CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Wild Mushrooming: A Guide for Foragers

By Alison Pouliot & Tom May
CSIRO Publishing
2021 / ISBN: 978-1-4863-1173-6
paper, 320 pages
AU $49.99, also available as eBook
In the USA: $36.99 from Stylus Publishing

With the surging popularity, among the previously uninitiated, of foraging for and eating wild mushrooms, predictably a profusion of quick-and-easy how-to foraging books has appeared. Unfortunately some of these were written by authors whose mycological understanding is less than optimal and they contain abundant misleading and inaccurate information. Thankfully this recent offering from Down-under, which advocates “slow mushrooming,” has a much sounder foundation.

Alison Pouliot is an ecologist, photographer, and educator with a focus on fungi and their place in the environment. She is active in Australian and international fungal conservation and her writing and images appear in both academic and popular literature. Pouliot’s fungus forays and workshops, which she conducts primarily in Australia and Europe, attract a wide range of people, from forayers (those who hunt fungi for scientific purposes) and foragers (those who hunt fungi to eat) to land managers and owners. Her recent well-received book, The Allure of Fungi, explored fundamental questions about human-fungus interactions and is an excellent read.

Tom May is a mycologist who has spent more than four decades working with Australian fungi. He has published widely on fungal taxonomy, ecology, and conservation in scientific and popular literature, including checklists of Australian fungi and a key to genera of Australian mushrooms (FunKey). He is active in international mycological groups such as the Nomenclature Committee for Fungi and in community natural history organizations, founding Fungimap (a program that includes establishing the actual Australian distributions of 100 mushroom species based on citizen-scientist reports).

As would be expected, the book provides basic guidance on how to find, collect, identify and prepare selected species of edible wild mushrooms, including details about the principal poisonous fungi to avoid and common possible lookalikes to the featured edible species. But, beyond that, the authors discuss the diversity, ecological significance, and conservation of fungi. The text is abundantly illustrated with top-notch color photographs and concludes with recipes based on the featured wild species.

Contents include: 1 – The rise of wild mushrooming in Australia; 2 – What fungi are; 3 – Fungi in Australian biodiversity conservation; 4 – Major groups of fungi; 5 – Features of fungi; 6 – Names and identification; 7 – Finding fungi; 8 – Poisonous fungi; 9 – Edible fungi and their lookalikes; 10 – Fungi in the kitchen and on the table; Glossary; Further reading and resources; and Index.

The first seven chapters set the stage for the featured mushrooms. Much of this introductory matter is typical of most field guides — what fungi are, outline of the usual morphological groups (gilled mushrooms, boletes, corals, etc.), how they get their names, how to find them, and so on. But what is different from other guides is the authors’ emphasis on conservation issues and what they call “slow mushrooming.” In their words, “Identifying fungi grows from direct experience in the field [emphasis added] and astute observations over time. Only by taking time can one become familiar with the important diagnostic features and extent of variation that can occur within a single species.” To illustrate their latter point, they devote a full page to top views of 20 different fly agaric caps. It’s difficult to believe that they all belong to the same species. Regarding conservation, they state, “Not everyone agrees that foraging is a good thing, usually because of conservation concerns. However, foraging is increasing in Australia regardless of whether one agrees with it or not. Hence, we endeavour to unite foraging and conservation by recognizing common ground and potential reciprocal benefits, while anticipating issues that could arise from foraging . . . Sustainable foraging hinges on foragers’ appreciation of the ecological significance of fungi and potential impacts of their harvesting . . . Informed and responsible collection offers the best chance for both fungal conservation and fruitful foraging.” Their hope is that Aussie mushroom hunting can extend responsibly well into the future, preserving the fungal populations and their habitats, and not triggering a system of rules, regulations, and prohibitions such as exist in many other countries.

Wisely treating the dangerous mushrooms first (mirroring what should be the first priority of any newbie mushroom hunter), Chapter 8 opens with a general discussion of mushroom poisoning and the toxins that cause it, using a recently developed scheme (White et al., 2019) that recognizes 21 distinct poisoning syndromes organized in 6 broad groups. They then summarize the Australian experience genus by genus. After that, it’s on to descriptions of Amanita phalloides, A. muscaria, Agaricus xanthodermus, Chlorophyllum brunneum, C. molybdites, Coprinopsis atramentaria, Omphalotus nidiformis, and Paxillus involutus group. Sound familiar? Each treatment covers six pages, beginning with a full-page field photo opposite its scientific and vernacular names, poisoning syndrome, and capsule statement about its occurrence and history of toxicity. The third and fourth pages provide the morphological and ecological description (habitat, substrate, habit, pileus, lamellae, stipe, flesh, spore print, odor, and time of fruiting). On the facing page are up to 12 separate photos of single mushrooms or parts of mushrooms that illustrate key identification features and the range of morphological variation that can occur. The final two pages contain text that provides details about the name, distribution (including beyond Australia), classification, identity (are the Australian mushrooms the same as those with the same name from other places?), and other related Australian species.

Chapter 9 covers the edible “species”: Coprinus comatus, Lactarius deliciosus, Lepista nuda, Macrolepiota clelandii, Marasmius oreades, Agaricus (A. campestris, A. arvensis, and A. bitorquis), Suillus (S. luteus and S. granulatus), Hydnum crocidens group (six species, very similar to H. repandum), Tremella fuciformis, and Lycoperdon pratense. Sound familiar? The authors limited the list as they feel it is better to learn a few species thoroughly rather than many superficially. The treatments follow the same format as those for the toxic species but add one to three pages of descriptions and small photos of “lookalike” species, usually focusing on ones that are potentially toxic. The chapter concludes with “emerging knowledge,” reports of edible species that haven’t been well documented yet, although it is likely that, in cases like oyster mushrooms, morels, and chanterelles, they soon will be.

Chapter 10 provides information on handling, preserving, storing, and preparing mushrooms for the table, as well as their nutritional value. The meat of the book concludes with 29 recipes from a variety of contributors, including chefs and cooks, farmers and gardeners, and even a mushroom-wielding diesel mechanic. The recipes range from a simple in-the-field campfire sauté with sourdough bread to more elaborate dishes that have been featured in award-winning restaurants.

As one might guess from the mostly familiar toxic and edible species covered, this book will be useful far beyond Australia while, at the same time, offering interesting insights to mushrooming in another country. The general information and conservation ethic are universal and almost all of the featured species have been introduced to Australia and occur (as species complexes, if not the real McCoy) throughout much of the world. It’s well written, chock full of attractive and useful photographs, and would make a great gift for a friend who wants to try their hand at finding and eating wild mushrooms. Highly recommended.

Reference cited:
White, J., and six others. 2019. Mushroom poisoning: A proposed new clinical classification. Toxicon 157: 53–65. doi:10.1016/j. toxicon.2018.11.007.

— Review by Steve Trudell
— Originally published in Fungi