Foraging for wild mushrooms is a way to save money and learn about your local ecosystem. There are thousands of varieties of mushrooms and many of them are edible. With some practice and an accurate guidebook, you’ll be able to discern what mushrooms are tasty and which ones to leave alone.
Most mushrooms in the supermarket are cultivated commercially. Growers obtain larger mushrooms by planting them in ideal conditions. The ones you see in the wild won’t be as uniform or as large. However, they may be tastier because of different nutrient content in the soil or trees they grow from.
This article is a guide to 10 types of edible mushrooms you can find in the wild in the United States. We’ll discuss what size they are, where you can find them, and some of their basic traits. If applicable, we’ll also warn of any similar mushrooms that are poisonous.
Foraging Tips for Edible Wild Mushrooms
Wild mushrooms aren’t hard to find if you know where to look. Before you step outside, there are some important rules to remember.
Don’t eat raw or dirty mushrooms
Mushrooms need to be thoroughly washed before being eaten. They should also be cooked. Washing removes dirt and contaminants that cling to the mushroom – after all, mushrooms do grow in decaying matter.
Cooking them is a crucial step in making sure mushrooms are edible. The heat from cooking denatures and deactivates enzymes and compounds that could pose a health risk to people. They make the mushroom easier to digest.
Consider a mushroom-foraging class
Foraging for wild mushrooms can pose a risk because of the potential for toxic mushrooms to show up close by to edible mushrooms. Put your mind at ease by signing up for a local foraging class.
There are plenty of options. Try researching the offerings from agriculture extension offices, local farms, foraging Facebook groups, and, if they’re in your area, university outreach programs. Mushroom foraging classes will give you the confidence to pick mushrooms on your own.
Get a guidebook
Mushroom hunting is specific and it can sometimes get pretty confusing, even for the well-trained. A mushroom field guide is crucial. It will help you identify a fungus down to the last gill. It provides a map of mushrooms’ ranges, their availability, and toxic doppelgangers.
Learn your local landscape
Mushrooms are known for ‘popping up’ after rainstorms. They grow quickly, sometimes taking just a few days or weeks to grow. That’s why knowing your local area is so important. By walking the same stretch of grass or forest every few days, it will be easier to recognize new growth.
You’ll learn what mushrooms are common in your area and which ones to avoid. Local mushroom foraging is convenient too when you only have to go outside to grab an ingredient you’ll use in dinner!
10 Common Edible Wild Mushrooms
Scientific name: Cantharellus cibarius
The Chanterelle mushroom is probably the most popular variety of edible wild mushroom. They grow throughout North America’s cooler forested regions. In the East and Midwest, hunt from June to September. On the Pacific coast, hunt from fall into spring.
Three basic traits give a chanterelle away. First, it stands out against soil and leaf litter because it is bright yellow-orange. Second, it has a distinct fruity smell.
Even beginning foragers can learn to recognize the scent of citrus and apricots that wafts from a chanterelle mushroom. Third, the mushroom is reliant on well-drained soil and hardwood forests.
Scientific name: Morchella esculenta, Morchella elata
Morels are one of the most well-known types of wild mushrooms. They have easy-to-recognize shapes, are hollow, and are famous in upscale dining.
To identify a morel, you need to look first at the honeycomb-like shape of its cap. It is striated and ridged, usually with a dark interior. They are most common in temperate regions of the United States.
Environments where morels thrive include places where forest fires passed through, around dying and dead trees, limestone, deciduous trees, and ash trees. Unlike other types of mushrooms, morels appear in the spring. They are one of the first varieties of mushrooms to sprout.
3. Lion’s Mane
Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus
Lion’s mane is a mushroom that grows right out of the side of tree trunks. It’s most common on beech trees and other hardwood deciduous trees. It can be hard to get to them since they grow anywhere from a few feet to over 35 feet up the sides of a tree trunk.
