Mushrooms are an abundant source of food in Ohio. If you ever find yourself in need of food while out in the wild, you are likely to stumble upon these hidden gems. There are over 2,000 species of mushrooms that can be found in Ohio. Many of them are completely safe to eat, others might make you sick, and a few are out-right poisonous. While many are completely safe to eat, you must first be absolutely certain you can identify the mushroom. There are many mushrooms that look nearly identical, with one being an edible source of food and the other being dangerous to eat. Only eat mushrooms that you are sure of, and still assume a level of risk involved.
There are no clear ways to identify poisonous mushrooms except for referencing the mushrooms you find against known poisonous mushrooms. According to Sarah Ellis Williams, there are some important myths about identifying poisonous mushrooms that need to be eliminated:
Edible vs. Poisonous: True or False
- Poisonous mushrooms tarnish a silver spoon. False
- If it peels, you can eat it. False
- All mushrooms growing on wood are edible. False
- Mushrooms that squirrels or other animals eat are safe for humans. False
- All mushrooms in meadows and pastures are safe to eat. False
All white mushrooms are safe. False (In Ohio, the most common “deadly” mushrooms are white.)
- Poisonous mushrooms can be detoxified by parboiling, drying or pickling. False
Williams also explains some valuable tips on collecting wild mushrooms:
Collecting Wild Mushrooms
- No mushroom should be eaten unless edibility is absolutely certain. Assume that all mushrooms are poisonous until proper identification is made. Even at that point, eat at your own risk!
- Be sure of your identification. Eat only kinds known to be edible.
- Do not eat mushrooms raw.
- Eat only mushrooms in good condition.
- Eat only one kind at a time. Do not eat large amounts.
- Eat only a small amount the first time; even morels, generally considered to be excellent, may cause illness in some persons. If you do eat a mushroom you’ve picked, save a sample. In case you become ill, the sample can be used to determine if the mushroom caused your illness.
- Don’t experiment. There is an old saying, “There are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
- Obtain a copy of one or more books or publications on mushrooms and/or join a mushroom club.
It is important to keep in mind that mushrooms are not a fool-proof source of food, but if gathered carefully and diligently, they may keep you going until you can find safety. Mushroom hunting is not limited to foraging for survival but is an active hobby with many groups of enthusiasts such as the Ohio Mushroom Society. Joining one of these groups can allow you to gain an in-depth understanding of local mushrooms, where they grow, which ones to gather and eat, and even how to cook them.
Mushroom hunting can be done in Ohio during virtually all seasons except winter. Some mushrooms will begin sprouting in the Spring, while the majority of them will be active during the Summer and Fall seasons. Certain species will sprout in different times of the year, but you can begin mushroom hunting almost any time. And if it is in the middle of winter, you can still join a mushroom hunting group and begin learning and preparing for your first hunt!
Mushrooms are a natural resource, but not all land is created equally. A permit is often required for foraging in parks, and some parks do not allow it at all. You will need to call ahead if you wish to hunt on those grounds. Private property is even more limited. If you do not have permission to be on the property then you not only risk illegal foraging/poaching but also trespassing charges if you hunt there. A mushroom hunting group would be able to direct you to all of the freely available hunting grounds in your area.