CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Mushroom Wanderland: A Forager’s Guide to Finding, Identifying, and Using More than 25 Wild Fungi

By Jess Starwood
The Countryman Press
ISBN: 9781682686348
2021; 208 pages; hardcover

All mushroom hunters can relate to those moments when we are searching and lose track of time, or hyper focus on a small detail of nature that fascinates us. Jess Starwood, the author of Mushroom Wanderland understands these moments. In general, this book provides good, basic information, a fanciful, almost spiritual, approach to the world of fungi, and our connection to nature.  

The table of contents was a bit all over the place visually with at least three fonts and different sizes. Sections include Introduction, the Forager’s Forest, Meet the Mushrooms, Medicinal Mushrooms, Toxic Mushrooms, and Other Curiosities.  

Introduction. throughout the book, the formatting relies on hyphenated words at the end of sentences, which is not my jam for easy reading, but as with the comments on the Table of Contents, this is a stylistic preference. Author weaves lovely text that elicits great visuals of discovering the hidden world of mushrooms and all they offer. She includes an overview of what fungi are, their structures, and what is covered in the book. For the author, this is a spiritual journey and relationship with fungi and nature, “It is an invitation to the forest, an open invitation to walk into the woods with fresh eyes to see what has been waiting for you.”  

The Forager’s Forest. At the start of each section, a famous quote and nice image are included. the photos are well composed and also include landscapes. Some images are a bit dark for my taste, often with blurred backgrounds, but I expect those are for artistic effect. "e author includes mention of foraging as a way towards personal development to learn about oneself and the land and its systems (can you say “forest bathing”?). I thought that was an interesting approach, and so true! In Colorado, for example, one must take pleasure in the journey, for it’s often too dry to find prized edibles. "e next section discusses various uses of fungi including food, medicine, and spiritual. A brief outline of fungal evolution is also included. "e fungi photos are not labeled in any way, which would have been a nice addition, especially for the section about specific genus and species. Next comes foraging safety, etiquette and tips, “Starting out slow, one or two species at a time, is a good way to ease into foraging.” there’s a good basic glossary of 14 terms for morphological characteristics, though the glossary is not listed in the Table of Contents. Next comes types of habitats, and ideal tools, including the most important tool for the beginning hunter is a good field guide.” "e resources list at the end of the book includes eight field guides listed from around the U.S., including my area of the Rocky Mountain region. Unfortunately, there’s a typo listed for the title of Vera Evenson’s 2015 guide.  

The Forest on Your Plate section concerns cooking and preserving mushrooms. Seven recipes are included with “Medicinal Mushroom Cocoa Latte” being one of the most unique among the more common recipes. this is a well-detailed section also includes a recipe for whole-roasting mushrooms, which I personally have never tried and will now add to my culinary bucket list.  

Next comes Meet the Mushrooms broken out by culinary (12), medicinal (6), toxic (5), and other types (6). Again, it’s a shame that photo descriptions for species were not included for this section. It’s also curious because even in all these listings, there are culinary and medicinal details. Introduction to this section does note, however, that this book is also not meant to replace identification with a local field guide or confirmation by an expert.” There are notes on nutrition, for each entry, but no footnote number to connect to the bibliography at the end of the book. For those of us that are interested in source material, it would have been useful to include, especially when referencing claims of nutrition, psychological benefit and medicinal attributes. Each entry includes “Cautions” for each listing as well. “Milk Caps & Candy Caps” are included, and while this is one of my very favorite culinary mushrooms, I personally would not have included these in a beginner book given the deadly look-alikes, even with the author’s mention of “Look-Alike Species & Cautions.” For “Chicken of the Woods” entry, it would have been beneficial to include Climacodon (toothed shelf fungus in order Polyporales) as a possible look-alike species that also grows on hardwoods. While the author gives a nod to a national approach, it’s clear that the content of this book is mostly centered on western species of North America in the chanterelle entry with the statement, “While it is one of the few mushrooms that escapes the appetite of insects, it is also one that has very few adequate methods of preservation…” I have to address the entry on “porcini” given I’m from the Rocky Mountain area. there is no mention of the Leccinum look-alikes and the controversy over edibility in the Cautions section.  

Next comes Medicinal Mushrooms. Depending on your opinion about these species, and whether you adhere to clinical study-based evidence, or more traditional uses, this topic is always an interesting read. For the Magic Mushrooms entry, it would’ve been useful to note that not all Psilocybe species are hallucinogenic, nor do all hallucinogenic Psilocybe species stain blue. Don’t forget to check out FUNGI Issue Vol. 4 No. 3, Summer 2011 if you are interested in this genus. For “Cautions” the author notes that these mushrooms “are illegal to possess and sell,” but this applies to fruiting bodies only, not spores. In case it’s of interest to some readers, various cities in the U.S. have decriminalized possession of small amounts of hallucinogenic Psilocybe fruiting bodies (Denver is one such city), though federally, these are still a Schedule 1 drug (as is heroin). Toxic Mushrooms. Generally well known species are listed in this section, though the entry for Destroying Angel lacks some important details under Identifying Features such as no mention of the volva, or that these occur over much of North America, and are being found increasingly in habitats that had not been observed previously. For the Death Cap entry, accuracy of morphological characteristics are a bit off, as entry mentions “white or yellowish volva.” My understanding is that the volva is always white. And though this entry mentions the range in North America, this species is only known from the coasts.  

The last entry, Other Curiosities includes Coral and Club Fungi, Russulas, Earthstars, Jelly Fungi, Inky Caps and Slime Molds. "e intro for this section begins with “Just because they don’t have a specific use for us humans…” which I thought was curious because some of the fungi in this section are not uncommon edibles, and it’s noted that they are collected for eating. Some are also mentioned as medicinal, so I would have changed the intro a bit.  

Wrapping up with a very heartfelt and complete Acknowledgments and then Resources, Bibliography, Index, and About the Author, this book would be a nice addition to a “general knowledge about fungi” collection. there are few typos, and though some photographs are a bit dark, and sometimes too “artsy” for my taste, they are beautiful as a whole. The list of resources could have been longer and include more identification guides and more books of general mycological interest. Mention of a few websites such as, and the North American Mycological Association (NAMA) website would also have been of interest to newbies. This is a nice book for any mushroom wanderer.

— Review by Virginia Till
— Originally published in Fungi