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Edible & Poisonous Mushrooms

by Barbara Bassett, Naturalist, Jefferson City, Mo.

EACH SPRING AND FALL, when the weather is warm and rainy and the biggest mushroom flushes of the year occur, my desk at the conservation department overflows with wild mushrooms to be identified.

Most of the people who bring in these mushrooms want to make sure that the tasty-looking morsels they have collected are in fact edible and won't send them racing to the emergency room a few hours after supper. Often they are interested in collecting other wild mushrooms for the table but are aware of the dangers and don't know quite where to start.

I certainly appreciate their caution. Because a few wild mushrooms are deadly and many more are mildly poisonous, mushroom hunting is not a hobby for the careless or uninformed. On the other hand, neither is it necessarily the death-defying feat that many people imagine. There are a number of good edible mushrooms that are easy to recognize and hard to confuse with anything dangerously poisonous. (Poisonous mushrooms are often referred to as "toadstools," but this is a folk name that has no precise meaning. In this article, they will be called simply poisonous mushrooms.)

The purpose of this article is twofold: to help you identify a number of safe, edible wild mushrooms while avoiding mushroom poisoning, and to introduce you to the gentle sport of mushroom hunting, which among other things is a fine excuse to walk in the woods. It is divided into three sections: Edible Mushrooms, Poisonous Mushrooms and More About Mushrooms. Please read all three sections before you start collecting.

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