Mushroom hunting

Mushroom hunting
Mushroom picking - Franciszek Kostrzewski

Mushroom hunting, mushrooming, mushroom picking, and similar terms describe the activity of gathering mushrooms in the wild, typically for eating. This is popular in most of Europe, including the Nordic, Baltic, and Slavic countries and the Mediterranean Basin,[citation needed] as well as in Australia, Japan, Korea, Canada, and the northwestern, Midwestern and Appalachian United States.


Identifying mushrooms

Morphological characteristics of the caps of mushroom, such as those illustrated in the above chart, are essential for correct mushroom identification.

A large number of mushroom species are favored for eating by mushroom hunters. The king bolete is a popular delicacy. Sulphur shelf (also known as Chicken Mushroom or Chicken of the Woods) is often gathered because it occurs in bulk, recurs year after year, is easily identified, and has a wide variety of culinary uses. Lactarius deliciosus (Pine Mushrooms), Chanterelles, Morels, Oyster Mushrooms, Puffballs and Polypores are among the most popular types of mushrooms to gather, most of these being relatively hard to misidentify by anyone with practice. Only experts, however, collect from dangerous groups, such as Amanita, which include some of the most toxic mushrooms in existence.

Naturally, there are abundant mushroom guides, i.e. field guides on mushrooms available, but especially in the Slavic countries the ability to identify and prepare edible mushrooms is usually passed down through generations.

Identification is not the only element of mushroom hunting that takes practice — knowing where and when to search does as well. Most mushroom species require very specific conditions—some only grow at the base of a certain type of tree, for example. Finding a desired species that is known to grow in a certain region can be a challenge.

Safety issues

Clitocybe rivulosa is an example of a deadly mushroom species sometimes misidentified as an edible species.

Some mushrooms are deadly or extremely hazardous when consumed; see List of deadly fungi. Others, while not deadly, can nevertheless cause permanent organ damage. The literature strongly advises that you:[citation needed]

  • Only eat mushrooms you have positively identified yourself.
  • Identify mushrooms a second time during preparation and cook them properly, unless you know that the species can be eaten raw.
  • Don't combine mushrooms types.
  • Retain a sample of any mushroom you are not well-experienced with for analysis in case of poisoning.
  • Inform yourself about deadly mushrooms that are look-alikes of edible ones. "Deadly twins" differ regionally, so take into account regional variation.
  • Don't gather mushrooms that are difficult to identify, unless you have expert knowledge. This applies especially to the mushrooms of the genus Amanita or Cortinarius and "little brown mushrooms."
  • Consume only a small amount the first time you try a certain species. People react differently to different mushrooms, and all mushroom species can cause an adverse reaction in a few individuals, even the common champignon.[1]

"Little brown mushrooms"

Inocybe lacera is a typical little brown mushroom, and is easily identifiable only by distinctive microscopic features.

"Little brown mushroom" (or LBM) refers to any of a large number of small, dull-coloured agaric species, with few macromorphological uniquely distinguishing characteristics.[2] As a result, LBMs typically range from difficult to impossible for mushroom hunters to identify. Experienced mushroomers may discern more subtle identifying traits that help narrow the mushroom down to a particular genus or group of species, but exact identification of LBMs often requires close examination of microscopic characteristics plus a certain degree of familiarity or specialization in that particular group.

For mycologists, LBMs are the equivalent of LGBs ("little grey birds") and DYCs ("damned yellow composite") that are the bane of ornithologists and botanists, respectively.

"Big white mushroom" (or BWM) is also sometimes used to describe groups of difficult to identify larger and paler agarics, many of which are in the genus Clitocybe.


Psilocybe semilanceata is hunted for its psychotropic properties.

The Amanita muscaria's psychotropic properties have been traditionally used by shamans in Siberia in their rituals. However, its use for such purposes today is very rare, despite the mushroom's abundance. Instead, the Psilocybe semilanceata, being the only psilocybin-containing mushroom common in Slavic countries, is sought after for its hallucinogenic properties, the latter being more desirable with fewer side effects than those of A. muscaria. The use of P. semilanceata is however significantly hindered by its small size, requiring larger quantities and being hard to spot. Other Psilocybe species are abundant in the American south and west, as well as Mexico, where they have been used by traditional shamans for centuries. In the west, one can often find mushroom pickers in cow pastures in a stereotypical stoop looking in the grass for Psilocybes. This can be quite dangerous, as many species grow in pastures and amateurs often misidentify Psilocybes.

