Hunting, harvesting and eating wild mushrooms has become an increasingly popular hobby for outdoor enthusiasts and gourmets alike. There are many types of edible wild mushrooms growing in wooded areas from fall through spring. It's important that you familiarize yourself with the different types of wild mushrooms before setting out on a hunt, as some are poisonous. In most cases, ingesting a small amount of poison mushroom will cause only minor illness--if any at all--but some can be fatal even in a small amount. Always discard any wild mushroom if you are not 100 percent sure it is edible.
One of the most popular and easily identifiable of the edible wild mushrooms, the morel has a distinctive cap with a sponge-like appearance. The crevasses in the morel's cap are fairly deep and quite intricate. Similarly shaped mushrooms with a smooth cap are called "false morels" and are poisonous. In the United States, morels grow in wooded areas mostly in the South and Midwest in the spring and early summer.
Morels have an earthy taste and are often sauteed or used in soups and sauces. They are often dried or frozen for preservation, and can be commercially purchased in a dried state.
Edible porcini, also called "cep," are so popular that they are often not even thought of as wild mushrooms. They usually have a "hamburger bun" cap and a white stem and can be found across North America in the fall and spring.
Porcini are used in many recipes, and are especially popular in Italian and French cuisine. They are sold commercially either in a dried state or fresh, and are carried in most grocery stores.
Chanterelles are an edible wild mushroom that is golden in color, with a thin, sometimes wavy, cap. Gills are thick and extend partway down the stem. Be careful of similar-looking mushrooms with thinner gills and a more orange or brownish color, as they may be the poisonous "jack-o-lantern" or "false chanterelle." In the United States, chanterelles are most commonly found in the northern Midwest in the fall.
Chanterelles are often used in stir-fry and pasta dishes, and can be purchased in a dried state.
Also known as "black chanterelles," the black trumpet is an edible wild mushroom that resembles a hollow cone or trumpet with shallow gills on the outside. They are found in wooded areas across North America during the winter.
Black trumpets are often used in French cuisine. They keep well in a dried state.
A truffle is a rich, flavorful, edible fungus in the mushroom family. They are quite rare and hard to find, and resemble black or brown lumps of coal. Some poisonous mushrooms that are not fully grown can be mistaken for truffles, so it is important that they be professionally identified before consumption. In the United States, truffles grow in some wooded parts of Washington and Oregon in winter.
Truffles are used in French and gourmet dishes. Because of their rarity, they are very expensive, but are available commercially.
It is important to note that a wild mushroom cannot always be identified as poisonous by sight by a non-expert. Always avoid any tiny brown mushrooms, mushrooms with an egg-like base, "parasol" top and/or red coloring, and mushrooms that appear on your lawn.