Clitocybe odora

Many people are interested in fungi because they are edible. But everyone also knows that wild fungi can be both delicious and deadly poisonous. Unfortunately, there is no simple way of saying what is edible and what is poisonous. The best way of sensibly eating wild fungi is to follow the guidelines below and to stick to a small number of easily recognisable, but tasty, species. Many poisonings occur when people are experimenting with odd species. There has also been some concern about the concentrations of metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper and lead in wild fungi. MAFF (the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) organised a survey of wild fungi. The conclusions of this survey were that the consumption of wild fungi in normal quantities did not pose any significant health risk.

Topics on this page are: How to avoid mushroom poisoning, The Best Edible Species, Poisonous Species and Books on Edible and Poisonous Fungi

The Northern Ireland Fungus Group cannot accept responsibility or liability for a poisoning incident based on the contents of this page. Each case of cooking for the pot is an unique event and the identification of specimens is the responsibility is the person doing the cooking. Different individuals may also react to species that are described in the literature as "edible". It is thus prudent to be careful and follow the guidelines below.

How to avoid mushroom poisoning (adapted from Shelley Evans' guidelines in "Guides for the Amateur Mycologist - No.4 Guide for the Kitchen Collector: Preservation and Cooking of Fungi. BMS, 1994)

1. Unfamiliar Species: Check and re-check your identification, especially looking out for a similar poisonous species. If still in doubt, ask an expert or throw it away.

2. Examine each specimen. Always check each specimen in case a different species has got in amongst your collection of edible ones.

3. Keep your collections separate. Do not mix edible and non-edible species in a collecting tray if you are collecting for the pot. It is a good idea if collecting for the pot to only collect edible species and not other species for identification purposes.

4. Check the spore print. A simple operation, leaving a cap on some paper and covering for an hour or so. This will help check your identification.

5. Do not eat raw wild fungi. Some wild fungi are poisonous if eaten raw, e.g. Wood Blewit, Lepista nuda, the Blusher, Amanita rubescens or species of Helvella. Always cook your collections.

6. Retain an uncooked specimen. This is a very sensible idea. Keep one example of what you have eaten in the fridge. In case, you do poison yourself, this will help others identify what you have eaten and therefore know how to treat you. Different species contain different toxins, therefore treatments will vary.

7. Only eat good specimens. Many poisoning cases occur when edible species are eaten in poor condition. Only eat good specimens!

8. Keep your collections in the fridge. This keeps your specimens in good condition.

9. Experimenting. If experimenting and eating a type for the first time, only eat a small amount. Different people react to fungi in different ways and it is safer to test your own body out gently!

10. Alcohol. Avoid drinking alcohol with species you haven't eaten before and with certain species, e.g. the Common Ink Cap, Coprinus atramentarius.

11. Fear. Do not feed wild mushrooms to people who don't want to eat them. Fear can make people sick.

12. Susceptible people. Do not serve wild fungi to young children, old or sick people. Their resistance may be lower.

13. Greed. Do not large quantities of wild mushrooms in one sitting. This alone can make you sick.

The Best Edible Species

Stick to these species and you should not go too far wrong. However, remember that different people react in different ways and you must be careful. Eating a species on this list does not necessarily mean that you will not react to it. Do not identify any of these species from these photographs alone. Always use a good field guide to make your identification.

Note that these photographs are thumbnails. If you click on them, the full photograph will be displayed.

  • The Horse Mushroom, Agaricus arvensis Be careful of confusing it with the Yellow Stainer, Agaricus xanthoderma. This one smells strongly of iodoform or ink, not aniseed and its flesh (when cut) stains strongly yellow. The Horse Mushroom will only go yellow on the outside.

  • The Field Mushroom, Agaricus campestris

  • Jew's Ear, Hirneola auricula-judae

  • Bay Bolete, Boletus badius

  • Cep or Penny Bun, Boletus edulis

  • St George's Mushroom, Calocybe gambosum

  • Shaggy Ink Cap, Coprinus comatus Check against the Common Ink Cap, Coprinus atramentarius, which can cause reactions if eaten with alcohol.

  • Hedgehog Fungus, Hydnum repandum

  • Lactarius deliciosus

  • Sulphur Polypore, Laetiporus sulphureus

  • Giant Puffball, Calvatia (Langermannia) gigantea

  • Common Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum

  • Parasol Mushroom, Macrolepiota procera Check against the Shaggy Parasol, Macrolepiota rhacodes,the flesh of which goes orange when cut. This species can cause gastric upsets.

  • Morels, Morchella spp. (if you can find them here)

  • Oyster Fungus, Pleurotus ostreatus

  • Larch Bolete, Suillus grevellei

Poisonous Species

These are a few of the most poisonous species. They can kill you, taking about 3-6 days to do so if you do not get treated very early.

  • The Death Cap, Amanita phalloides. This species causes most of the fatal poisoning cases. First of all, there are breathing problems and dizziness. Then comes severe vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration. After three days, you begin to feel better, but actually your liver is being destroyed. Death usually happens at least 6 days after consumption. The Death Cap is not uncommon under oak. Know this species if you are eating wild fungi!!

  • The Destroying Angel, Amanita virosa. This causes the same problems as the Death Cap. There is one old record for it from Belvoir Park in the 1930's, but it was refound in 1999 in Drum Manor in Tyrone.

  • The Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria. This is not as poisonous as the last two and has been used by shamans in Siberia in small doses to induce trances. People with heart problems however could be killed by it. It is very common in Northern Ireland and should be treated with caution.

  • Cortinarius rubellus - deadly!!

These are only a few of the poisonous fungi. There are more and for this reason, as previously stated, do not experiment with wild fungi unless you are very sure about your identification.

Books or Websites on Edible and Poisonous Fungi

There are many books on this subject. To keep it brief, these ones can be recommended:

Antonio Carluccio: "A Passion for Mushrooms" Pavilion Books

Patricia Taylor: Patricia's Mushroom Cookery: Vegetarian Dishes. Available from MycoNova@btinternet.com

Roger Phillips: Wild Food. Pan Books

British Mycological Society: Guides for the Amateur Mycologist, No.4: Guide for the Kitchen Collector - Preservation and Cooking of Fungi by Dave Shorten. Available from the British Mycological Society.

On the web,  just do a search on a species, e.g. searching on "Morel" or "Cep" brings up lots of recipes!

If you're really into edible wild fungi, why not buy a log on which the Oyster Mushroom or Shitake will fruit for three years in your own garden? Why not buy a sapling already "infected" with Lactarius deliciosus or the Black Truffle? Or buy some Shaggy Ink Cap, Parasol Mushroom or Field Mushroom in a patch that you put into your lawn for autumn fruiting? See Mycologue for further details. 

Home - Our Group - Forays - BMS Foray 2000 - Mycology in NI - Atlas of NI Fungi - Interesting Finds - Edible Fungi - Database Stats - Fungal Focus - Fungal News - Fascinating Facts  - Ectomycorrhiza - Waxcaps - Herbarium - Photo Gallery - Recording Tips - Recording Form - Links - Joining Us - Winter Tree ID - Downloads - Search the site - NIFG Discussion Forum