There has been a growing interest in foraging for mushrooms in Australia, but, until recently, there wasn’t a dedicated resource targeted towards local foragers. There were multiple guides targeted towards overseas markets; however, there was a real safety risk when applying that knowledge to local ecosystems.
Wild Mushrooming fills a need with Australian readers. The guide advocates a slower approach by teaching readers to confidently identify a smaller number of species rather than have a superficial knowledge of many species.
This guide has the potential to revolutionise how fungi enthusiasts and foragers view fungi.
How is the guide structured?
The guide is separated into four main sections:
- Fungi Basics
- Poisonous fungi
- Edible Fungi
This structure helps readers develop basic knowledge before heading out into the field. The authors emphasise that foraging isn’t something you should rush into; it is a skill that needs to be developed over time. The goal is to make sure you know what to avoid instead of focusing on what you can consume.
The remainder of this review examines the specific sections.
Foragers need a basic understanding of fungi identification to know what features make a specimen edible – or poisonous. The authors cover a lot of basics in a few short chapters. They discuss identification basics, the rise of wild mushrooming and how fungi interact with the larger ecosystems. The information is fascinating, but not all of it is necessary to identify fungi. You can skip some of the chapters, but they do give more context to the sustainable foraging approach.
The chapter on the features of fungi is overwhelming. The way the information is structured did feel disorganised at times. The use of scientific terminology could also lead to overwhelm. It is necessary to understand the terms if you want to be confident in your identification, so you may need to return to this chapter frequently. It is definitely worth it.
There is so much that is unknown about fungi in Australia; there are many species that are yet to be formally identified. The authors put the section on poisonous fungi before the one about edible fungi, which I believe is the right decision. This chapter emphasises the many risks of foraging and highlights the sheer amount of uncertainties. The section discusses the multiple causes of mushroom poisoning and repeats the importance of a slow mushrooming approach. The repeated warnings can be overwhelming, but it serves as a reminder that you shouldn’t forage if you aren’t comfortable with the risk and your knowledge level.
Seven individual species are featured in this chapter, as well as a section dedicated to the Paxillus involutus group. For each profile, you get:
- An introductory page with familiar names and an overview of the species
- One page with images of each species. The photos show the mushroom at different stages during the lifecycle, different features and what it looks like from different angles
Two extra pages go into more detail about the species, but not all of it is relevant to the forager. While fascinating, information about the history of the name or DNA analysis can add to the overwhelm. I’d focus on the distribution and Australian species paragraphs.
I would skim over some of these sections when starting on your foraging journey and focus on the images and checklist. I’d revisit the more in-depth sections and highlight the parts that are relevant for identification. However, I wouldn’t eat any foraged mushrooms until you’ve read the entire chapter and are confident with what you’ve learned.
This chapter features ten species of fungi. Most of the species have been introduced to Australia; however, some look similar to native species.
The authors worked hard to find fungi that:
- were easy to identify and had distinctive diagnostic characters
- had few lookalikes
- had a strong likelihood of being found by foragers
The species profiles are organised using the same structure as the previous chapter.
It wasn’t necessary to include recipes in a book about mushroom identification, but it is a welcome addition. There are 29 beautifully photographed recipes shared between multiple authors. The authors have a range of experiences: some are chefs, one is a mushroom inspector. In some cases, they are influenced by the authors’ home country. They all share the same passion, which is evident in the personalised tips given before each recipe.
The recipes are simple and easy to follow. In most cases, you get one page for a photo and a second with the recipe. The recipe highlights if you need to use a specific mushroom and if there are possible substitutions. They mention if the mushroom substitution will impact on the taste and share how quickly you should eat the mushroom after foraging.
The recipes have a lot of room for experimentation. The authors give hints on food that would compliment the dish. Enthusiastic foodies and amateur chefs could have a lot of fun with this chapter.
Do I recommend it?
I’ve reviewed many books for this blog – and this is one of the standouts. I would recommend this book to anyone who is keen to learn more about foraging. You will need to work hard, but the payoff is worth it.