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Choice edible mushrooms

Hen of the woods mushroomJohnny Stanley's mushroom program at the High Knob Naturalist Rally helped me put mushroom hunting into perspective.  Americans (and I'm no exception) tend to be quite mycophobic, assuming that most wild mushrooms are out to kill us, but the truth is that there are only a handful of really poisonous mushooms and perhaps twice that many choice edibles in our area.  Learn both types, and you're ready to hit the woods with a collecting basket.

Our guide explained that southwest Virginia has two main mushroom seasons --- spring (late March to mid May) and fall.  I've listed the edibles he considers worth collecting below, broken down by season.  Bolded species are the edibles that deserve the beginner's attention because they are the most tasty, easiest to identify, and most common around here.

Morel (Morchella sp.) --- late March to May  (start hunting when the bloodroot blooms)
Chicken Mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) --- spring and fall
Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) --- spring and fall
Puffball (Calvatia sp.) --- spring and fall
Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) --- spring and fall
Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) --- June to September
Eastern Cauliflower Mushroom (Sparassis crispa) --- July to October
Meadow Mushroom (Agaricus campestris) --- August to September
Bearded Tooth (Hericium erinaceus) --- August to November
Honey Mushroom (Armillariella mellea) --- August to November
Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) --- September to November

Before heading out, it's worth nailing down the identities of the seriously poisonous species too: fly agaric, destroying angel, false morel, panther, and jack-o-lantern.  The good news Fuzzy orange shelf fungus with resin dropletsis that these poisonous mushrooms are easy to identify and (in most cases) are hard to confuse with the edibles.  If you stick to eating the five species I've bolded above, the only poisonous mushrooms you have to be concerned with are the false morel (distinguished from the true morel by the solid stem) and the jack-o-lantern (distinguished from the oyster mushroom and hen of the woods by its brilliant orange color and relatively long stem, and from the chicken mushroom by the presence of gills beneath the cap.)

I've refrained from eating mushrooms in the past because there are simply so many species that my field guides don't cover them all --- for example, this brilliant orange shelf fungus doesn't seem to show up in my texts.  I'm beginning to understand that the vast majority of mushrooms are neither choice edibles nor highly poisonous.  We can enjoy their fleshy beauty while out hunting the the five tastiest mushrooms in our area --- morels, chickens, oysters, puffballs, and hen of the woods.

You can leave your backyard chickens without worrying when you install an automatic, homemade chicken waterer.

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