Tuesday, 22 March 2016


In the British Isles there are thousands of fungi and some of them are edible. It can be difficult to identify fungi and some are absolutely deadly. Simply tasting a tiny piece of unidentified mushroom can be very dangerous and a quarter of a teaspoon of a really poisonous mushroom can kill. Even the very safe and supposedly foolproof chicken of the woods can make 5 per cent of people sick. Certain mushrooms can cause illness if eating in conjunction with alcohol.

An image of dried chanterelle mushrooms
Dried chanterelle mushrooms

It is the case that some people will react badly to some edible mushrooms, even so-called safe ones. However, mushroom poisoning usually causes vomiting and diarrhoea but no long-term damage. It is generally considered that the overall benefits of eating and using fungi far outweigh the downside. They really are the good guys. This is the reason we carry on using them.

Some mushroom experts recommend cooking all mushrooms, particularly those that have been foraged wild, because they contain irritating or toxic substances such as hydrazines, and they also recommend eating them in moderation. This includes Agaricus bisporus, which is the button or white mushroom, commonly sold in the supermarkets! It should be emphasised that no amount of cooking is going to make the death cap or destroying angel safe to eat.

A document by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) informs us that there are only a very few poisonous mushrooms and that the only reliable guide to edibility is the knowledge that someone has eaten a particular type and survived! Some edible species are poisonous when raw, but fine when cooked. Local knowledge of safe fungi are crucially important. Unfortunately, as people die or move away from rural areas, this knowledge is often lost.

Training should be sought from a knowledgeable person in correct identification when foraging and there are many good fungi courses available. Personal tuition is infinitely better than a book. If using books choose a range because one picture will not be sufficient for identification purposes.

Those who don’t feel confident foraging for wild mushrooms can purchase mushroom spawn (similar to seed) for home cultivation including mushroom kits, mushroom logs, and wooden dowels which are impregnated with spawn. The dowels must be pressed into holes that have been drilled in suitable logs. Some of the medicinal mushrooms such as reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), maitake (Grifola frondosa) and shi-itake (Lentinula edodes), can be grown on logs like this.

An image of wooden dowels impregnated with chicken of the woods
Wooden dowels impregnated with chicken of the woods

Storage and use: Drying is probably one of the best ways of storing mushrooms. Dried mushrooms should always be re-hydrated before use. Just add warm water and soak for 20-30 minutes. Dried mushrooms expand by 3-4 times after rehydration. Drain and use the soak water as a broth for sauces, soups or stews. In this way mushrooms can be used as a savoury ‘tea’ and is a particularly good way of using the medicinal mushrooms. Dried mushrooms are flavour intensive and give a ‘meaty’ taste and texture meals. They are very useful for those who are missing meat from their diet. Some of my favourite dried mushrooms for soups and stews include chanterelle, chicken of the woods, porcini and morel.

Dried mushrooms can also be purchased in bulk for storage. This does save the worry of identification and the bother of home drying. However, as with all purchased dehydrated foods, they can be expensive.

An image of dried porcini mushrooms
Dried porcini mushrooms

Examples of edible fungi

Some well known edible fungi that grow in the British Isles include the following species: Anise cap (Clitocybe odora), bay bolete (Boletus badius), beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica), cep (Boletus edulis), chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius), chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum), fairy ring champignon (Marasmius oreades), field blewit (Lepista saeva), field mushroom (Agaricus campestris), giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea), hedgehog fungus (Hydnum repandum), honey fungus (Armillariella mellea), horn of plenty (Craterellus cornucopoides), horse mushroom (Agaricus arvensis), Jew’s ear (Hirneola auricula-judae), lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceum), morel (Morchella esculenta), oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), saffron milk cap (Lactarius deliciosus), shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus), shaggy parasol (Macrolepiota rhacodes), St George’s mushroom (Tricholoma gambosum), truffle (Tuber aestivum), velvet shank (Flammulina velutipes), wood cauliflower (Sparassis crispa), wood hedgehog (Hydnum repandum) and wood blew it (Lepista nuda).

The foolproof four

These mushrooms are some of the easiest to identify and for that reason are often called the ‘foolproof four’. This is mainly why I have given these five stars although they do taste very good as well.

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) *****
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) *****
Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) *****
Morel (Morchella esculenta) *****


This is an excerpt from 'Edible Plants for Preppers' by Amanda Rofe (Amazon Kindle). Price £2.50 or free with Kindle Unlimited. It is a plant-based guide for anyone interested in being more resilient and self-sufficient in food in these uncertain times.

The front cover of Edible Plants for Preppers by Amanda Rofe (Amazon Kindle)


Edible Plants for Preppers is a plant-based (vegan) guide which recommends a raw food diet but does also include references to cooked foods.

Five star ***** plants are those those that have certain qualities which make them stand out from the rest e.g. they can be found abundantly in the wild or they have many uses.

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