Your interest in mushrooms, probably is piqued by the question, "is that something good to eat." The answer is yes, there is a whole subculture based around finding, storing, consuming and selling of mushrooms.
Here are a list of 10, of the most popular varieties of mushrooms, found in North America.
#1 Hen of the woods
Grifola frondosa, commonly known as hen-of-the-woods or maitake, is an edible mushroom that’s a favorite of mushroom hunters.
Hen-of-the-woods is a polypore — a type of fungus that has small pores covering its underside.
They grow on the bases of trees in shelf-like clusters, favoring hardwoods like oak. These clusters resemble the tail feathers of a sitting hen — hence the name “hen-of-the-woods.” Several hen-of-the-woods may grow on a single tree .
This mushroom is native to China but also grows in Japan and North America, especially the northeastern United States. It’s a perennial mushroom and often grows in the same spot for many years.
Hen-of-the-woods are grayish-brown in color, while the underside of the caps and branch-like stalk are white, though coloring can vary.
These mushrooms are most commonly found in the fall, but they can be found less frequently in the summer months as well.
Hen-of-the-woods can grow quite large. Some mushroom hunters have scored massive mushrooms weighing up to 50 pounds (about 23 kg), but most weigh 3–15 pounds.
A helpful clue when identifying hen-of-the-woods is that it does not have gills, and the underside of its cap has tiny pores, which are smallest at the edges.
Don’t eat older specimens that are orange or reddish in color, as they may be contaminated with bacteria or mold.
Hen-of-the-woods is often favored by beginner mushroom hunters. It’s distinctive and does not have many dangerous look-alikes, making it a safe option for novices.
Hen-of-the-woods are quite nutritious and particularly high in the B vitamins folate, niacin (B3), and riboflavin (B2), all of which are involved in energy metabolism and cellular growth.
This mushroom also contains powerful health-promoting compounds, including complex carbohydrates called glucans.
Glucans isolated from hen-of-the-woods have been shown to have immune-boosting properties in animal studies.
What’s more, research shows that these mushrooms may have anticancer, cholesterol-reducing, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Hen-of-the-woods have a savory, rich flavor and are delicious when added to stir-fries, sautés, grain dishes, and soups.
Popular among novice mushroom hunters, hen-of-the-woods are commonly found growing at the base of an oak tree. They are grayish-brown in color and resemble the ruffled tail feathers of a sitting hen.
#2 Oyster mushroom
The oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) is a delicious edible mushroom that resembles an oyster in shape and is commonly sought after by mushroom hunters.
Oyster mushrooms grow in forests around the world, including throughout North America.
These mushrooms grow on dead or dying hardwood trees like beech and oak trees. They can sometimes be found growing on fallen branches and dead stumps.
Oyster mushrooms decompose decaying wood and release nutrients into the soil, recycling nutrients to be used by other plants and organisms in forest ecosystems .
They can be found during the spring and fall months in the Northern United States and year-round in warmer climates.
Oyster mushrooms grow in clusters resembling shelves on dead or dying hardwood trees.
Depending on the time of year, the tops of the oyster-shaped caps of these mushrooms can range from white to brownish-gray and are typically 2–8 inches wide.
The undersides of the caps are covered with tightly spaced gills that run down the stubby, sometimes nonexistent, stem and are white or tan in color.
Oyster mushrooms can grow in large numbers, and many different clusters can be found on the same tree.
Oyster mushrooms have thick, white, mild-tasting flesh that contains a variety of nutrients. They are particularly high in B vitamins, including niacin (B3) and riboflavin (B2), as well as the minerals potassium, copper, iron, and zinc.
They also contain powerful anti-inflammatory plant compounds, including triterpenoids, glycoproteins, and lectins, which may offer some protection against chronic disease.
For example, test-tube research shows that oyster mushrooms have properties that help fight prostate, colon, and breast cancer cells. However, human studies are lacking.
Oyster mushrooms are excellent sautéed with onions and garlic as a side dish. You can also add them to soups, pastas, and meat dishes.
Oyster mushrooms can be found on dead or dying hardwood trees around the world. They have a mild taste and contain an abundance of nutrients.
