A Beginner’s Guide To Survival In A Mushroom Group

The Foraging Foodie logo
Despite my life-long interest in foraging plants, I had always steered clear of mushrooms. The reason? Like many people, I was affected by Mycophobia (fear of mushrooms). 
 
We are all hyper-aware that eating the wrong mushrooms can kill us, and it’s certainly important to be conscious of that but the same is true of plants and it doesn’t stop me from enjoying edible plants!  
 
I suppose my newly acquired taste for mushrooms (I hated them as a child!) began to cultivate in me a new fear; a fear that I was missing out on Free Food!
Amanita muscaria
amethyst deceiver

Identifying Wild Mushrooms

Knowing almost nothing of the estimated 15,000 species of mushrooms and fungi in the UK, I decided I could choose three easily identifiable edible mushrooms and learn all about them and their potential look-alikes. 
An achievable goal that would delectably enhance my wild food larder!
 
So throughout 2019 I’ve been learning, I’ve already consumed 3 different species. Now, as Mushroom season begins, I am truly amazed at how much I have learned. It’s such an enjoyable pursuit that I’m way beyond the three edible species plan, I’m hungry for Mycology!
 

An inevitable result of our cultural fear of wild mushrooms is that misinformation and myth persist… 

For example, did you know that it’s safe to touch any wild mushroom? I didn’t! Indeed, it’s safe to nibble (and spit out!) even the deadliest, of mushroom, offering valuable identification clues to the more advanced mushroomers.
 
Over the last 9 months I’ve begun to exchange fear for knowledge, ignorance for wisdom, and I’d like to share a great resource that has helped me enormously…
 

Facebook Mushroom Groups!

I already knew the value of plant identification groups, so one of the first things I did was to start joining as many mushroom groups as I could find. It’s amazing how much information you can absorb, even just scrolling past a post and it’s infinitely better than the usual facebook crap!
 
I also got myself a good Book, there’s no substitute for that! 
I find mushrooms groups to be curiously different from plant groups, they seem somewhat more meticulous and organised to me.
 
Perhaps because plants are less of a specialist subject? Meaning more people are involved with plants, even if it’s not a particular passion.
Certainly there is a notable passion running through the mushroom groups, and if you approach them the right way they are generally eager to share knowledge.
 
If you want to make yourself unpopular in a plant ID group, request an I.D with the question “is this a plant or a weed?” [grrr!]
During my observations, I have noted a few ways to avoid pissing off mycologists and mushroom lovers in a similar way so I’m sharing some of them here so you can gain the maximum benefit from this free educational resource.
Glistening inkcaps

1. Know The Group Rules

There are different groups with different rules. It is a wise to know which group you are in and which rules apply. Failure to do so may result in anything from a mild ticking off to instant removal.

Some groups have ridiculous rules, it’s true, I know a “discussion” group with a strict policy against discussion, but hey, that’s their rules, you don’t have to join.

Most of the good groups have specific rules for sensible reasons, keeping things on topic and useful.

You can find groups for discussion, identification, recipes, specific types of fungi; There seems to be a group for every aspect of mushroom exploration.

I’ll add some of my favourite groups below but I will mention one particular group here, firstly because it’s a very useful public service, and secondly because it is the ultimate example of why rules matter (plus if you can keep your fingers still and your eyes open, it’s an awe-inspiring place to learn).
 
Poisons Help; Emergency Identification For Mushrooms & Plants has a panel of over 100 Mycologists and Botanists from around the world, who freely volunteer their time and expertise to help with emergency identification in cases of suspected poison consumption in humans and animals. 
 
Commenting on active cases is forbidden, as are non emergency I.D. requests. To flout these rules is akin to making prank calls to the emergency services!
 
This group is particularly useful for education as it allows a rare insight into the mind of a mycologist and a deeper understanding of the identification process.
If you join this group be very mindful of the rules and show due respect by not getting in the way (prepare to be amazed!).

2. Don't Start A Post With "Can I Eat This?"

If, like me, your interest in mushrooms stems from a desire to increase your wild food larder, it might seem a reasonable question, and it is but chances are you will get a negative response. 
 
This could be off-putting, so let me explain why and what to ask instead, so you can start off on the right foot….
Learning to identify mushrooms takes time and effort, when you post a picture to a group, you have the advantage of reaching people with lot’s of experience and knowledge, most of whom are happy to help anyone interested in learning.
 
But ultimately YOU are responsible for your own health, “Can I Eat This?” is a yes or no question, which by default, implies a lack of interest in the more important question of What Is This?
 
