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the hunt for the great wild mushroom

Mushrooms. The steak of the vegetable kingdom. Versatile, tasty, healthy and lots of varieties. Except in the supermarket boondocks of Central Portugal where exotic means Swiss Brown or Oyster at extortion prices.

In Australia we are spoiled with a plethora of fresh Asian mushrooms like Shitake,  Enokitake,  Straw and Black from China and very weird wobbly moist seaweed like fungi from Japan. For the wild forager there are Field and Pine, and Australian Morels, but alas, the god and goddess of mushrooms the Porcini and the Chantarelle are exclusive to Europe. These we can only get them dried or wraaapped in plaaastic.


Mushroom #1: a mystery

The chance that there might be a secret cache of Chantarelles hiding here in the forest gets me out of bed on a cold and wet morning. Our story begins with a walking of the wookie and the discovery of 16 different-looking mushrooms in the space of an hour. Then I sent the pics to Rick at Permanent Portuculture who, while insisting he is no expert, does have the guts to eat what he picks himself.


Mushroom #8: also a mystery

A couple of people die in Portugal every year from eating wild mushrooms. Mostly it’s the fault of the Amanita Phalloides, with the I-told-you-so common name of The Death Cap. Another Amanita, Virosa, also not-kiddingly known as the Destroying Angel usually knocks off a few more souls in the world each year. Fascinatingly, one of the poisons carried by the Amanita interrupts the production of DNA, so organs which constantly reproduce cells (like the liver and kidneys) are fatally affected. Most poisonings occur where foraging is most popular, der, like in North America and Europe, but heaven help you if you eat the wrong thing in a third world country where dialysis and liver transplants may not be at your immediate disposal. One story of a whole family in Nepal being poisoned, then misdiagnosed and not appropriately treated, died from blood loss, which poured out of every orifice. Apologies to those eating breakfast.

So, be warned. This is not an authoritative guide to surviving mushrooms. You life is in your hands.


young Fly Agaric

Here we have a nice example of the Fly Agaric (amanita mascara), a poisonous and hallucinogenic fungus. The Lapps of Lapland have a wealth of folklore surrounding the Fly Agaric, including drinking the urine of the reindeer who feed on the mushroom, which apparently is a safer way to achieve the desired effect. Apologies again to those eating breakfast.

It would help anyone trying to identify mushrooms to get as many references as they can, as appearances vary from photo to photo, and a single mushroom can vary greatly according what stage of development it’s at. Check out Baby Fly above and Mother Fly below. And check out any of the google pictures links – wildly different examples. Don’t trust any of them.


Older Fly Agaric

“Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain & Europe”, by Roger Phillips is pretty much the bible of the mushroom faithful. The novice forager should learn to recognize the few that are worth eating, the few that are deadly, and the more common ones that will make you sick.


Mushroom #5 : The Parasol

Here we have the Parasol (Lepotia procera) edibility excellent, late summer and autumn. Not frost hardy. Habitat: open woodland and pasture.  Like most mushrooms you can’t put it in the freezer because of its high water content, but you could try drying it.

There are about 14 000 kinds of mushrooms and fruiting fungi, but there are only a very few anyone bothers to eat. It’s because very few are tasty. Here is a brief list of the shrooms worth eating (according to Phillips)

  • Field mushroom – (Agaricus campestris)
  • Cep – (or porcini, penny bun) – (Boletus edulis)
  • Chanterelle – (Cantharellus cibarius)
  • Shaggy ink cap – (Coprius comatus)
  • Horn of plenty (or trumpet of death, black chanterelle, black trumpet) – (Craterellus cornucopioides)
  • Hedgehog fungus – (Hydnum repandum)
  • Chicken of the woods – (Laetiporus sulphureus)
  • Giant puffball – (Langermannia gigantea)
  • Parasol mushroom – (Lepiota procera)
  • Shaggy parasol – (Lepiota rhacodes)
  • Field blewit – (Lepista saeva)
  • Wood blewit – (Lepista nuda)
  • wood-blewits

    Wood Blewits, picked by Rick

  • Fairy ring champignon (or scotch bonnet) – (Marasmius oreades)
  • Morel – (Morchella esculenta)
  • Oyster mushroom – (Pleurotus ostreatus)
  • Cauliflower fungus – (Sparassis crispa)
  • St. George’s mushroom – (Tricholoma flavovirens)
  • Truffle – (Tuber aestivum)
  • That’s not even 20, and the deadly poisonous ones don’t even number 10.


    Mushroom #6 : Panther Cap

    Rick reckons this is probably a Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina) super poisonous. Steer clear of it, and really don’t lick, pinch or even kiss accidentally. This guy could be so bitchin’ that he could transfer toxins through your skin and set you puking, or worse.


    Mushroom #7: The Crumpet

    This is in the world of could be this or that, but it is not a crumpet. Rick’s money would probably be on Peppery Bolete (boletus piperatus) which is edible, pops up in late summer and autumn. Found in various locations, particularly birch scrub, mixed pine and birch on sandy soil.

    On the other hand, it could be Red Cracked Boletus, which is common, found in mixed broadleaf woodland in autumn, and edible.

