Safe & Ethical Foraging

Alright y'all, I'm about to get on a soapbox, but it's July, which means it's the season when new foragers ask if literally every mushroom they see is edible.

I follow several different foraging groups, both on facebook and reddit, and a theme I see often is someone posting a picture of a plant/mushroom/fruit and immediately asking if they can eat it. They don't ask what it is, you're lucky if they provide good pictures to even properly ID it, and half the time the mushroom they're posting is half rotted - but they're asking if they can eat it.

I want to emphatically emphasize how this is the wrong attitude to have when it comes to foraging wild edibles. Personally, I won't eat anything that I personally can't ID, and if I'm posting a picture for a confirming ID, its simply to get other eyes on something and make sure I'm not being an idiot - You'll never, ever see me ask 'is this something I can eat?'

Today I saw someone post a picture of Ringless Honey Mushrooms (Desarmillaria caespitosa) and ask if it was a chicken mushroom, Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), and how to prepare it - now thankfully, they mistook one edible mushroom for a different edible mushroom, but the identification was so wildly off that it honestly made me worry for them. How soon before they find something like Jack-O-Lantern (Omphalatus illudens) thinking they have a Cantharellus? Or mistake Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata) for Velvet Foot (Flammulina velutipes)? Now, thankfully, they at least asked, but it still makes me worry, because there are many easily misidentified edible mushrooms that have toxic and deadly look alikes.

This goes for IDing things for others online as well; I personally believe we have the burden, as IDers, to remain humble and skeptical when we're putting names on things that people might be posting to get a confirming ID before they eat it. In my groups I've seen several recent posts of the Asian Beauty fungus (Radulomyces copelandii) that were posted just for ID and commenters confidentially responded that they were Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus.) The former is a toothed crust fungus and the latter is a choice edible, what happens if that initial poster tries to gather them and eat them based on that false ID? Its remarkably irresponsible.

Just as bad, I think, is people posting more fragile plants and then enthusiastically exclaiming the benefits of foraging them - I'm specifically thinking of overharvested edibles like Ramps, or delicate and easily disturbed ones like Ghost Pipe (Monotropa uniflora.) The former are very easy to overharvest in public spaces and I personally think foragers need to be very cautious about what they're taking. Meanwhile the latter is an easily disturbed and fairly rare mycoheterotrophic plant that keeps going viral because it turns blue when put into an alcohol tincture, but the medicinal benefits are questionable and its very easy to kill a patch if you harvest it. Yet I see people just enthusiastically telling people to harvest these without thought for sustainability.

I, thankfully, don't often see these behaviors on iNat, but it has still been on my mind, of late.

Posted on July 10, 2023 10:46 PM by lothlin lothlin


I get the excitement, it's how I got into mycology in the first place (as it turns out in order to learn which mushrooms are edible you have to learn them all lol). But yeah it's interesting how the novelty fades away pretty fast, because mushrooms and plants are way more interesting than their edibility once you learn more about them. I think that's why we get annoyed with people who obsess over edibility. It's a dead giveaway that they are "noobs" or otherwise in the mindset of not wanting to learn.

Posted by verpahh 12 months ago

I definitely get the excitement, but even when I was first getting in to foraging, I always had a healthy respect for what I was looking at - maybe its because I grew up around relatively outdoorsy family members and was taught from a young age to never put anything in my mouth that I wasn't sure of - none of them were foragers but I was still taught safety, if that makes sense.

So when I first really got into mushrooms, I researched every bit I could. I'll still sometimes sit and read through field guides on the drives to go on hikes so I can re-familiarize myself with species that I might not be as used to.

What's the anecdote?

'There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold, mushroom hunters'

Posted by lothlin 12 months ago

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