And if an internet stranger answers ‘yes’, are you just going to eat it? No other questions asked?!
Of course not. People are happy to help those wanting to learn. So, ask the right questions and do your research.
Sometimes you may get a correct answer but you may also get a whole load of wild guesses! It is the internet after all, so it should be used as a source of guidance rather than an edibility checker (though you’ll soon learn to recognise the experts).
blackening waxcap

3. Learn How To Take A Photo (And Other Information To Include)

When taking a photograph for identification purposes, it’s useful to know what to include. For Mushrooms, clear photographs of the following features will help with identification:
Cap. The Top of the mushroom.
Underside. The bottom of the mushroom, including where the stem connects.
Cross section. Cutting the mushroom clean in half down the centre (including stem) can reveal important details, you may also notice colour changes when the flesh is bruised.
Habitat and Substrate. It’s useful to note where the mushroom is growing, i.e. on or near a dead/living tree, what kind of trees/plants are nearby? Try to take a photo in situ (as you found it).
Location. Some groups are international, you should always include which part of the world (or country) you found the mushroom. (Don’t use abbreviations as some Americans do…)
 
Smell. Some mushrooms have distinct smells which can help with identification. 
Taste. Mushrooms are safe to touch and even taste by nibbling a small piece and spitting it out. This applies to even the deadliest species. The taste can offer useful clues (only do this if you are comfortable and take care to spit out all the pieces).
Spore Print. Spore prints can be useful to beginners with some species, as well as quite fun to do! 😃
 
There are even groups specifically for bad photo’s, if that’s all you have, but getting into the right habits will really help on the learning journey

4. Read The Comments Before Commenting

I know it’s exciting when you actually know the answer to an I.D. request! I totally understand the temptation to ignore the previous 30 comments and just add your answer, but don’t. Unless you are the first person to comment, in which case, enjoy your moment!
 
If there are other comments, READ THEM! Chances are, your answer has been given, LIKE IT. Interestingly, in my experience, mushroom groups tend to be better at using this system than plant groups, and using the comment reactions, i.e. ‘sad face’ for incorrect answer, ‘like’ for agreement.
 
This way, any useful information is easier to find, rather than having to scroll through many repetitions of the same (often incorrect) answer.

5. Don't Appear Certain Unless You Actually Are Certain.

When commenting on an identification request, choose your words mindfully…
If you have an idea, phrase it as such. Many group members are experts and can confidently identify, it helps to be able to differentiate between a confident answer and a wild guess. 
Even just a question mark on the end can help distinguish between a helpful guess and an expert opinion.
 
That doesn’t mean don’t comment at all though, incorrect guesses can add real value to the discussion in my experience and you will rarely be shamed for having a guess (you may get the odd arsehole but that’s life). More likely, it will offer a learning opportunity for yourself and others. 

6. Use Scientific (Binomial) Names

It’s a daunting prospect to try and learn all the scientific names of Mushrooms or Plants, but I’ll let you into a secret: you don’t have to know them to use them! In fact, I’ve found the best way to learn them, is simply by using them (google/copy/paste). I started doing this on I.D. groups as I began to understand the importance of using them, and gradually they’ve become more familiar.
 
Even if you have no interest in learning them, it’s better to use them in I.D. discussions. I’ll give you an example:
I saw a picture of a Mushroom posted on an international I.D. group which I recognised as Gyromitra esculenta, commonly known in the UK as ‘False Morel’ (more on that in a moment) which is generally considered poisonous!
I was concerned to see a number of comments identifying it as a ‘Beefsteak mushroom’, because the mushroom commonly known as ‘Beefsteak’, here in the UK, is Fistulina hepatica, and is a known edible.
As you can imagine, this caused quite a heated debate, during which, I did some googling and discovered that the same common name was used for both of these mushrooms in different parts of the world.
Although they are entirely different in appearance and grow on different substrates, it was a good demonstration of the potential risks of using common names. Personally, I like using both. Common names are easier to remember but scientific names include useful information.

7. Never Call Anything A False Morel!

Ok, I know I just did that, and chances are your mushroom book will have a mushroom listed as False Morel called Gyromitra esculenta. The reason being that it’s generally considered the closest toxic look-alike to popular edible Morels (Morchella sp).
Which might seem helpful to those of us looking for an easy free lunch but there are many enthusiasts who value the G. esculenta, it is even eaten, with very careful preparation, in some parts of the world. (There is even a group dedicated to “demystifying” them!) 
 
I suppose there is a certain disregard and ignorance to refer to something by that which it is not… Like calling a Lemon a ‘False Orange’. 
Using scientific names is the best way to avoid this but if you decide to use the word false as a mushroom reference, as many do, I’m just warning you that you may rub some gills the wrong way…
Morchella exculenta
A False False Morel?

8. Don't Offer Advice On A Mushroom You Haven't Identified

I often see someone asking for ID on a mushroom only for some bright spark to offer “DON’T EAT THAT!” or worse “Eat it“.
This is basically a reversal of number 2, we all know there are stupid people in the world but I don’t think treating everyone like an idiot is particularly constructive.
If you think you know what it is, say so, but if you don’t, shut up and learn.