  • Amanita muscaria (Мухомор Красный [Mukhomor Krasniy] - Red Fly-Killer; Fly Agaric, Toadstool)
  • Psilocybe semilanceata (Псилоциба Сосочковидная [Psilotsiba Sosochkovidnaya] - Nipple-Like Psylocybe; Liberty Cap)

Regional importance

Locals are selling mushrooms and berries collected in the Dainava Forest, Lithuania
  • In the United States mushroom picking is particularly popular in the Appalachian areas of the United States and on the west coast from the San Francisco Bay Area northward along the Pacific Coast, in northern California, Oregon and Washington, and in many other regions.[citation needed]
  • British enthusiasts today enjoy an extended average picking season of 75 days compared to just 33 in the 1950s.[3]
  • In Slavic countries, such as Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic also in Lithuania, mushroom picking is a common family activity. After a heavy rain during mushroom season whole families often venture into the nearest forest, picking bucketfuls of mushrooms, which are cooked and eaten for dinner upon return or alternatively dried or marinated for later consumption.
  • Commercial exploitation of wild mushrooms in Canada has become a multi-million dollar industry.[4]

Iberian Peninsula

Mushrooms collected in Aragon, Spain

In the Iberian Peninsula mushroom hunting is a popular activity in many regions including Castile and Leon, the Basque Country, and Catalonia, where a mushroom hunter is called boletaire. Spanish mushroom hunters often keep picking location secret to prevent others from pillaging the area for monetary gain. Pickers can be competitive, with some listening in on unknowing subjects ("incautos") to glean information about picking areas. Such behaviour is not considered inappropriate among Spaniards, since it is part of the innate sense of competition that permeates Spanish society.

The social dynamic of mushroom picking can be particularly complex and more dedicated pickers have established unspoken rules and etiquette to the activity. Much like secret fishing spots, mushroom picking areas (which vary from season to season) may only be shared with close friends, and informed pickers are expected to remain discreet. Becoming the first successful picker of the season is a goal of any social picker and successful pickers can gain a high standing within their social group. In rural Spain, mushroom picking is a common conversation point in local bars. Families or friends choose mushroom hunting as the focus for weekend trips, which (as well as providing part of a meal) often serves as a bonding activity.

Occasionally, mushroom gatherers may devise an elaborate prank on a novice gatherer. The joke played on the unknowing subject (another "incauto") may vary from getting them lost in the woods to making them believe a wolf or other dangerous animal is stalking them. Like any other anecdote-rich story, the prank is retold countless times in the local bars, providing Spaniards with even more enjoyment. Eventually, as Winter sets in and mushrooms cease to sprout, Spaniards forget about mushroom picking until the next season.


The popularity of mushroom picking in some parts of the world has led to mushroom festivals. The festivals are usually between September and October, depending on the mushrooms available in a particular region. Festivals in North America include:

  • Aerie Resort on Vancouver Island—Great Fall Mushroom Hunt
  • Bamfield, Vancouver Island—Bamfield Mushroom festival [1]
  • Boyne City, Michigan—Annual National Morel Mushroom Festival [2]
  • Washington's Long Beach Peninsula—Wild Mushroom Celebration
  • Lake Quinault Lodge in Washington's Olympic National Forest—Quinault Rain Forest Mushroom Festival
  • Mendocino County (North of San Francisco)--Mushroom Festival
  • Madisonville, Texas—Mushroom Festival [3]
  • Telluride, Colorado—Fungifest [4]
  • Kennett Square, Pennsylvania—Mushroom Festival
  • Girdwood, Alaska—Fungus Fair
  • Muscoda, Wisconsin-Morel Mushroom Festival
  • Eugene, Oregon--Mushroom Festival


Nuclear fallout from the Chernobyl disaster is an important issue concerning mushroom picking in Europe. Due to the wide spread of their mycelium, mushrooms tend to accumulate more radioactive caesium-137 than surrounding soil and other organisms. Special state agencies (in Belarus it is Bellesrad) monitor and analyze the degree of radionuclide accumulation in various wild species of plants and animals. In particular, Bellesrad claims that свинушка (Paxillus ssp.), масленок (Suillus ssp.), моховик (Xerocomus ssp.), and горькушка (Lactarius rufus) are the worst ones in this respect. The safest one is oпёнок oсенний (Armillaria mellea). See also: Russian joke.

