To properly identify a mushroom in the wild, it’s best to consult a local expert. Some poisonous mushrooms can look very similar to edible ones. There are, however, guidebooks with detailed pictures and descriptions that you can purchase to take with you into the woods.
Identifying a mushroom can be a time-consuming process. Look closely at the color and shape of the mushroom cap, gills, spores, stalks and base of the mushroom. Sometimes all that separates an edible mushroom variety from a poisonous one are the shape of its gills, or the color of its cap.
Even mushrooms considered edible and safe can pose a deadly danger to the very young and very ill. According to the Northeast Mycological Federation (NMF), some healthy people still get sick even after eating edible mushrooms. This can occur for several reasons. Mushrooms are difficult to digest; the NMF recommends cooking wild mushrooms thoroughly and chewing them well. Alcohol can also cause an adverse reaction with some mushrooms consumed within a five-day window. If the mushrooms themselves are in a state of decomposition, they can cause illness. Personal allergies to mushrooms can also cause a rash or intestinal discomfort. Some MAO inhibitor prescription drugs cause reactions with particular mushrooms.
To minimize your chances of severe mushroom poisoning, which in some cases can cause death, the NMF has a few recommendations. You should not eat any little brown mushroom, any species of Lepiota, any Animitas or Jack o’ Lanterns. For a complete listing of mushrooms to avoid, go to NEMF.org.