It turns out nature is one of our most reliable survival guides. Many lost or stranded hikers, backpackers, and trekkers have lived for days and weeks of nature’s bounty of wild root tubers, mushrooms, moss, cacti, algae and leaves. This is obviously not an optimal way of immersing one’s self in nature. For one, these substances can be poisonous or cause allergic reactions, which is why it is extremely important to know what you can and can’t eat. Indeed, if you’ve read the book Into the Wild or seen the movie, you understand why the simplest mistake can be fatal when it comes to consuming ‘food’ found in nature. That’s why your best bet before any sojourn into nature is to invest in plenty of food storage staples, such as grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and other foods that can withstand adverse conditions.
But as Steinbeck said, sometimes our best laid plans go awry. Sometimes things go wrong, and in cases in which you’re out in the wilderness without food, you may need to forage. Wild mushrooms, because of their nutritional value, can help to sustain the body for long periods of time. But they can also be poisonous and possibly fatal. Only certain kinds should be eaten. Here’s an overview of what kinds of edible wild mushrooms you can safely consume:
They look like how they sound and are most often found in the late summer and fall in open woods, pastures, and decaying logs. Be sure there are no yellow or brown colors and, more importantly, no sign of a stalk, gill, or cap.
Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)
It looks like…a shaggy mane and grows in all seasons except winter, usually in lawns or pastures. Do not eat if the caps have begun to turn black.
Coral Fungi (Clavariaceae)
These mushrooms look like traditional coral, sometimes sporting traces of purple and pink and can grow up to eight inches. They are found mostly on decaying wood and should be avoided if their bases are gooey. Their have been reports of these mushrooms acting as laxatives too.
Morels (Morchella spp.)
Morels look like sponges, pine cones, and honeycombs and there are three kinds: the common morel, which are yellow and can grow up to a foot; the black morel, which should not be eaten if they are all black; and the half-free morel, which have small caps and long stems. Morels can cause mild poisoning, which is why they should be studied before being eaten.
Bearded Tooth (Hericium erinaceus)
This one kind of looks like a white wig that is a foot across and is found in trees and stumps. It has no poisonous affects and should only be avoided if yellow (sour).
Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Named after its oyster shell-like appearance, these mushrooms are usually found in clusters during parts of all seasons. While all the mushrooms listed here can be cooked into delicious meals, oyster mushrooms are particularly popular as a culinary delight.
Chanterelles are like fruity little funnels and are most often found in hardwood forests. Make sure not to confuse these with jack o’ lantern mushrooms, which can be poisonous.
Big caps define this mushroom, which has 200 species to its name. Don’t eat ones with orange or red pores, as these may be poisonous. Also avoid ones that are slimy.
Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)
This mushroom looks like a cloudy sunset, with layers of wispy pink and red overhangs. Usually found clustered near dead wood. Not a risk for poison but they can cause allergic reactions.
Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)
Named correctly, as it looks like a ruffled bird, this mushroom is also safe. It is usually found on stumps and can weigh up to 100 pounds.
As with any food found in nature, there is always the danger of poisoning or allergic reaction. Even safe mushrooms can cause unexpected illness, which is why it’s best to not rely on wild foods and to only eat them when you can be absolutely assured of their safety. But in times of emergency, it’s good to have a list of edible wild foods that could save you from starvation. Mushrooms are an excellent option for wild survival food in emergency situations. Also look into wild edible leaves, algae, cacti, and moss, which may also serve as sources of nutrition and sustenance during an emergency survival condition.
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