#3 Chicken of the Woods
It’s a bright orange or yellow mushroom with a unique, meaty flavor.
Sulphur shelf mushrooms grow on hardwood trees in North America and Europe. They are widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States.
These mushrooms can either act as parasites on living or dying trees, or derive nutrients from dead trees, such as rotting tree stumps.
Sulphur shelf mushrooms grow on trees in shelf-like clusters. They are commonly found on large oak trees and typically harvested during the summer and fall months.
It should be noted that chicken of the woods look-alike (Laetiporus) species exist. They grow on conifer trees should be avoided, as they can cause severe allergic reactions in some people.
Sulphur shelf mushrooms are typically orange or yellow in color and grow in overlapping shelf-like clusters on hardwoods, such as oak, willow, and chestnut.
The caps of the mushroom are fan-like or semicircular in shape and typically 2–12 inches (5–30 cm) across and up to 8 inches (20 cm) deep. The sulphur shelf does not have gills, and the underside of the caps is covered with tiny pores.
This mushroom has a smooth, suede-like texture and yellow-orange color, which fades to a dull white when the mushroom is past maturity.
Many sulphur shelf mushrooms may grow on a single tree, with individual mushrooms growing heavier than 50 pounds.
Like most mushrooms, sulphur shelf mushrooms are low in calories and offer a good amount of nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Sulphur shelf mushrooms also contain plant compounds, including polysaccharides, eburicoic acid, and cinnamic acid. They have been shown to have antifungal, tumor-inhibiting, and antioxidant properties in test-tube and animal studies.
Sulphur shelf mushrooms should be eaten cooked — not raw. You can bring out their meaty texture and hearty flavor by sautéing them with butter, adding them to vegetable dishes, or mixing them into omelets.
The brightly colored sulphur shelf mushroom grows on hardwood trees like oaks and has a meaty texture and pleasing flavor when cooked. Don’t confuse it with a look-alike species that grows on conifers.
The gold-yellowish or brilliant orange color of chanterelles makes them easy to spot during a walk in the woods. Chefs love to cook with chanterelles because of their unique peppery, peachy, apricot flavor and because they are found only in the wild.
Where they grow: Chanterelles are found on the East and West coasts. At maturity, East Coast chanterelles tend to be smaller (about the size of a fist) than those on the West Coast, which can weigh up to two pounds.
When to forage: You can forage East Coast chanterelles during the summer and early fall, and West Coast chanterelles from September to February.
Habitat: Chanterelles tend to grow in small clusters among hardwoods, conifers, shrubs, and bushes. They are also often found in leaf litters of mountainous forests and among grasses and mosses..
Morels are one of America’s most popular and highly regarded mushrooms. They range in color from cream to almost black, and their honeycomb pattern makes them easy to spot.
Where they grow: Morels grow in almost every state. Exceptions are Florida and Arizona, which are too hot and arid for these mushrooms to thrive.
When to forage: You can forage morels in the early spring before trees leaf out./p>
Habitat: Morels thrive in moist areas and on specific tree types: Ash, tulip, oak, hickory, sycamore, cottonwood, maple, beech, conifers, and apples.
The prized but rare Matsutake mushroom is popular in many eastern countries. It has a thick, tall base with an undersized cap and a uniquely spicy aroma. Because they prefer to grow in very specific conditions in certain types of forests, they are not always easy to find. Recently, pine parasites and continued deforestation have greatly reduced the number of matsutakes harvested each year
#7 Giant Puffball
Puffballs are possibly the easiest mushroom to identify from this list. You’ll find them as small as a baseball and as big as a basketball. Immature varieties of other mushrooms can look like a puffball on the exterior, but you can cut them open to be sure. If the flesh is totally solid from one end to the other, then it’s a puffball. If there is any kind of hollow area, stem, or cap, then it’s something else.
When: Puffballs will grow from spring to fall. Like most mushrooms, they’re most likely to appear after a shot of rain and mild to warm temperatures. If you’ve found puffballs in spring or summer, you can find them in those same places in fall.
Where: Puffballs grow everywhere but seem to favor disturbed areas. I’ve found them in open pastures and dense forests, so there’s no telling where this fungus will show up.
