As a kid growing up in the Maine wilderness, one of the first lessons learned is “Don’t eat wild mushrooms.” In fact, we weren’t even allowed to touch them! Fortunately, I heeded the parental advice and never tried to learn by experiment. In Maine, like many other woodsy areas, mushrooms are abundant in the wild and some are poisonous while others are edible.
The first rule of mushroom hunting is, if you’re not sure don’t eat it. There are thousands of mushroom varieties and some have similar characteristics. Unless you know exactly what it is, don’t take the chance. The safest way to mushroom is to go along with an expert. If you can’t wait, here are a few of the more common edible mushroom species that you’ll see in the wild. (Illustrations courtesy of MDC.)
Morels are distinctive due to their ridged and pitted cap surface, which is attached directly to the stem. Three varieties are common in the wild, and all grow from the ground in moist, wooded areas. Although generally safe to eat, morels may be mildly poisonous when consumed with alcohol.
Puffball mushrooms often show up in lawns, woods or other open areas. They are white, round or pear-shaped and may or may not have a visible stem. Always cut them open top to bottom before consuming. They should be entirely featureless inside; if the inside looks like a developing mushroom with a cap and stem, it’s not a puffball and could be poisonous.
Oyster mushrooms are always found on trees or logs. They are white, ivory or tan and have soft gills that run to an off-center step. They usually grow in clusters. While there are other wood-growing mushrooms that look like the oyster mushroom they are not poisonous, but they don’t taste as good.
If you decide to go mushroom hunting, always remember to soak wild edible mushrooms in water before cooking to remove any bugs or dirt!