For years I’ve wanted to learn to identify foods that I could forage from the wild, but was always too afraid that I would pick a poisonous plant or mushroom that would make me so sick that I wished I was dead, or might actually kill me. So, unless it came from a store, a seed packet, or a labeled plant from a nursery, I didn’t eat it. The only exception to this was berries and fruits and nuts that my grandmother and parents taught me about. However, after researching for this article, I’m beginning to feel a little more confident to try mushrooms. At,the moment we are in a drought and all I saw out there were dried up and dead. What you need to understand is that for every edible wild mushroom, there is at least one copycat inedible mushroom. The way to avoid getting sick, or worse, is to make sure you research and always have reference photos available when foraging, until you know every characteristic of each type of edible and copycat to tell the difference.
There are several characteristics that you should look at to determine whether your mushrooms are edible or inedible. I’ll list those here, but each variety is very specific to the type of characteristics, so make sure you research them before eating any wild mushrooms and compare lots of photos of each kind.
Body Shape-Whether it looks like a flower, round ball, etc.
Cap-or hat shape, size, and color
Underside of Cap-whether it has spores, spines, or gill-like ridges. Note any spacing, coloring, or pattern and check for a sheer membrane or veil covering gills.
Stem-Check for color, striations, rings, stripes, or bulbous protrusions. Substrate-Check what the mushroom is growing on such as leaves, old logs, wood chips,soil, etc
Season-Even mushrooms have a season, depending on where you are located, and will help determine whether it’s safe to eat or not.
Probably the easiest to recognize is the Indigo Milk Cap or Lactarius Indigo. As the name indicates, this mushroom is blue, and you’ll know if you have the right one by splitting it with a knife from the bottom of the stalk, straight up through the cap. If it bleeds a deep blue milk, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Chanterelles-In Florida, Chanterelles can be foraged all summer long due to the humidity. They are yellow to orange color and have blunt ridges that fork and run down the stem rather than actual gills. If you split the stems,they are solid, the flesh is white and they have a fruity aroma. Another variety of chanterelles, called winteror yellowfoot chanterelles, are very similar in appearance, but have a hollow stem. The
Except for Indigo Milk Caps and Chanterelles which are easy to ID, as a novice I recommend that you don’t forapoison copycats have actual gills, unlike the edible ones.ge mushrooms with gills. Most mushrooms with gills have deadly look-alikes. Why run the risk, when there are so many other edible mushrooms.
The King Boletus or Porcini Mushrooms are other easy to identify mushrooms in Florida. They grow in early fall or spring and usually in fir, spruce, and pine forests. They have medium to large sized caps which are brownish-red to tan in color. On the underside of the cap, Boletus are spongy like with small pores that release spores. Younger Boletus have whitish spores that turn a yellow-olive color when mature. Stalks are thick, often with a bulb near the ground tapering towards the top. These mushrooms have a mild, nutty taste .
Morels-One of the easiest to identify, they have pitted and ridged honeycomb likecaps and when split up the middle are completely hollow. They are a favorite of foragers and pop up in springtime, and commonly are found in recently burned sunny patches on south facing hillsides.
Oyster mushrooms are one gilled mushroom that I do recommend, but only if they are found growing on logs or dead wood, such as trees or stumps, and in cooler weather. Do not pick if in wood chips or the ground because they could be poison look alikes. They grow in shelf-like clusters, similar to lichens, and the gills run all the way down the stem. They vary in color from white, beige, yellow, and brown. If you follow the info above, you don’t have to worry about poisonous look-alikes.
I’m sure that there are many more, but these were the main ones that I could find referenced to Florida. Again, please don’t ever eat a raw foraged mushroom without checking with an expert first and always cook foraged mushrooms before eating as it makes the mushrooms more easily digestible.