I’ve long enjoyed hunting for mushrooms in the wild, a pastime that’s partly inspired by my mother’s fear of them. When I was growing up, she worried that fresh button mushrooms from the supermarket — the only kind widely available then — might be poisonous. She even warned me not to touch the “toadstools” that popped up on our small lawn. At the time, neither of us knew that very few mushrooms are deadly. I’ve since realized that my mother’s attitude was typical of the fear of mushrooms prevalent in the English-speaking world.
Your best bet for successful foraging is to spend time in the company of people who know mushrooms and can teach you how to recognize and find them. I first learned to collect edible wild mushrooms in the 1970s from experienced hunters in Oregon, where I came to know and love chanterelles, hedgehogs, blewits, shaggy manes, woodland russulas, and other varieties common in that area.
Publications by renowned mycologist Paul Stamets can be useful when deciding what to look for, and field guidebooks can help as well, I especially recommend Fry, Thrive, or Die: A Fun Pocket Guide to 50 Common, Delicious, Hallucinogenic, Medicinal, and Poisonous Mushrooms of the Western United States by Dr. Michael Amaranthus (Gatekeeper Press, 2023). It’s a very user-friendly field guide with an excellent selection of the most important species people interested in wild mushrooms should know. The annual Telluride Mushroom Festival is also a great venue for learning more about wild mushrooms; I’ll be speaking at this year’s event on August 16-20.
Regardless of whether wild or cultivated, I strongly advise against eating any mushrooms raw. Cooking breaks down their cell walls, which are resistant to digestion, and also destroys the natural toxins that many species of mushrooms contain. When trying an edible mushroom that I’ve never eaten before, I usually sauté it in a little olive or avocado oil with a sprinkle of salt to sample its flavor and texture. If I like it, I look for ways to prepare it that will enhance its qualities, such as sautéing, broiling, or grilling.
Andrew Weil, M.D.