Amethyst Deceiver (edible)

Amethyst Deceiver (edible)

Richard identifying Oyster Mushrooms

The New Forest rang with the words “Can I eat it?” as I and my fellow foragers hunted amongst the fallen leaves for treasures. This weekend I attended a very exciting course on Mushrooms run by Hedgerow Harvest with James and David as our knowledgeable guides. Mushrooms is a much more complex subject than other foraged foods because you will come across poisonous ones that can kill such as the Death Cap, Destroying Angel and the Funeral Bell – the names say it all! I now fully understand that mushrooms are merely the fruit, a bit like apples on a tree while the bulk of the organism is underground. Mushrooms are the reproductive organs and that is one of the reasons they are so hard to identify as their form is simply a matter of function and so they all look similar. As John Wight says in his book, ‘Mushrooms‘, “Imagine you were given the task of identifying mammals by their reproductive organs alone, and you will see the problem. (Don’t imagine it for too long!)”

James and David taught us that you don’t flick through a book to find the mushroom photo that looks most similar to the specimen you have found but you work through a list of questions (a key) about the colour of the spores, the type of gills, the presence or absence of a ring and volva and where it grows. This will help to narrow it down to the type of mushroom and whether it is edible, poisonous or inedible but not fatal. As a rule of thumb ignore all LBJs (Little Brown Jobs). Mushrooms are certainly an intriguing subject.

We were then released into the woods for a four-hour tramp and to make our discoveries. I was delighted to find the beautiful mushroom called the Amethyst Deceiver is edible and perfect in salads. Amongst other edible finds there were Hedgehog Mushrooms, Autumn Chanterelles and Oyster Mushrooms. We also found a Cep which is in the top league of tasty mushrooms. A frisson of excitement ran through our gang to see the Beechwood Sickener and the Fly Agaric which is the classic fairytale toadstool although it doesn’t actually kill. In fact it contains a substance called ibotenic acid which gives psychological effects including euphoria, confusion and floating and this acid can be recycled. If you drink your urine you can relive the experiences. Think I will give it a miss though, anything that red is red for a reason! Back at the village hall with our edible finds and under the close scrutiny of James (no rogues allowed), we prepared our mushrooms and enjoyed the tasty samples.

Hedgerow Harvest offers a range of foraging and wild food courses and I can’t recommend them enough. I completed the Spring Greens course in April and look forward to doing Fruit and Nuts next year. I feel duty bound to add that some fungi are very poisonous and many will make you unwell or you may have an allergic reaction after eating certain species. Make sure you can identify fungi by attending a field course led by an expert before you start collecting them.

Fly Agaric (poisonous)

Beechwood Sickener (poisonous)

Preparing our tasty samples