Before I start I should say that this post is not intended to teach you how to pick and identify edible mushrooms—that is way too big a lesson to teach in one blog post. What I do want to do is point folks in the direction of strategies for learning how to pick edible mushrooms so you can start to build up your knowledge and skills, and eventually enjoy edible harvests of your own. As Kati noted in her post on safe foraging, safety should always come first.
I should also note that, as yet, I have not picked and eaten any wild mushrooms. That is not because I don't know any—I believe I have found a number of choice edible species in my backyard including chanterelles, edible boletes, and black trumpets - but because I will not allow myself to eat them. Following the advice of mushroom expert Michael Kuo (see also my review of Kuo's excellent book 100 Edible Mushrooms), I am not allowing myself to eat anything I pick for at least two years—instead building up my knowledge and identification skills. Be warned though—this strategy may make certain you won't get poisoned, but you might just die of frustration as you watch delicious chanterelles get gobbled up by creepy crawlies.
Another strategy which Kuo suggests, and which I highly recommend, is familiarizing yourself firstly with the most poisonous species that are out there. While many mushrooms may cause gastric upsets and other unpleasant symptoms—there are surprisingly few that are outright deadly or debilitating. Destroying Angels and Death Caps are among the most worrysome, but pick up a good field guide or Kuo's book to read through all the most dangerous ones. And even when you think you know EXACTLY how to identify these suckers, you should still avoid anything that could even possibly be confused with them—as a general rule the amanita family should be avoided like the plague.
And finally—find others who know what they are doing. Take walks with friends who have been mushrooming, join a mushrooming club, or you can even search for guided tours or weekend retreats. Not only will you learn more about fungi, but you'll meet a fascinating bunch of people in the process. I recently had a friend come out and confirm that my backyard was indeed full of chanterelles—now call me a stickler, but I still stuck with my commitment not to eat them. My friend was braver. He went home with a bag full, he's still alive, and by all accounts the harvest was delicious. But I'm not bitter...
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