This is not only an issue in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia; the fallout also reached western Europe, and until recently the German government discouraged people gathering certain mushrooms.

Guidelines for mushroom picking

Poisonous mushrooms commonly confused for edible ones

Good mushroom guidebooks call attention to similarities between species, especially if an edible species is similar to or commonly confused with one that is potentially harmful.


  1. False chanterelles (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) can look like real chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) to the inexperienced eye. The latter do not have sharp gills, but rather blunt veins on the underside. A mistake here would, however, not be very serious, since false chanterelles are considered edible, just not tasty. Mild symptoms have reported from consuming them.[5] The Jack O'Lantern Mushroom, on the other hand, is often mistaken for a chanterelle, and it is potently toxic.
  2. True morels are distinguished from false morels (Gyromitra spp. and Verpa spp.). The impostors have caps attached at the top of the stalk, while true morels have a honeycombed cap and a single, continuous hollow chamber within.
  3. Immature Chlorophyllum molybdites can be confused with edible Agaricus mushrooms.
  4. Immature puffballs are generally edible, but care must be taken to avoid species such as Scleroderma citrinum and immature Amanitas. These can be identified by cutting a puffball in half and looking for a dark reticulated gleba or the articulated, nonhomogenous structures of a gilled mushroom, respectively.
  5. Conocybe filaris, and some Galerina species can look like, and grow next to, Psilocybe. Psilocybe is not deadly but contains the alkaloids psilocybin and psilocin, hence it is often sought for use as a recreational psychedelic drug. Galerina and Conocybe Filaris on the other hand are highly poisonous.

Eating poisonous species

There are treatments to reduce or eliminate the toxicity of certain (but not all) poisonous species to the point where they may be edible.[5] For instance, false morels are deadly poisonous when eaten raw or incorrectly prepared, but their toxins can be reduced by a proper method of parboiling. Prepared in this way, this mushroom is widely used and considered a delicacy in the Scandinavian countries, although recent research suggests that there may still be long-term health consequences from eating it.[6]

Commonly gathered mushrooms

The commonly gathered species, grouped by their order taxa, are as follows: Mushroom species mentioned in each group are listed at the end of the paragraph using the following convention: Latin name (Russian name [transliteration of Russian name] - literal translation of name; common English names, if any).


While the family of Amanitas should be approached with extreme caution, as it contains the lethal Amanita phalloides and Amanita virosa, those confident in their skills often pick the Amanita rubescens, which is highly prized in Europe and to a much lesser extent in Russia, accounted by some not to superior taste, but to its relation to the Amanita caesarea, which is not found in Russia, but was considered a delicacy worthy of the emperor in Ancient Rome.

  • Amanita rubescens (Мухомор Серо-Розовый [Mukhomor Sero-Rozoviy] - Grey-Pink Fly-Killer; European blusher)
  • Amanita caesarea (Цезарский Гриб [Tsezarskiy Grib] - Caesar's Mushroom)
  • Coprinus comatus (Shaggy Ink Cap) decomposes into ink, and hence must be prepared soon after picking and only young specimens should be collected. While being a general mushroom hunting guideline, the avoidance of specimens growing in areas with high pollution is especially important with this family, as it is a very effective pollutant absorber.
  • Agaricus bisporus also known as the table or button mushroom. Sales of this mushroom in 1996 reached $209 million in Canada.[7] Another well known mushroom known as the portobello is a large brown strain of this fungus.


A collection of Boletus edulis

This order is often viewed as the order of "noble" mushrooms, containing few poisonous species, identifiable with relative ease, and having superior palatability. The most notable species is the Boletus edulis, the "mushroom king", a beautiful, almost legendary, relatively rare mushroom, edible in almost any (even raw) form, and commonly considered the best-tasting mushroom. (Note: Do not confuse the Russian name, literally "white mushroom", with Champignons, often known in English as "white mushrooms".)

