According to some Australian mushroom experts its unsafe to eat foraged mushrooms and all wild mushrooms in Australia should be considered dangerous to humans. This is fair enough assuming that the forager has no knowledge of fungi, their habits and how to tell the different species apart. This does not change the fact that there is great interest in Australian fungi, and almost everyone who encounters a mushroom will at some point wonder if it is edible. So on one hand we have a deep human curiosity about foraging wild mushrooms and on the other we have a deep seated mistrust of the ability of regular humans to be able to discern different fungi species by their macroscopic features.
Now to be fair to the experts it is true that it is difficult to ID some mushrooms. It is dangerous to eat mushrooms without first IDing them and it does take time and commitment to learn to ID mushrooms, at least down to genius. Plenty of people take the time to learn about identifying mushrooms but are then left feeling let down by the experts who refuse to consider edibility. Thankfully in many parts of the world mushroom foraging is a part of the culture and the knowledge and skills required to stay safe doing it are taught, and the question of edibility is readily considered by the experts. So as an Australian mushroom enthusiast I must turn to other parts of the world and their literature to learn about edible mushrooms.
Things are changing slowly, facebook has pages dedicated to edible mushrooms and blogs such as this one are appearing to add to the dialog and the information available. Cheap DNA analysis is available to everyone now which is helping to find what edible fungi are present in Australia but we are still limited because of the lack of information we have about native Australian fungi and their uses. Much of the aboriginal knowledge of fungi has been lost but there are records of them using them as food and we do know what a few of the species are.
Humans are putting great pressure on our ecosystems so while I encourage foraging I would like to see it done in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment and ensures that there will be a continued abundance of fungi for future generations. Below I will layout some of the things I do to minimize my negative impact on the beautiful natural places I visit to look for fungi.
Mushroom foraging guidelines
Be prepared. Bring along a field guide, camera and containers for samples, sun protection and food and water. Consider a first aid kit and a map and compass when off trail. Australia has many large patches of bush and huge patches of wilderness. Getting lost is possible. Tell someone where you are going, and have a plan.
Most fungi are not edible, always carefully ID a mushroom before considering edibility, to ID a mushroom take lots of photos but only take a few samples if necessary.
Don’t take more then you need. Its easy to get carried away when foraging, be realistic about how much you will eat and leave plenty behind for wildlife and to maintain a healthy patch.
Pick young fresh fungi. We don’t eat rotten tomatoes so why eat rotten mushrooms.
Get your fungi home safe! Bring suitable containers and clean them as you pick them. This way the mushrooms get home in perfect, clean condition.
Pick in clean areas. Always consider how clean the area is and what chemicals or pesticides might contaminate the local fungi.
Don’t eat too much. The first few times eating a new mushroom only eat a small amount. likewise for your family and guests!!
Remember that some people could have allergic reactions to some mushrooms.
Respect private property. Ask permission, leave gates as as you find them. be respectful of livestock and signage.
Leave the area cleaner, collect fungi and rubbish!
Be careful of trampling other plants and fungi and remember the mycelium under your feet!
Be aware of the law. Its not always legal to collect mushrooms. All flora, fauna and fungi are protected in places like national parks.
Learn the conditions when fungi fruit. Mushrooms are very seasonal and the mushroom seasons change from places to place and from year to year. As a general rule fungi are more common after wet weather and certain species are more common at particular times of the year, for example morels are most often found in spring.
Be persistent. Fungi are incredibly hard to predict. There is often no fungi around one week then heaps the next then none the week after. Its just the way it is.
Hopefully these guidelines are helpful. Please add your own in the comments. Happy foraging.