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Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America

A Complete Wild Food Guide

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Horse Mushroom (Agaricus arvensis). By: walt sturgeon (Mycowalt) Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Season: Late Spring to Early Fall

READ THIS Before Gathering and Eating Wild Mushrooms.

Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly

The Horse Mushroom (Agaricus arvensis) is very similar to the Field Mushroom and the Button Mushroom - they are all from the Agaricus family.

This is similar to the Field mushroom, but you have to be even more careful with this one. It has brown spores and gills when fully open, but when young, can have whitish gills. This is the most common mushroom people mistake with the Destroying Angel. You are advised to not gather this one until you really know what you are doing. Please read the section on the Destroying Angel. Take a spore print to be sure. When gathering, make sure you dig a bit of the stem out of the ground to make sure it doesn't have a Volva (ball or cup shaped base). This is described in the section on the Destroying Angel.

There are a few steps in making sure you don't have a look-alike. First, when you pick it, it should have an anise seed smell - don't know what anise seeds smell like? Buy some and smell them even before starting to find this mushroom. Second, it must come from a field, and on the underside of the cap quite often there is a cogwheel like pattern on the partial veil - the thin membrane that covers the gill when the mushroom is immature. Take a spore print. It must be a dull chocolate brown. Not white, off white, cream, buff, pink or yellow - it must be brown. The gills must be "free" - they don't touch the stem, they round down and end on the underside of the cap near the stem, leaving a visible gap between the gills and stem. See the pictures under the section on the Agaricus bisporus. You absolutely must take a spore print with each one you pick, and do not pick them in the button stage. This is not a big deal, lay the caps out on white paper, cover with a slightly damp towel, leave for a couple of hours, then look - if you see the brown spore prints, you can be sure you don't have the Destroying Angel.

When gathering, cut a chunk out of the base of the stem of each one. Does it turn yellow? If so, it is probably an Agaricus xanthodermus. It won't kill you, but you will feel very sick after eating this one.

Even if all the above passes, and you are sure you have a Horse mushroom - don't eat very much unless you know for a fact where it is growing is clean land and not contaminated with heavy metals. This mushroom will absorb heavy metals from the earth if they are present. DO NOT collect this mushroom on land where there used to be industry.

You can use this one just like you would store bought button mushrooms, but the taste is a bit better, and they are a good size. Any recipe that would call for a Portobello, the Horse Mushroom is a great substitute.



Gill Attachment (how the Spore Bearing Surface is attached to the Stipe or Stem): Free - the gills do not touch the stem. By: Debivort GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2


Horse Mushroom (Agaricus arvensis). Notice how with the mature specimens, they seem very short compared to the width of the cap. Though not always this low to the ground, this is a first clue (other than environment) that you could have a Horse Mushroom. By: Rictor Norton & David Allen Attribution 2.0 Generic


Horse Mushroom (Agaricus arvensis). With this young specimen you can see the typical profile shape. From Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons


Horse Mushroom (Agaricus arvensis). The pattern seen here on the underside with the veil still covering the gills is called the "cogwheel" pattern, and seeing it is one step in confirmation that you have a Horse Mushroom. By: Luridiformis Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

PLEASE NOTE: This mushroom is often confused with the Destroying Angel. Know it well, and ALWAYS take a spore print when gathering the Horse Mushroom.

You also have to make sure you don't have the Agaricus xanthodermus. On each mushroom you pick, cut a chunk out of the base of the stem, and see what color the cut area turns. If it turns yellow, toss it.


Agaricus xanthodermus showing the yellow staining near the base. This is why you always have to cut what you think is a Field Mushroom in half to make sure it does not stain yellow like this one did. By: frankenstoen Attribution 2.0 Generic

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.

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). Click here to download a printable version.

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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