is not a true Chanterelle - most likely a False Chanterelle. The False Chanterelle is usually darker near the center of the cap and lighter towards the edges. On the true Chanterelle, the color is uniform or patchy a bit, but not a clear pattern of getting darker toward the center. The False one does not have the fruit scent. By the way, if you do mistake a False Chanterelle for a true one, the worst that will happen is stomach upset. It is not deadly.

The one you don't want to mistake for the Chanterelle is the Jack-O'-Lantern (Omphalotus illudens) in eastern North America. This one is poisonous, and can make you quite sick. When you cut a Chanterelle down the center, the color is only at the surface, or just a little into it. Most of the inside is white. With the Jack-O'-Lantern, the flesh is a yellow-orange. Also, the Jack-O'-Lantern grows in clumps at the base of stumps, while the Chanterelle is scattered on the ground.

So, matte yellow/gold color that stands out. color on top of cap does not get darker in center. White flesh inside - not yellow/orange. Smells fruity. Not growing in dense clumps, not growing from wood. Not true gills like sheets of paper. Trumpet or funnel shaped. Cap and stem are one - you can't tell where the stem ends and cap begins. Ridges or false gills run down stem.


Before Gathering and Eating any Wild Mushroom READ THE FOLLOWING:

This is a difficult subject to approach. I've been studying mushrooms in the wild for about 30 years and they often still surprise and confuse me when identifying.

The problem for a site like this, is that 100% correct identification is absolutely necessary, but hard to do for many mushrooms - even with years of experience, let alone a newcomer to the subject. Best to have someone with genuine expertise show you. If that is not possible, please do much research on the web or with books, preferably both. Do not trust a single source of information - EVER. I have found mistakes on the web, and have even corrected errors on Wikipedia myself. You need confirmation from multiple sources. If you are serious about the subject, one book I highly recommend is "Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi by David Arora". I bought the 1986 edition in 1987 and that is what got me started seriously learning about mushrooms. David Arora is from the west coast, but what he says about east coast mushrooms matches with my experience. There are pictures, and very well thought out step by step identification sequences.

Another book which is very good, and a great guide to carry with you on gathering expeditions is "The Audubon Society Field Guild to North American Mushrooms".

Before you gather anything, you must know the most dangerous mushroom of Eastern North American - it can mean your life if you don't. It is the Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera). There is another Destroying Angel on the west coast, the Amanita ocreata. Please take me seriously with this, the Destroying Angels not only kill, but they kill you slowly & painfully. Don't rely on taste, people who have eaten them said, before they died, they were very good tasting. I don't think there is anything, other than maybe the Water Hemlock plant, that kills with such pain and suffering. Look them up, read about them here - KNOW THEM.

Another very dangerous mushroom with the same toxin as the Destroying Angel is the Galerina marginata. Please read the entry for Galerina marginata on the Poisonous Plants page.

I suggest only five mushrooms for the wild food gatherer & mushroom novice to start off with. The Chanterelle, Morel, Hericium, and the Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball. The Morel, and Giant Puffball can often be found in urban environments. The Chanterelle, Hericium, Morel and Sulphur Shelf in the woods. The Giant Puffball can be often found in grassy areas in the country. I have seen the Sulphur Shelf in the city on rare occasions on the side of dying trees. These five are relatively straight forward to identify correctly, and do not have deadly poisonous close look-alikes - although there may be similar looking mushrooms that could make you sick - very sick, so always take identification very seriously. Also, these are not mushrooms you can usually buy in the local grocery store. Until fairly recently, Morels could not be grown in artificial environments.

The Morel is a spring season mushroom, Chanterelle, Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball is a summer to fall mushroom, and the Hericium is a late summer to fall mushroom, so this gives a fairly large window of time to enjoy them. PLEASE take it very slowly, do a lot of research, look at many pictures, and learn how to identify the edible ones from mushrooms that look like them - STEP by STEP with each aspect of the mushroom. Remember, though I do my best to help you identify them, this is not a dedicated identification guide, you do need to learn more than I provide.

And by the way, be careful of what other people pick. Some people go by simple rules of identification that they have learned from others that don't hold up. They may have been lucky so far, but if you eat what others have picked, you had better hope they know what they are doing. Know what you are picking, don't use simple rules except for one: If you are not absolutely, 100% sure, with each and every aspect of the mushroom, do not eat it.

Spore Prints:

Learn to take a spore print. Put a mushroom cap on white and black paper, and cover with a cup or bowl and after a couple of hours take off the cup, carefully lift up the cap and you should see a spore print. The color of the spores is an important aspect of identification. Go to the spore print link, where you will see the black and white spore print paper image. Click on it, click again and print it. Here is a link directly to it. You can print the same image below:


Print this image to take your spore print on. (William Rafti of the William Rafti Institute CC BY-SA 3.0)

The next six images are the steps in taking a spore print:

spore print 01

This is an Agaricus bisporus that I'm using to demonstrate taking a spore print. This one still has a bit of the partial veil left on. It is the partial veil that makes the ring on the stem.

spore print 02

Next, you have to take off the stem so that the cap will sit flat on the paper. If the gills are "free" - don't touch the stem, you can usually break off the stem. If the gills touch the stem, (adnate, decurrent, etc.), you are best to cut the stem off carefully with a sharp, clean knife.

spore print 03

Set the cap, gills down, on a piece of paper. Put a drop or two of room temperature water on the cap, but not so much that it runs down to the paper. This helps the mushroom hydrate which helps it in the process of releasing the spores.

spore print 04

Cover with a glass or plastic container to keep it humid inside for the mushroom.

Agaricus bisporus spore print 01

It can take as little as a couple of hours, to 12 hours in my experience to get a good print. If you have 12 hours, leave it. If you want to eat the mushroom sooner, take a look after a couple of hours. You may not get a nice looking print, but even a few spores should reveal their color.

Agaricus bisporus spore print close up

This is a close up of the spore print. You can see the white lines where the gills were, and the spores on either side that dropped off. This is the brown for a spore print you would expect for an Agaricus bisporus.

Remember the mushroomer's motto: When in Doubt - Throw it Out. Even experts aren't sure sometimes, and will pass on eating a mushroom unless they are sure.

One more thing I will repeat over and over. When eating anything for the first time, only have a tiny amount to make sure you are not allergic to it. This is especially true for mushrooms. Every edible mushroom creates a reaction with some people. There are two choice edible mushrooms that I am allergic too. The Oyster mushroom makes me feel like I have the flu coming on, and the Boletus edulis makes me feel hot, I break into a sweat, and feel sick to my stomach.

If you think I'm being overly cautious, think about what I read years ago (I regrettably forget the source). There are two kinds of wild mushroom eaters: Brave ones and living ones.

Identification: When reading the description for the mushrooms, refer to the chart below for what those descriptions mean.

Creator of this chart: debivort. Used under GNU Free Documentation License. Full size and source of this image here.

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Important Notes when Identifying
Rules & Cautions
Dangerous Plants to Avoid Touching

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