Not all wild mushrooms are poisonous. You can identify the ones that are safe to eat by using a field guide that can be purchased at any bookstore. David Fischer's American Mushrooms recommends that you use caution when searching for edible mushrooms and confirm the type you've found before consuming them. You should practice identifying both the edible mushroom and their poisonous lookalikes many times before you finally sample them.
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According to the Edible Wild Mushrooms website, "True Morels" include yellow or white morel (morchella esculenta), half free morel (morchella elata), and black morel (morchella semilibera). Morels may be grey, tan, brown, or yellow and their caps can be tall and pointed or short and round. Morels are found during spring in places with moist, sandy soils supporting a variety of trees. They have honeycombed, pitted caps. You may also find morels around streams and gorges. Morels should be cooked to avoid illness. Similar mushrooms that don't have cavities or are smooth, brain-like and shiny are called false morels, which can be poisonous.
The golden chanterelle (cantharellus cibarius) grows under coniferous trees and oaks from June to September. The cap is smooth, hairless and bright orange to yellow in colour. When ripe, the edge of the cap will be wavy. A golden chanterelle has firm white flesh tinged with yellow and smells fruity. The stem is not hollow and the gills (slotted cavities found underside of the cap) are thick and a bit lighter in colour than the cap and should run part way down the stem. If you've found a mushroom that does not have white flesh, has thin crowded gills, or with a brownish cap, you've probably found a poisonous lookalike.
The black trumpet (craterellus fallax) has flesh that smells similar to apricots, according to Edible Wild Mushrooms. Black trumpets grow from June to September on the ground under oak trees. The stalk is an extension of the trumpet-shaped cap. Their colour ranges from salmon pink to pale grey to black, and they have wrinkles rather than gills. Black trumpets are hollow from top to bottom.
Hen of the Woods
The hen of the woods (grifola frondosa) has a firm texture and varies in colour from white or tan to brown or grey. It grows in clusters of large, overlapping leaflike fronds. Each frond ranges from a half inch to four inches across, and the outer edges of the "caps" are darker. The underside of the caps have a white porous surface and no gills. The white stem is thick and firm and branched. Hen of the woods grows from September to late October and is found on dead or dying oak trees.
According to David Fischer's American Mushrooms, the giant puffball (langermannia gigantea) produces spores internally before releasing them in large numbers. Before these spores are made, the inside of a puffball is solid and white, with flesh that gains tiny air pockets as the mushroom ripens. A giant puffball should be at least four inches in diameter and growing on the ground. It appears round when looked at from above, and the interior is solid white flesh. You should check with an expert or use a field guide before sampling these, as some smaller puffballs can be deadly.
The hedgehog mushroom is orange, with a cap several inches wide; it grows on the ground in wooded areas. The underside of the cap is covered with downward-pointing spines that are yellowish to pale orange. The only other known mushroom to come close in description is a related species called H. umbilicatum, which is smaller but also edible. Hedgehogs can be found in late summer through early autumn.
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