  • Boletus edulis (Белый Гриб [Beliy Grib] - White Mushroom; Borowik szlachetny, Porcino, King Bolete, Cep, Steinpilz)

The Leccinum family includes two well-known mushroom species named after the trees they can usually be found next to. The Leccinum aurantiacum (as well as the L. versipelle), found under aspen trees, and the Leccinum scabrum (as well as the L. holopus), found under birch trees. The secondary mentioned species, are significantly different in cap colour only. Both types are very sought after, being highly palatable and beautiful, while more common than the B. edulis.

  • Leccinum aurantiacum (Подосиновик Красный [Podosinovik Krasniy] - Red Under-Aspen; Red-capped scaber stalk)
  • Leccinum scabrum (Подберёзовик Обыкновенный [Podberyozovik Obiknovenniy] - Common Under-Birch; Birch bolete)

The Suillus family, characterised by its slimy cap, is another prized mushroom, the Suillus luteus and Suillus granulatus being its most common varieties, and while abundant in some parts of Eurasia, is a rare occurrence in others. It is easy to identify and very palatable.

  • Suillus (Маслёнок [Maslyonok] - Buttery Mushroom; The Slippery Jack, Butter Mushroom)

The Xerocomus genus is generally considered a less desirable (though mostly edible) mushroom group, due to common abundant mould growth on their caps, which can make them poisonous. The Xerocomus badius, however is an exception, being moderately sought after, especially in Europe. Note that some scientific classifications now consider species in the Xerocomus genus as members of Boletus.

  • Xerocomus (Моховик [Mokhovik] - Moss Mushroom; Mossiness Mushroom)
  • Xerocomus badius (Польский Гриб [Polskiy Grib] - Polish Mushroom)


The Cantharellus cibarius, a common and popular mushroom, especially in Europe, is a choice edible and unique mushroom. It is very rarely infested by worms or larvae, has a unique appearance, and when rotting, the decomposed parts are easily distinguishable and separable from those that are edible.

  • Cantharellus cibarius (Лисичка Обыкновенная [Lisichka Obiknovennaya] - Common Little-Fox; Chanterelle, Yellow Chanterelle)


The Gyromitra esculenta is considered poisonous, but can be consumed if dried and stored for over a year, according to Slavic literature, and can be used to supplement or replace morel (see Morchellaceae below) mushrooms, while Western literature claims that even the fumes of the mushroom are dangerous. It is similar to morels both in appearance and palatability.

  • Gyromitra esculenta (Строчок Обыкновенный [Strochok Obiknovenniy] - No Translation; False Morel, Beefsteak morel, Lorchel)


The Macrolepiota genus, usually the Macrolepiota procera, and, to a lesser extent, the M. rhacodes are highly regarded, especially in Europe, being very palatable and very large, with specimens of M. procera as high as 1 metre being reported.

  • Macrolepiota procera (Зонтик Пёстрый [Zontik Pyostriy] - Colourful Umbrella; The Parasol Mushroom)


A basket of morels

The Morel, Morchella esculenta is highly prized in Western Europe, India and North America. It is significantly less prized in Slavic countries where, like the Gyromitra esculenta, is considered marginally edible with mediocre palatability. Boiling the mushroom and discarding the water is often recommended.

  • Morchella esculenta (Сморчок Обыкновенный [Smorchok Obiknovenniy] - Common Shrunken Mushroom; Morel, Yellow morel)


Members of the genus Lactarius, as the name suggests, lactate a milky liquid when wounded and are often scoffed upon by Western literature. The Lactarius deliciosus is however regarded as one of the most palatable mushrooms in Slavic culture, comparable to the Boletus edulis. Also considered as similarly palatable are the species Lactarius necator and particularly Lactarius resimus. Thermal treatment may however be necessary in some cases. Slightly less appealing due to its bitter taste is the Lactarius pubescens.

  • Lactarius deliciosus (Рыжик [Rizhik] - Redcap; Saffron Milk-Cap)
  • Lactarius resimus (Груздь Настоящий [Gruzd Nastoyashiy] - True Milk-Cap; Pepper Cap)
  • Lactarius necator (Груздь Чёрный [Gruzd Chyorniy] - Black Milk-Cap; Black Pepper Cap)
  • Lactarius pubescens (Волнушка Белая [Volnushka Belaya] - White Wavy Mushroom; Wooly Milk-Cap)

There is a Russian proverb: "If you call yourself gruzd, then get into the basket," which encourages people who boast about themselves too much to actually do some work. Gruzd means a valuable mushroom.


