Identifying Edible Mushrooms

How does one go about identifying edible mushrooms? Literally thousands and thousands of mushrooms are growing on this planet: Some are deadly, some are delicious.

Your safest bet for finding edible mushrooms is to buy them at the grocery store. You can always pick up a manual in a bookstore, but, without specific training, attempting to identify certain mushrooms is dangerous.

Mischievous Mushrooms
The problem is that many edible mushrooms have deadly twins in the mushroom world. In years past, many wild mushroom pickers depended on watching what the wild animals ate to decide whether they were willing to take a chance on that particular mushroom. They reasoned that, if the animals could eat it, it must be good for human consumption as well. Unfortunately, that type of reasoning can get a person killed. The only way humans know mushrooms are edible or not edible is by trial and error.

These days, experts can determine the toxicity in each mushroom through lab work and documentation. Those who experiment on their own may end up eating the wrong mushroom for dinner. If they do, chances are good they won't be around in the morning to write down their findings.

Exhibit A: The Morel
The morel is an ugly mushroom with characteristics that are very different from other mushrooms. However, the false morel is out there. It is just about identical to the morel and has been known to cause death. The difference between the two is slight. Both appear to have large sponge-like holes in them, and both grow in exactly the same locations and at exactly the same time.

You could pick one real morel and one false morel and not know the difference. Usually, the morel is a little more shapely with a taller dome and visible stem, while the false morel tends to be more rounded or bushy and wild looking and uneven, but not always. While false morels can in fact induce death, even real morels have been known to make some people seriously ill.

The best suggestion that can be given is to leave wild mushrooms alone. Do not take your life into your own hands. Picking wild mushrooms is a chore left to the experts. Eat only the mushrooms you find in grocery stores, and even then don't overindulge. Mushrooms can be potent, and even edible mushrooms can make you sick if you eat too many.

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