Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
A group of Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria) on a stump in September in a forested area just south of Aylen Lake, Ontario.
Season: Summer and Fall
READ THIS Before Gathering and Eating Wild Mushrooms.
Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly
The Honey Mushroom (Armillaria) of which there are now about 10 named species. They all used to go under the name Armillaria mellea, so in older books that is the name used for the group. Has been referred to as the Shoestring mushroom due to the large black runners the mushroom sends out underground that follow roots to new trees to kill and eat. In areas where there are Ukrainian communities, this mushroom is more often called the pidpenky. This is common in the Canadian Praries. This can be a choice mushroom to eat - to repeat, if you try it, only eat a tiny bit at first to see if you are allergic to it. It is a mushroom that must be cooked. This is a mushroom that you have to be careful in identifying, as it can look like others if you are inexperienced - not a beginners mushroom. This is a mushroom that you should not have alcohol before or after eating. Only eat the caps, as the stems are very tough and fibrous - very similar to the Shiitake mushroom which the Honey mushroom can be used as a substitute for.
Spore print is White - Careful, this is the same as the deadly Destroying Angels . You have to be sure in other ways with this one. The Honey Mushroom will be growing from a stump in a clump. Destroying Angels are on the ground. Destroying Angels have a Volva (cup or ball on bottom of stem), but the Volva can be under the ground, leaf litter or moss. Destroying Angels are white on top, the Honey Mushroom is honey colored, often in different tones in a target shape. Also make sure you don't have a Pholiota . Pholiota comes from the Greek word pholis, which means "scale" - in other words, most Pholiota mushrooms have scales all over them. However, there is at least one that looks like a Honey mushroom (Pholiota iterata), though as far as I know, it has only been spotted on the West Coast so far. One thing all Pholiota have in common is a brown spore print. You must take a spore print when you think you have a clump of Honey mushrooms.
They are one of the mushrooms that is bioluminescent, that is, they make their own light, a greenish light. The Jack-O'-Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens) in eastern North America, is bioluminescent as well. Jack-O'-Lantern have a yellow spore print, decurrent gills, no ring on the stem from the veil and the gills are a yellow-orange. Be sure you don't have a clump of Jack-O'-Lanterns at the base of a stump - they are quite poisonous. When young, they can look quite like the Honey mushroom to the inexperienced. Pictures of the Jack-O'-Lantern on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images). Again, you must take a spore print when you think you have found Honey Mushrooms.
Make sure you do not confuse it for the Galerina marginata. The cap can be more or less similar looking.
David Arora makes note that if found growing from Buckeye (Aesculus) or Hemlock (Tsuga) trees they can cause an upset stomach if eaten, so know those trees and don't bother with mushrooms on them. The Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) is also known as the Horse Chestnut, American Buckeye and Fetid Buckeye in the east. There is also the Yellow Buckeye, Common Buckeye and Sweet Buckeye (Aesculus flava) in the east.
It must be cooked since it is slightly poisonous raw, but so are many edible mushrooms. I recommend parboiling this mushroom first before cooking it to be sure you have removed any toxins. Toss the stem and eat the caps only, fried in oil with onions and garlic after parboiling. Get the right one, cook it right, and it really is a tasty mushroom. If you normally use Shiitake Mushrooms, and you get some of these, you can use them as if they were Shiitake in cooked meals.
- Cap Morphology: Convex to flat to Umbonate. The color is variable from a honey color most often to yellow, tan, pink-brown to red-brown. Usually ranges from 3-15 cm (1 1/5 to 6 inches) across. Almost always darkest in the very center and getting lighter toward the margin, however it can sometimes have rings giving the cap a target like appearance.
- Spore Bearing Surface: Gills on underside of cap. White to yellowish-white to flesh pink-white. When older, sometimes gills are spotted.
- Gill Attachment (how the Spore Bearing Surface is attached to the Stipe or Stem): Ranges from Adnate to very slightly subdecurrent to occasionally sinuate. (If slightly subdecurrent it is imperative you take a spore print)
- Spore print: White
- Stipe (Stalk): Usually with an annulus (ring or skirt) on the upper part of the stem. Can be missing or gone when mushroom is fully mature. Stalk is tough and fibrous.
- Partial Veil: Cottony white to light yellow, when gone, usually leaving a ring (annulus) on the stem.
- Season: Generally late summer to fall
- Habitat: In clusters generally at the base of trees or stumps. Can be on logs or coming from ground, but it is attached to roots or buried wood if coming from ground. Clusters can be a few to very many individual mushrooms. I have only seen them on different hardwoods. Can be Saprotrophic or parasitic
- Notes: This is a highly variable mushroom in appearance, so taking spore prints, and checking each and every aspect carefully is a must.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
Gill Attachment (how the Spore Bearing Surface is attached to the Stipe or Stem): Ranges from Adnate to very slightly subdecurrent to occasionally sinuate. By: Debivort GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Cap Morphology: Convex to flat to Umbonate. By: Debivort GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
A clump of Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria) at different stages of development. The ones in the foreground are young, with the veil still covering the gills. The ones in the background are mature, and you can seem the remnants of the veil on the upper part of the stem looking like a collar. By: Dan Molter Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
These Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria) show why you need to be careful when collecting Honey Mushrooms. Notice the scally top of the cap - the poisonous Pholiota squarrosa looks very much like this, grows in similar clumps at the bases of dead or dying trees. Look at the picture of the Pholiota squarrosa below, and always go through a proper identification process before eating what you think are Honey Mushrooms. Photo By: Charles de Mille-Isles Attribution 2.0 Generic
Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria) as they typically look when you happen upon them - in clumps at the base of a dead or dying tree. These are in an urban environment, and I find this is one of the mushrooms that does not seem bothered by city conditions. By: Peter O'Connor Attribution 2.0 Generic
Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria) up close. The thing to take note of in this picture is the color change from the center to the edge of the cap. This is a good starting point for identifying assuming they are in clumps on, or at the base of dead or dying wood. By: Júlio Reis Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic
Below is a picture of the POISONOUS Pholiota squarrosa. You must know how to identify this mushroom (and other Pholiotas like the (Pholiota iterata) if you live on the West Coast) before you eat what you think are Honey Mushrooms.
Below is a picture of the POISONOUS Jack-O'-Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens). This is another mushroom that has been confused for Honey Mushrooms.
The POISONOUS Jack-O'-Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens). This picture shows one of the distinguishing differences of this mushroom from the Honey Mushroom. Go to the drawing I made (just below this picture) showing how the gills on the Honey Mushroom touch the stem but do not run down onto the stem, whereas with this Jack-O'-Lantern, the gills do run down the stem. By: Jason Hollinger Attribution 2.0 Generic
Honey Mushroom and Jack-O'-Lantern cut down the center diagram. On young Jack-O'-Lantern Mushrooms the cap is not concave, this is especially true with the eastern (Omphalotus illudens). The spore print with the Honey Mushroom is white, while the spore print for the Jack-O'-Lantern is yellow. Though not drawn in here, the Honey Mushroom often has a ring on the stem under the cap.
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 America - 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.
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.
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:
The next six images are the steps in taking a spore print:
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.
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.
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.
Cover with a glass or plastic container to keep it humid inside for the mushroom.
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.
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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