Mushrooms are amazing ingredients to use in the kitchen and they are a solid *need to buy* item on my weekly shoping list. Sometimes when we go for a long walk in the Pentlands or even around Water of Leith, I can see wild mushrooms but I never know whether they are edible or not. For a number of years now, learning more about foraging was on my to do list *yep, right after buying mushrooms* and seems that this fall we finally made it.
What is foraging?
Foraging is going ourdoors and searching for wild food resources that are in the nature. If you have even gone berry picking in the forest or perhaps searching for some natural herbs such as rosemary or thyme, that is foraging. It goes back several hundreds of years, when humans had to actually do a lot of walking and moving to collect something to eat. I was very interested in mushrooms foraging because I was not able to differentiate the edible varieties. I also wanted to learn more about where they are usually found!
My mushroom – foraging experience
The best option for us was to pay someone with actual knowledge about mushrooms and nature to walk with us in the forest and teach us the basics. When we found the right foraging instructor, we went for a 4 hour walk in Colinton Dell, which is accesible by public transport from the city centre.
Our day started by learning some basic rules: don’t put anything in your mouth until 100% sure it is edible, mushrooms are not poisonous if you ony touch them or smell them and mind your surroundings when looking for mushrooms, to avoid any undesirable falls.
What I learnt about wild mushrooms
There is one super posisonous mushroom that is called “deathcap” (Amanita phalloides). This mushroom is quite a villain because if you eat just 30grs of it, it will kill you by destroying your liver. There is no medicine, antidote or cure against its toxins. The worst thing is that this mushroom is really difficult to identify, as it mirrors some of the shapes and colours of the edible ones – therefore it is really important that you don’t eat anything before asking a mycologist, which is an expert in mushrooms.
Also, just because a mushroom is edible (e.g. it won´t kill you), it does not mean that its taste is going to be good. Some mushrooms might not be poisonous, but they are not good for cooking because of their flavour or rubbery texture.
Usually mushrooms with white gills are poisonous, so if you look under the cap and you see white, just throw the mushroom away. The same goes for mushroms that have rings or little skirts around the stem as well as a bulbous base, as these are common features of some poisonus families. Also, trust your instincts around the cap colour: red is not a good one to eat, it is better to stick to usual white, brown or beige caps.
Do not mix edible and not edible mushrooms in your foraging basket, you might get confused or forget about them. If you find a mushroom that you know it is not edible, because you can clearly see some of the signs, it is better to let them go immediately.
The golden and safest beginners rule is to go with an expert, so you can double check on each mushroom you find, to make sure that you are going to be ok. Also, having some mycology books at home might help, as you can see the pictures and make sure that it is the same mushroom. There are some interesting websites out there too.
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