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Picking Wild Mushrooms - for beginners

With Autumn most certainly in place the same recommended forage comes up repeatedly, go find some mushrooms!

It’s a topic I’ve avoided until now and I’ll admit that it’s because I’ve always been a bit of a chicken when it comes to foraging for fungi; the fear of chowing down on the wrong kind and ending up in A&E or worse has certainly kept me away (and for good reason I’d say!) but really there’s no more reason to fear fungi as there is to fear any other plant in nature, as is often the case the point is to change your fear to knowledge and mutual respect.


Yes some of nature is poisonous, some very much so, but if you take the time to properly identify and follow the rule of ‘if in doubt, leave it out’ then you’re sure to live to forage another day - being cautious isn’t something to be ashamed of, rather it’s a healthy tool of survival!


As with plants there are no reliable poems to be learnt for identification so you WILL need to put in the time and effort to get to know each species well in their own right, good and bad. I know, likely not what you want to hear in this age of hacks and instant gratification! If anything though, you will likely find that it only serves to enrich your experience of the outdoors when you begin to recognise old friends wherever you look, and that’s always nice! :)


That being said, and despite my relative comfort in foraging for fruit, nuts, and plants, I’m still very much in the beginner camp on this topic which means there’s not many mushrooms on our menu as yet!

A gift of freshly foraged field mushrooms!A gift of freshly foraged field mushrooms!

We were recently gifted a good haul of Field Mushrooms from an old timer that knows what he’s looking for and it was only with slight trepidation that we cooked them up. Field Mushrooms are very much like the familiar Button Mushrooms albeit larger and with a richer flavour. 

The nervousness I felt however, prompted me to finally learn about them as surely it’s better to be able to properly identify something yourself and therefore confirm what you have is safe to eat instead of blindly relying on someone else to have made the correct identification? ;) I just can't believe it's taken me so long to properly begin...

Over the years I’ve learnt some of the more obvious species out of interest (even if you have no intention of eating them fungi are a fascinating organism!) but now my motivation has really grown. Each time we step out on for a walk in nature I instinctively search the undergrowth for new faces, fungi or plants alike, and take a mental note, and preferably a photo too, of what I see for later identification if I can’t be sure on the spot. Believe me I’m in no hurry to pick new faces, I’d much rather take things slow and get to know them better until they become the friends I’d recognise anywhere.

Still you don't have to wait for me to become an expert before you catch up yourself - for any of you in a beginner stage of bravery like us, here are some links from the folks in the know to some of the easiest to identify edible mushrooms to be found in the UK countryside: (US site but species that are also found in UK)


Poisonous mushrooms you DON’T want to mess around with: 


If you've got the mushrooms and you're really here for a recipe, perhaps you'll like the simple pate recipe by the experts at River Cottage> 


My go-to cooking technique that Ryan enjoys with an English brekkie or Bacon sandwich is to keep it simple: give them a good clean of any mud and debris, roughly slice, and gently heat them in a frying pan (with a lid on to keep the moisture in) with a knob of butter and a little salt and pepper until they're tender and swimming in a rich mushroom 'liquor'. 


TIPS! The real thing can vary massively from what is pictured in your identification book so don’t just go by appearance alone, invest in a good identification book, read the descriptions thoroughly, check the gill colour, and look for each and every sign to be present as important details can fall off or be washed away in heavy rain. The size and age of the specimen can be extremely important as well, some young examples of one species can look very similar to the older stage of another. Better to go home empty handed than to pick the wrong kind in haste!


You might also like these top 3 mushroom foraging identification guides available on Amazon to bring along on your next Autumn foray:



What do think of gathering wild mushrooms? Do you pick them yourself or eye them suspiciously? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!


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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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