    OR it might even be Boletus pruinatus, which are rare.

    Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of an underground thingy called a mycelium, a felt like mat that spreads in an evasive extra-terrestrial kind of way, like a thing from another planet, very 1950’s sci-fi. Mushrooms are groovy, see. There are many that look the same, or nearly identical, and accordingly some are named “false” whatsists or “deceiving” doodad.


    Mushroom #9: Log Dudes

    Rick thinks these could be either of two things, both tend to grow in the same vicinity. He would say these are Sulphur Tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) very common, habitat in big clusters on stumps of trees. Not edible.

    Or possibly, they are Honey Fungus, (Armillaria mellea), very edible when cooked. Similarly found in abundance, often nearby Sulphur Tufts. A problem if you have it on your trees as it attacks its host, with no known cure. Good job you can eat it.


    Mushroom #10: The Poo

    Common Earth-Ball (Scleroderma citrinum) late summer to winter, common, hence the name. Not edible.  Found on heaths, mossy and peaty ground, mixed woodland, and especially on sandy soil. When you stamp on one near the end of its life it explodes a black cloud of spores. Dramatic, but mean.


    The Poo again, this time looking more like The Potato


    Mushroom #11

    Rick says he’s not entirely sure about mushroom 11. Looks again like Sulphur Tufts, but also looks a bit like Galerina mutabilis, which are edible and good apparently, they grow in the same conditions in a similar way, abundantly, and almost as common as sulphur tufts, which are not edible, very common and are all year round.


    Mushroom #15: Proper Forest Fungi

    A Polypore (Coriolus versicolor). Very common, grows on deciduous trees all year round. Not edible, but used as an Asian herbal remedy to treat cancer.


    Mushroom #16: The Tiger

    Probably a Lepiota, a parasol of some kind. in its early stage, not easy to fully identify, could be a Lepiota rhacodes, or Lepiota hystrix. but it could also be something else known as The Prince, (Agaricus augustus) which is good to eat, habitat in both deciduous and coniferous woodland, late summer to autumn. and often quite large.


    The Cep

    Now, if you’re looking for something definitely edible, here’s a pic of Boletus edulus, (cep, penny bun, porcini). The three on the right are edulus, one on the left is Gyroporus castaneus, Chestnut Bolete, superb. Found by Rick last winter (around Serra do Açor). But what about my favourite, the Chantarelle? Last time I was in Sweden, where my friend Catarina is an enthusiastic forager, I saw Chantarelles in a supermarket with “origin: Portugal” marked on them! So where are they hiding?

    And if you are wondering where all the other numbers went, well they were either older or younger varieties of ones we’d already named, or they were boring and I left them out, or we didn’t know what they were. They were not Chantarelles, that’s for sure.


    Mushroom #13: Tiny Red Dudes: A Mystery


    1. miguel November 22, 2010 9:31 am Reply

      I usually catch the “cerquelhas” (lactarius deliciosus) in central portugal (ourem) this time of the year. The only ones i dare to eat (learned it from my avo’), grilled with salt, olive oil and then seasoned with more olive oil, garlic and vinegar:

      try them, if you dare 🙂

      [Reply to comment]

      Peter Wilton-Davies   Reply: November 26th, 2010 at 7:07 pm

      We picked and ate a load of these a couple of days ago, fantastic mushroom you can cook hard. SOme say to boil it first to get rid of the slight bitter taste

      [Reply to comment]

    2. Peter November 22, 2010 12:09 pm Reply

      Hi Emma,

      I love the mushroom story, very interesting and as most of your stories do, it made me laugh.

      Thanks and keep them coming.

      If you can make me laugh with mushrooms I’m sure I’ll be crying with laughter when I read the honeymoon in Portugal story.

      Cheers Peter

      [Reply to comment]

    3. Peter November 22, 2010 12:10 pm Reply


      Which one are the best to smoke?

      [Reply to comment]

    4. Maria Silva November 22, 2010 12:26 pm Reply

      Hi Emma, Thanks again for your informative blog. Yep, that’s true, there are many varieties of mushrooms … not all of them edible ! I do remember various cases of mushroom poisoning in years gone by! I used to go mushrooming when young with my Mum and grandma … but they were experts in the subject !!! I’m still here and “miscaros” are the very best and tasty. Take care xx

      [Reply to comment]

    5. Marielys November 25, 2010 9:31 am Reply

      Hi Emma,

      Great pics and info about wild mushrooms. I love the taste of porcini mushrooms. I heard from good source that the portuguese export their porcini’s to Italy! Hence the lack of these nature gifts in the portuguese supermarkt shelves.
      Could Maria Silva tell us what are “miscaros”, please? When I lived in Portugal I thought they were porcini/ceps, but are they?
      It would be nice to know.
      Take care, Emma 🙂

      [Reply to comment]

    6. fernando mateus October 25, 2011 7:31 am Reply

      MISCAROS, are white trufles.

      [Reply to comment]

    7. Geoff Dann October 12, 2013 1:44 am Reply

      Your panther cap doesn’t even remotely resemble a panther cap. Completely different family. That’s a magpie inkcap. Coprinopsis picacea

      [Reply to comment]


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