As the traditional fungus season approaches I've given some thought as to whether I should offer advice to others. It's tricky though as I'll try to explain.
I was out yesterday and came across 3 common, tasty types of fungus:
Marasmius oreades - Fair Ring Champignon
Agaricus campestris - Field Mushroom
Calvatia gigantia - Giant Puffball
To me these three are easily distinguished from other fungi and can be eaten without any worry at all. But, I considered, if you knew nothing about fungi at all, would they be so easy to distinguish from lookalikes?
Well, in the case of the Giant Puffball no problem. The Field Mushroom? Mmm, there are very many similar types and most of them edible. Some better than others. What about the Fairy Ring Champignon? Well, sitting in the grass I saw a couple of, to the untrained eye at least, similar species. I wouldn't normally pay attention to these so wouldn't consider how they might cause confusion and that got me thinking.
The fungus in my hand on the left is probably The Ivory Mushroom, otherwise known as the Sweating Mushroom. So there's a clue as to why you might want to avoid it. In the other picture is the similarly sized and shaped Fairy Ring fungus (on my knee). Seen growing these 2 could be confused. One tastes good, the other, well look again at it's name. The differences though are obvious when you know what to look for. I'm holding both fungi and have sliced them to reveal the flesh and the way the gills and the stems relate. The Ivory Mushroom's gills run down the stem slightly whereas the fairy Ring fungus' are free from the stem. Other differences are smell - Fairy Ring: almonds/Ivory: mealy and the Fairy Ring has a characteristic fibrous stem that bends and doesn't break.
This sounds very complicated and I wouldn't be surprised if I've put people off altogether. But it really is obvious when you get some experience. My tips are:
- start with the easy ones - Giant Puffball!
- Go out with someone who knows their stuff - enlist for a foray organised by a mycologist (Warwickshire Fungus group)
- Get a good field guide
- Get several good field guides! (let's have a look, I have 6 guides)
- Try to learn about fungi. Learn why. Naming without any underlying understanding won't get you very far.
- Take fungi home to examine in more detail - take spore prints, smell them, note what they were growing on, slice them and enjoy the fun of learning.
- Don't be scared - you will only come to harm by ingesting poisonous fungi. It's usually ok to taste and this can be helpful in the ID process. Don't swallow though…. on reflection, maybe just smell them?
I'd be happy to go out with some of you when the season really gets going. I'll post something up.
Oh, and here's the Fairy Ring Champignon. You'll find it in grassland in rings (there's a surprise). Don't eat the stem - too fibrous and the maggots love them so check before you take them home and get all disappointed - I prefer to be the first to eat the fungi, others are not so fussy. This fungus is also very good at surviving dry periods as it reconstitutes itself when watered. Thus it is good for drying. Add to soups and stews.