This mushroom gets its name by way of its fluffy white tendrils. Observers thought they looked similar to the fur of a lion’s mane, and the moniker stuck.
4. Sulfur Shelf
Scientific name: Laetiporus sulphureus
Sulfur shelves are also known as “chicken mushrooms.” This humorous moniker stems from the mushroom’s flavor. Many people think it tastes like chicken.
Foragers are enthusiastic about the sulfur shelf because it has a great flavor when cooked. A single mushroom can weigh several pounds!
There’s one cardinal rule with foraging for this mushroom: never harvest a sulfur shelf if it’s growing on a coniferous tree, alive or dead. The best way to tell if a tree is coniferous is to check whether it sheds its leaves in the winter. If it doesn’t, leave the mushroom alone.
5. Oyster Mushroom
Scientific name: Pleurotus ostreatus
The oyster mushroom gets its name from its oyster-like caps. They grow in clumps on dead or dying deciduous trees. This is a great mushroom to get started foraging because they’re a variety commonly grown for sale in grocery stores.
Find these mushrooms in the autumn in temperate regions of the United States. They live in forested areas like the northeast, Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Northwest.
When eating oyster mushrooms, eat only the cap. The stems are unpalatable and should not be eaten.
6. Horn of Plenty
Scientific name: Craterellus cornucopioides
The Horn of Plenty mushroom may look foreboding, but don’t be fooled by its dark color. Its english and latin name are in reference to a cornucopia, a symbol of abundance. It gets its name from its trumpet-like shape.
Horn of Plenty grows in temperate forests with distinct seasons. The northeastern United States is a prime location for these mushrooms.
They have a distinct preference for mixed oak-beech forests. Look for them during the late summer and early fall along the ground and at the base of trees.
7. Giant Puffball Mushroom
Scientific name: Calvatia gigantea
Even if you’re just learning to identify wild mushrooms, you’ll probably recognize the Giant Puffball. This large white mushroom is common in the temperate parts of the United States. They stand out from other mushrooms because they have very short stalks and almost always grow in exposed places like fields and meadows.
If you have the luck to come across a giant puffball, mushroom harvesting enthusiasts recommend it sauteed with garlic. Don’t harvest a puffball after the interior flesh becomes airy and full of pockets. It should be over 4 inches in diameter. Don’t forget – it’s only a puffball when there are no gills, cap, or stalk.
8. Hen of the Woods
Scientific name: Grifola frondosa
Hen of the woods mushrooms are high-producing edible wild mushrooms. They grow abundantly in the eastern United States and are especially common around oak trees and oak-dominated forests. Some harvests can be over 10 pounds!
Tell them apart from other mushrooms because they don’t have any gills at all, they are never orange, and they are most common in late summer and early fall. The normal color of the Hen of the Woods is brown, but some varieties also come in white.
Depending on where you are in the United States, this mushroom could also be called a sheepshead or a maitake. They are all the same edible species.
9. Shaggy Mane Mushroom
Scientific name: Coprinus comatus
Shaggy Mane mushrooms could be described as small umbrellas in various stages of being opened or closed. Three hallmarks of a good harvesting candidate are white scales on the cap, a size of at least 4 inches tall, and the presence of (densely packed) gills.
When collecting shaggy mane mushrooms, be aware of the area they grow in. Mushrooms have the ability to grow in chemically contaminated zones. The chemicals in the soil and water will enter the mushroom and make it toxic for human consumption.
10. Sweet Tooth Mushroom
Scientific name: Hydnum repandum
Sweet tooth mushrooms are easy to recognize and simple to pick. They grow independently on the ground in forests.
It’s also a good mushroom for beginning foragers because it grows in the same location for multiple years. They are adapted to coniferous forests more than deciduous ones.
In the United States, look for this mushroom in the eastern forests. They have a symbiotic relationship with the root fungi of Eastern Hemlock trees, which are more common in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions. They also range northwards into southeastern Canada and Prince Edward Island.