A Beginners Guide To Survival In A Mushroom ID Group

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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 many 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 have been learning, I have 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! It’s even 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 have begun to exchange fear for knowledge, ignorance for wisdom, and I’d like to share an incredible 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 from scrolling past a post and it’s infinitely better than the usual facebook crap!
I also got myself a good Book, there is no substitute for that! 
I have found mushrooms groups to be a curiously different species from plant groups in many ways. 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 generously 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 fantastically educational free resource.
Glistening inkcaps

1. Know The Group Rules

There are different kinds of groups with different rules. It is a wise to know which group you are on 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, I’m not gonna lie. I know a “discussion” group with a strict policy against discussion, but hey, that’s the rules, you don’t have to stay!

Most of the best groups have specific rules for good reasons, even a matter of life or death (Yes, really!).

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 won’t name the many excellent groups, they are easy to find but I will mention one particular group here, firstly because it is an incredibly 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 suspected poisoning for humans or pets. (this invaluable resource is used and recommended by doctors and vets)
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; Don’t!
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 Just Say "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 your journey 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 more than happy to offer their time to help anyone interested in learning.
But ultimately YOU are responsible for your own education! “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 the answer is 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 own research.
Sometimes you may get a definite, correct answer BUT you may also get a definite incorrect answer; I have been gobsmacked at the confidence of wildly inaccurate identifications I have seen. It is the internet after all, so it should be used as a tool to help rather than a definitive source of answers (though you’ll 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, ideally 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 can reveal important details, you may also notice colour changes when the flesh is bruised, include this information.
Habitat. 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 you found the mushroom. Use full names not abbreviations (Americans take note!).
Smell. Some mushrooms have distinct smells which can add to identification but it can vary between individuals. 
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 feel comfortable to do so.
Spore Print. Spore prints can be useful in some cases, 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!
But if there are other comments, READ THEM! Chances are, your answer is already there, LIKE IT. Interestingly, in my experience, mushroom groups tend to be better at using this system than plant groups, and at 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 sift through 27 repetitions of the same (sometimes incorrect) answer.

5. Don't Appear Certain Unless You Are 100% Certain.

If you think you know, say that! Don’t just state a species that you think it might be as though you know. Phrase your answer appropriately, i.e. I think it might be x or possibly y or try z. 
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 answer if you’re unsure 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. 
Better to be doubtfully right than confidently wrong!

6. Use Scientific (Binomial) Names

It’s a daunting prospect to try to 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 important 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 in different habitat, 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 this, 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 courgette a false cucumber?!
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 Cannot Identify.

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 that, 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.)

Also, Never Say: There Are Old Mushroom Hunters And Bold Mushroom Hunters But There Are No Old Bold Mushroom Hunters. (They Hate That Too. Especially The Old Bold Ones!)

As above, jokes get old, and on a mushroom forum, they’ve all been heard before, many times. 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, no matter how much knowledge and experience you gain in your lifetime, you will die without knowing all there is to know (which is wonderful!).
So take every opportunity to learn from others and from 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 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!

Happy Foraging Foodies!

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