Mushroom picking on Hampstead Heath

Saturday 15th September 2012

Every year in August, we go blackberry picking.  On a couple of occasions, we have been out picking sloes in October.  There are a few other edible plants I’d feel confident about picking in the wild, but mushrooms have never been amongst them.  To pick mushrooms, you have to really know what you’re doing, otherwise you’re heading for disaster, right?

In my last post, I wrote about how I believe that lots of people can learn to read maps, just like you can learn about any other given thing.  Learning to recognise edible mushrooms is no different; you just need to get some practice, and become knowledgeable and experienced enough to be safe.

Luckily, Fungi to be With is here to help.  A couple of weeks ago, we went on a guided walk with Andy, who is very definitely an expert and has been interested in mushrooms for many years.  He runs forays in various places including Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common, Epping Forest, Puttenham Common in Surrey, and the New Forest.

We learned that, whilst there are many poisonous mushrooms around that should be avoided, and whilst there are many edible and delicious mushrooms, there are in fact an awful lot of them out there that are theoretically edible, but just don’t taste particularly nice.  Whilst I still wouldn’t feel confident about picking most mushrooms on my own – I’d need to have a lot more guidance first – it was interesting to take a closer look at various forms of fungus that we’d usually walk past and either not notice at all, or wonder if they were edible but leave them alone through not knowing any better.  Part of the purpose of his company is to get people more connected to nature, which certainly felt like the case.

The find of the day was definitely this giant Chicken Of The Woods.

Chicken of the Woods is very difficult to mistake for anything else, and I’d feel almost confident about collecting it myself.  However, you also have to make sure you know what tree it’s growing on.  You should never pick anything growing on a yew tree, for example, as yew trees are themselves poisonous, even when they’re no longer alive.

We also found a giant puffball, which, along with the Chicken Of The Woods, we had for breakfast the next day.  Both were absolutely delicious.

It would take a lot more than one day to become confident enough to do this by myself, but I’d certainly be interested in learning more.

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About Karen

One foot in front of the other
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