9. Never Say: All Mushrooms Are Edible... Once. (They Hate That.)

I know, it’s funny the first time you hear it and you feel a bit clever the first time you get to say it but like most jokes it gets significantly less funny with repetition.
Plus for people who have devoted time and energy to learning about the complicated intricacies of edibility and toxicity in Mushrooms, I can imagine this to be an irritating and unamusing trivialisation.
It’s also incorrect, in case that needs to be said… some of the deadliest mushrooms kill you so slowly, you could probably eat several more before you actually die. Others are too hard to physically chew and swallow.   

Also, Never Say: "There Are Old Mushroom Hunters And Bold Mushroom Hunters But There Are No Old Bold Mushroom Hunters." (They don't like that either, especially the old bold ones...)

Jokes get old, and on a mushroom forum, they’ve been said and heard many times before. Go ahead, you might get a couple of laughs but don’t say I didn’t warn you… 😉
 
Parasol Mushroom

10. Always Be Willing To Learn.

You will never know all there is to know. No matter how much time you spend learning, or how much knowledge and experience you gain in your lifetime, you’ll die without knowing all there is to know (which is wonderful!).
So take every opportunity to learn from others and their experience. 
 
Ten seemed like a good number to end on but I could easily add more; Some people get irate about soaking mushrooms. Picking a huge amount of something you haven’t identified is likely to provoke harsh disapproval from a few, while others will be more angered by the implied judgement of such disapproval… 
Personally, I think Tread Lightly is a good mantra for foraging or interacting with nature.
 
Ultimately, we all have our own unique experiences, just because somebody tells you a particular mushroom is delicious, it doesn’t mean it will be delicious to you!
Use the guidance of others to help you find your own path, Be willing to offer your own guidance. It’s a beautiful Journey, Enjoy it!

It's A Kind Of Magic...

I believe there is magic in mushrooms. And no, I don’t mean “magic mushrooms“! 
When you step closely into nature, you become aware of realms beyond our limited human comprehension and you may experience a divine sort of connection.
 
If you have ever hunted for mushrooms of any kind, you’re probably already aware of a sort of shifting of the senses that can occur… perhaps there is some tedious scientific explanation for this phenomenon but I enjoy the mystery.
 
I recently saw a post on a mushroom group from a person who had begun learning to identify mushrooms so he could try using psychoactive mushrooms to treat his depression. But instead the joy and motivation he gained from learning and the time spent interacting with nature became the very cure he was seeking. 
I’ve heard of many other similar experiences, including my own. 
 
I believe all humans can benefit from reconnecting with our natural world, through Fungi, Plants, Insects, Birds, whatever sparks your interest.
Through these connections we heal ourselves and learn to love our planet.
And through that love and healing we are compelled to nurture… Then there is Hope. 
 
So grab a book, a basket and a camera and I’ll see you on the Mushroom Groups!

My Favourite Mushroom Forums

  • Mushroom Spotters UK – “A group devoted to discussion and pictures of fungi. A nice escape from the world…”
  • UK Mushroom hunters – “UK Mushroom Hunters is a facebook based forum for those of us who like to go foraging for edible mushrooms.”
  • British Mycological Society (BMS) – “The British Mycological Society (BMS) was founded in 1896 and has some 1200 members from many countries around the world, reflecting its international status. Its main objective is to promote mycology in all its aspects.”

(Check for local/county groups, using the search function.) 
UK groups are great for seeing what people are picking in different parts of the country and learning to recognise fungi that I’m likely to come across, but there are also loads of great International groups worth joining: 

  • Fungus Identification – “Fungus Identification is an experimental group which seeks to explore the possibility of managing the identifications of all fungi, including those which do not produce fruitbodies, and thus evade the loose confines of the term “Mushroom”, with some new approaches.”
  • The Mushroom Identification Group “This group is for the identification of mushrooms. We post pictures, help one another learn mushroom ID, and hopefully we can identify most of the mushrooms that are posted.”
  • Mushroom CSI – “A group dedicated to identifying mushrooms/fungi from extremely bad photos, and/or in very poor condition.” 
  • Medicinal Mushrooms – “This is a group for discussing all types of medicinal mushrooms.”
  • Mushroom Photography – “This is a place to display your *best* photography with fungi as the subject… any fungi will suffice.”
  • Wild Mushroom Recipes – “Sharing, asking questions about, and commenting on *recipes* for *wild* mushrooms.”
  • Advanced Mushroom Identification & Discussion – “More advanced Identification than the novice. Amateur and Professional mycologists welcome, with greater than beginner, to mid-level to advanced expert level of wild identifiers welcome. Feel free to join as a beginner/ novice but please, sit back and watch.”

And a few more specialist groups for those interested…

If you know any good groups that I haven’t listed here, please leave me a comment below so I can add them. 

There are also plenty of foraging groups which include wild mushrooms, I’ve listed some here: 

Happy Foraging Foodies!

Feel Free To Share

Leave a Reply

Rosebay willowherb

Rosebay Willowherb

Chamerion angustifolium Synonyms: Epilobium angustifolium, Chamaenerion angustifolium. Rosebay Willowherb is a striking plant, growing up to 5 feet tall and displaying a vibrant display of

Read More »