The Russula family includes over 750 species and is one of the most common and abundant mushrooms in Eurasia. Their cap colours include red, brown, yellow, blue and green and can be easily spotted. The Russula vesca species, one of the many red-capped varieties, is one of the most common, is reasonably palatable and can be eaten raw. The edible Russulas have a mild taste, compared to many inedible/poisonous species that have a strong hot or bitter taste. The Russula emetica (The Sickener) is known to cause gastrointestinal upset and has a very hot taste when a small bit is placed on the tongue. Due to their abundance they are however often regarded as an inferior mushroom for hunting. Note that mushrooms should not be eaten raw without proper cleaning and removal of all insects and decay.

  • Russula vesca (Сыроежка Пищевая (Siroyezhka Pischevaya) - Raw-Edible Mushroom; Russula)


  • Armillaria (Опёнок Осенний [Opyonok Osenniy] - Autumn Stump-Grower; The Honey Mushroom, Shoestring Rot). The genus Armillaria, with the popular species A. gallica and A. mellea, being so similar that they are rarely differentiated, are palatable, highly abundant mushrooms. Generally found on decaying tree stumps, they grow in very large quantities and are easy to spot and identify, arguably reducing the fun and challenge in mushroom hunting.
  • Pleurotus ostreatus (Вешенка Устричная [Veshenka Ustrichnaya] - Oyster-Like Hanging Mushroom; The Oyster Mushroom). It is the most commonly picked tree-dwelling mushroom and is often also artificially cultivated for sale in grocery stores. This sturdy mushroom can be quite palatable when young. Growing these mushrooms at home can be a profitable enterprise and some Russians engage in the activity.
Matsutake, the highly-sought-after pine mushroom, found in coniferous forests in Hiroshima in autumn
  • Tricholoma matsutake - = syn. T. nauseosum, the rare red pine mushroom that has a very fine aroma. Its undeniable fragrance is both sweet and spicy. They grow under trees and are usually concealed under fallen leaves and/or the duff layer. It forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots of a limited number of tree species. In Japan it is most commonly associated with Japanese Red Pine. However in the Pacific Northwest it is found in coniferous forests of Douglas fir, Noble fir, sugar pine, and Ponderosa pine. Further south, it is also associated with hardwoods, namely Tanoak and Madrone forests. The Pacific Northwest and other similar temperate regions along the Pacific Rim also hold great habitat producing these and other quality wild mushrooms. In 1999, N. Bergius and E. Danell reported that Swedish (Tricholoma nauseosum) and Japanese matsutake (T. matsutake) are the same species. The report aroused the import from Northern Europe to Japan because of the comparable flavor and taste. Matsutake are difficult to find and are therefore very expensive. Moreover, domestic productions of Matsutake in Japan have been sharply reduced over the last fifty years due to a pine nematode Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, and it has influenced the price a great deal. The annual harvest of Matsutake in Japan has since further decreased. The price for Matsutake in the Japanese market is highly dependent on quality, availability and origin. The Japanese Matsutake at the beginning of the season, which is the highest grade, can go up to $2000 per kilogram, while the average value for imported Matsutake from China, Europe, and the United States is only about $90 per kilogram.[8]
  • The Tricholoma magnivelare is a very popular and commonly cultivated mushroom in North America. British Columbia exports large quantities of this mushroom overseas to Asia where it is in high demand.[9]

See also

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  1. ^ Marco HK Ho, David J Hill (2006) "White button mushroom food hypersensitivity in a child," Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 42 (9) , 555–556
  2. ^ IMA Glossary: LBM
  3. ^ Gange, A.C., E.G. Gange, T.H. Sparks & L. Boddy. (2007) "Rapid and recent changes in fungal fruiting patterns" Science 317: 71.
  4. ^ R.J. Bandoni
  5. ^ Arora, David. Mushrooms Demystified. Ten Speed Press, 1986
  6. ^ Michael W. Beug, Marilyn Shaw, and Kenneth W. Cochran. Thirty plus Years of Mushroom Poisoning: Summary of the Approximately 2,000 Reports in the NAMA Case Registry.
  7. ^ Hans E. Gruen
  8. ^ Finding and Preparing The Elusive Matsutake Mushroom
  9. ^ Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for September 2000

Further reading

External links

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