The first rule of eating wild mushrooms is: DO NOT EAT THEM unless you are 100% sure of the mushroom you are eating. This is not always easy because some mushrooms that are choice edibles look incredibly similar to other mushrooms which will end your life. Sometimes a microscope is required to know the differences. We will not be dealing with any mushrooms in this category. I always hunt mushrooms that I know don’t have any dangerous look-alikes or ,if they do, I know positively how to tell the look-alikes from the real thing. Its these easy to identify mushrooms I’ll be talking about in this article.
One of my absolute favorite common mushrooms is the coral mushroom. These have no look-alikes and they are incredibly delicious. There is a great deal of variety with coral mushrooms but the basic shape resembles an ocean coral, hence the name. They come in colors from white to red to purple and orange. If you find any mushroom that resembles coral you can be sure without a doubt that it is edible and probably delicious. I have had a couple corals that were a little bitter. They were purple with short branches and looked like a cauliflower in shape. This is rare however and most are incredible. Not only do they have a wonderful taste, they also have a great texture.
Blewits are another common mushroom we have been finding in abundance and they are delicious. They are a purple gilled mushroom that are pretty easy to identify but there are other purple gilled mushrooms to watch out for so be sure to do your research. I like to eat blewits with pasta and of course butter. Unfortunately they don’t retain their blue color when cooked.
Chanterelles are a wonderful tasting common mushroom and I’m always so glad when I walk up on some. They are trumpet shaped mushrooms with great texture and flavor. There are many varieties but I find yellow trumpets more than any other. I also find orange ones called Cinnabars, quite often. There are a couple lookalikes to the yellow and orange chanterelles. One is the Jack-O-Lantern, which is poisonous, and the other is the false chanterelle, which is edible. You can tell them apart pretty easily. Chanterelles have false gills. Jack-O-Lanterns have true gills. And, False Chanterelles have hollow stems.
Puffballs are perhaps the easiest common mushroom to identify. They are generally round and white and their solid flesh is white all the way through if they are not too ripe to be eaten. I consider puffballs to be the cheap generic mushroom. They have mild flavor if they have any flavor at all and their texture is unpleasant at best. They can be cooked in a way to make them taste pretty good if you bread them and deep fry them, but they need a lot of seasoning. They are bland without it, and slimy. Perhaps I’m too critical of them but I have tasted heaven and had to come back to earth and eat puffballs. Once you’ve tasted chanterelles, morels, corals, and oysters, coming back to puffballs is kind of a letdown. However, don’t let that discourage you from giving them a try. Everyone has different preferences.
There are a few things to watch out for when picking puffballs. Some young very poisonous mushrooms in their button phase look like puffballs. Cutting the puffball in half will ensure you don’t have one of these buttons. Also as puffballs ripen they become inedible. Again, cutting them in half will let you know. If they are white and solid they are good to eat. If they are dark or not solid you can discard them.
This is just a small list of a common mushrooms and it’s definitely NOT a guide to identification. Be sure to do your research before eating mushrooms. There is NO room for error. If you make a mistake you may not live to tell about it. Some mushrooms are incredibly poisonous and have no antidote. If you think you have eaten a bad mushroom go to the emergency room immediately and take a sample of the mushroom with you if possible.
A good way to learn about wild mushrooms is at your local nature centers. They have helped me a lot. Also invest in good books and study them. There may be some type of mycological society in your city. Also, Facebook has several good groups with people who are experts or at least they think they are. Never trust any one source. Always get second and third opinions. When your life is on the line it is YOUR responsibility to be 100% sure. You won’t be able to sue anybody when you’re dead.