Fresh wild game is a wonderful thing: lean, healthy, free-range, and enormously rewarding to procure – whether that’s by stalking deer, shooting pigeons, or fishing. Although absolutely vital in a survival situation, your pursuit of wild food must not stop at meat.
In fact, the more food you can pick from the ground without the need to pursue it and expend too much energy getting it, the better. Consider fungi: they are nutritious, easy to collect, and delicious. However, you must approach them with care as some of them are deadly and eating the wrong ones will only worsen your situation.
The late summer months leading into Autumn provide some of the best mushroom foraging opportunities of the whole year, but you should be able to find something all year round.
The Field Mushroom
Field Mushrooms are relatively common and are the wild equivalent of the cultivated mushrooms you would buy at a grocery store. You do need to be a little careful with them though as they can be easily confused with the yellow stainer which will give you an upset stomach or worse.
The Shaggy Parasol
The orange staining gives these fungi away as shaggy parasol mushrooms, which are another delicious edible species; so sometimes the staining of fungi when cut, bruised, or picked can be a very useful identifying feature.
Fairy Ring Champignon
Even some really tiny mushrooms can make a great meal if collected in sufficient quantities. Fairy ring champignons have a delicious nutty flavor and are a beautiful ingredient in stews as well as very tasty on their own. Due to their relatively thin and tough stem, they are unlikely to be affected by the fly larvae that can plague the larger, fleshier mushrooms.
Select the Freshest Ones!
I’m not normally squeamish about the odd bug in my food but when the whole cap of one of the mushrooms you were planning to have for breakfast is crawling with little fly larvae, it puts you off. To get around that, you should always select the youngest specimens you find. If the caps of the mushrooms you find are still closed, they tend to have fewer larvae in them; but do be aware that fungi can be harder to identify when their caps are still closed.
Additionally, it is considered good foraging practice to give fungi a chance to spread their spores before you collect them – partly so you can guarantee yourself some to gather the following year, but also so you don’t deplete the population of that species in the area.
Even in a survival situation, you can do a bit of fine dining. This mushroom is referred to by a few different names – most commonly “cep” or “porcini” – and is one of the most sought-after culinary mushrooms there is. They can grow to a very large size and are absolutely delicious as well as easy to identify, so there is no need to be concerned about mistaking this for a poisonous species.
The Giant Puffball
There is no mistaking this for anything else. There are a number of other puffball species but none that grow as large as the giant puffball – and most are edible anyway so as long as there is no discernible stem and the flesh is white, you will be safe. These can grow larger than basketballs, so there is nothing to confuse them with. They are delicious as well as massive, so a single one can feed a whole family.
The one thing you might confuse a puffball with is a pig skin poison puffball, but they are black in the center rather than the pure white of the giant puffball.
Winter and Spring Mushrooms:
Late Summer and Autumn offer us the most variety of fungi, but winter can offer us oyster mushrooms…
And the slightly sinister-looking but very pleasant scarlet elf cups…
And late spring offers us the St. Georges mushroom which can often be gathered in very large quantities.
If you fancy picking a few mushrooms, be very aware of the dangers of picking the wrong ones. Wrong identification can have deadly consequences, and you will need to purchase a good field guide and be willing to put in plenty of time and effort to become confident with your fungi ID so you can safely gather edible species.
The safest way to proceed is to never eat something unless you are 100% sure what it is. I know that sounds obvious but I am regularly terrified by the number of people I hear saying “I think it’s a …” or “I’m fairly sure it’s not a…” before going ahead and eating. All you have to do is miss one tiny identifying feature that would have told you the difference between two similar species – one of which is delicious and the other deadly.
This next mushroom is one that everyone is probably familiar with or has at least seen before. These are shaggy ink caps and will very quickly deteriorate from beautiful fresh mushrooms to black inky sludge. I often use them to make excellent mushroom soup.
Shaggy Ink Caps
Make sure you don’t confuse these with the poisonous magpie ink cap:
Be aware of the difference between shaggy ink caps and common ink caps, which are grey rather than white and lack the “shagginess.” Common ink caps are perfectly edible but become poisonous when eaten with alcohol.
So that’s a brief overview of some of the delicious wild mushrooms that might help you out in a survival situation or during your recreational practice of bushcraft and outdoor skills. I must re-iterate the danger of eating mushrooms without being 100% sure what they are.
People die every year from accidental poisoning as a result of eating the wrong fungi; so please enjoy this brief introduction but if you want to actually do some serious fungi foraging, get a couple of decent books and some training before you risk it. The rewards will be great if you put in the time and effort, but the dangers of doing it without that experience are even greater.