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Wild foraging can be intimidating to the beginner and with good reason. It requires attention to detail and a surety of knowledge. Not all Edible Wild Mushrooms are overly complicated to identify, though. Morel and Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are two types that are relatively simple for the beginner forager and are also two of the tastiest.
In a hurry? Here are our recommended Books on Wild Mushroom Foraging
Beginning Foraging for Wild Mushrooms
Precautions should always be taken when starting out foraging wild mushrooms. Some look-a-likes can cause stomach upset and death or just taste horribly bad. If you’ve never foraged before, find a local club or organization that does forays or lectures to expand your knowledge. Make friends with some foragers who can verify your ID’s and ensure you are correct before you chow down. Never, ever, eat a mushroom that you cannot 100% positively ID!
Morel Mushrooms (Morchella sp.)
The epitome of prized mushrooms, the morel mushroom is delicious, often hard to find, and impossible to get any other way than foraged. It cannot be grown commercially (yet!). They look like elongated pock-marked honeycomb hats on a smooth, white stem. Morels are yellow or black and there are 16 different types. All 16 are edible so you don’t need to worry about identifying the specific variety, which is a good thing because it is almost impossible to do.
Morels in the eastern US grow under ash, apple, pear, elm, and oak trees. They sprout from the ground around the base of the tree and like to blend in so be sure to look closely and carefully. In the Southeast, there is a variety that grows only under tulip trees.
On the west coast of the US, there is an abundance of morels that grow in areas that have recently experienced fires. These are appropriately called burn-site morels. Look for areas that have had fires in the previous year and you will likely find morels.
Morels are one of the first mushrooms to emerge in Spring, which is another reason they are so valued. For many, they are the harbinger to Spring, a welcome to warmer weather and the start of the foraging season.
There is one look-a-like to the morel which can cause trouble. Once you see it in person, though, or see them side-by-side, it becomes quite obvious which is which. The false morel (Gyromitra sp.) has an oddly shaped cap on top of a white stem but it lacks the honeycomb appearance and looks more like an oddly lobed brain. Another identifying characteristic is the true morel is hollow inside, from cap to stem, while the false morel is not hollow.
Morels have an earthy, rich flavor and delicate texture.
Check out a few helpful mushroom foraging books on Amazon.
Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sp.)
A mushroom that looks like no other, when you first see this specimen, you may rethink the whole fungi world. It doesn’t have gills, a stem, or a defined cap and it is often stunningly bright yellow and orange. This is a shelf mushroom and grows on dead or dying logs and trees. The multitudes of overlapping, stacked orange shelves often stretch up and down a tree or along the length of a fallen log; a sight to behold! Chicken of the Woods has no look-a-like.
There are four main species of Chicken of the Woods in the US. They are all yellow and orange although they vary in the vividness of coloration and which trees they grow on. All Chicken of the Woods are edible. They prefer hardwoods but can be found growing on a variety of trees. Precaution is suggested for types growing on hemlock trees as some people report stomach upset from these but it doesn’t affect everyone. It is best to try a little first before eating a bunch. These mushrooms can be found throughout the Summer and Fall, with different varieties fruiting at different times.
Check out a few helpful mushroom foraging books.
The texture of this mushroom is dense, meaty and often compared to that of chicken, hence its’ name. The taste is similar as well and is one of the best substitutes to meat.
If you’re interested in foraging wild mushrooms, start with these two and work on your familiarity before you take on others. It is always best to start slowly and build up your knowledge as you go. The variety in flavor, texture, size, and shape of edible mushrooms is truly fascinating and will add a whole new dimension to your meatless meals.