Preparation: A quality puffball will have solid white flesh. If there is any hue of purple or black, either trim around those areas or toss the whole thing. Puffballs are often referred to as the breakfast mushroom because they pair so well with omelets and breakfast burritos. I use them as a complimentary mushroom on burgers or in pasta, but they can also be turned into imitation pizza crusts or mozzarella sticks.
#8 Shaggy Mane
Shaggy manes are part of the “foolproof four”—a group of wild mushrooms that are easy to identify and don’t have many inedible lookalikes. These ones have a distinct, scaly, conical cap that resembles a British barrister’s wig. Once they start to age, they’ll develop a black goo that starts at the bottom of the gills and works its way up.
When: Shaggy manes have one of the longest growing seasons of wild mushrooms, making appearances from spring to fall. They predictably appear after precipitation.
Where: This is the most likely edible mushroom to appear in your backyard. Shaggy manes love disturbed areas like bike trails, ditches, soccer fields, parks, boat ramps, game trails, etc. They’re more likely to grow in the open than dense cover.
Preparation: Shaggy manes have a very delicate flesh and shorter shelf life than other wild edibles. Cook them within hours or days after harvest and use them on steaks, on burgers, in pastas, in soups, or in stir fry.
Agaricus campestris which is renowned as the field mushroom is recognized as meadow mushroom in North America. It is associated with the cultivated button mushroom Agaricus bisporus and is a widely used gilled mushroom. The cap is white, it may have fine scales, and is 2.0 to 3.9 inches (5 to 10 centimetres) in diameter. Before development it is hemispherical in shape flattening out later. The gills begin as pink, then develop into red-brown and finally turn a dark brown, as is the spore print. The 3 to 10 centimetres (1.2 to 3.9 in) tall stipe is mainly white and bears a single thin ring. This mushroom tastes mild. The white flesh bruises somewhat reddish, as opposed to yellow in the inedible (and somewhat toxic) Agaricus xanthodermus and species like that.
Boletes are an entire class of mushrooms, and can be easily identified by their spongy bottom side as opposed to most mushrooms on this list that have gills. There are about 300 species of bolete and nearly all are edible. There are a couple that are better than others, like the king bolete, admirable bolete, and aspen bolete. Some foragers refer to them as porcini. They have a bulbous stem and large cap that are typically natural colors like tan and brown.
When: Boletes can be found spring through fall, but are most common in late summer and early fall.
Where: Boletes grow in mature forests. They’re found near a variety of trees like pine, spruce, hemlock, fir, red cedar, aspen, and birch.
Preparation: Boletes are notorious for housing creepy crawlies. It’s not uncommon to pick a bolete that is filled with worms and insects, rendering them inedible. Usually you’re able to find enough to salvage any harvest, though. Boletes are great for any cooking application, including dehydrating.
Be sure to pick up a field guide, or at least tag along with someone that knows what they are doing for your first time mushroom hunting. I enjoy mushroom hunting a lot, the thrill of finding one, can be associated with the excitement of a treasure hunt. Besides being tasty, you just might find yourself indulging in the hobby (obsession) of hunting down these little fungi, and planning entire camping adventures around them
Poisonous mushrooms to avoid
Though many wild mushrooms can be enjoyed safely, others pose a threat to your health.
Death cap (Amanita phalloides). Death caps are among the most poisonous of all mushrooms and responsible for the majority of mushroom-related deaths worldwide. They grow in many countries around the world.
Filaris. This mushroom grows in Europe, Asia, and North America and contains the same toxins as the death cap. It has a smooth, cone-like cap that is brownish in color. They are highly toxic and can be fatal if ingested.
Autumn skullcap (Galerina marginata). Also known as the “deadly Galerina,” autumn skullcaps are among the most poisonous of mushrooms. They have small, brown caps and grow on rotting wood.
Death angel (Amanita ocreata). Related to the death cap, the death angel grows along the West Coast of the United States. This mushroom is mostly white and can cause severe illness and death if eaten.
False morels (Gyromitra esculenta and Gyromitra infula). These resemble edible true morels, making them especially dangerous. Unlike true morels, they are not completely hollow when cut.
Wild Mushrooms You Can Eat
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