BLOG: Forage & Feast September

This month, Dave Winnard has three mushrooms to look for, two nice edible species and another deadly species to AVOID.This month forage for Aniseed Funnel, the Shaggy Inkcap and the deadly Brown Rollrim. 

More and more, I get excited in August as the rain brings out the mushrooms and it feels as if it’s going to be a great season, then as we head into September it turns dry, so very, very dry.

Mushrooms don’t like this dry, hot weather, so I’m finding lots of leathery, dried out mushrooms and not much fresh stuff when I’m out at the moment. There are always exceptions, a little pocket of woodland that is shady and wetter, where some mushrooms can still produce fresh fruiting bodies, but generally the quicker it rains the happier I will be.

When it does rain, I have a few species for you to look for, a trio of common species. One which is used more like a spice, an edible species (when it’s young), and one to learn that you will certainly not want to eat.

As usual if you do venture out into the woods and go foraging for mushrooms, always cross reference your finds with a reputable book! Wherever you explore this month, only ever pick and eat something from the wild if YOU are 100% sure that YOU know what it is.

 

Aniseed Funnel (Clitocybe odora)

It surprises many people when I ask them to tell me what a mushroom smells like, without saying … mushroom! I suppose its akin to asking someone to smell a red wine and not say its smells like wine. Actually, that ‘mushroomy’ smell is generally reserved for the Agaricus family, which includes the Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris) and the button or portobellos mushrooms you buy at a supermarket.

Other mushrooms may have an earthy or fungal smell, which isn’t strictly mushroomy. On the other hand, some smell of bitter almonds, pear drops, geraniums, pepper, honey, radish, crab and yes, even aniseed.

So, it will come as no real surprise that the Aniseed Funnel smells strongly of aniseed. In parts of Eastern Europe it is gathered, dried and then used as a seasoning, rather than eating it whole. I dry them and then put them in a coffee grinder to make a mushroom powder, in this case one that with an aniseed flavour!

Identifying this species is straight forward but you need to be sure not to get it wrong. It’s aniseed scent and beautiful light blue (blue/green) colour make it fairly easy to identify. They generally favour beech woodlands, and despite their colour, they can be surprisingly well camouflaged. I often find them growing with oak as well.

There are other blueish-green mushrooms, such as the Blue Roundhead (Stropharia caerulea) and Verdigris Agaric (Stropharia aeruginosa), but they don’t smell of aniseed, which is why we’re after the Aniseed Funnel. They also have a different spore colour, but if in doubt cut off the cap and place the mushroom gill side down on some paper; Aniseed funnel will have pale spores, whilst the others are a dark purpley/brown colour.

It is also crucial that any other species which smells of aniseed, and there are a number, that aren’t blue, will not be the Aniseed Funnel and should be left alone. Any other species which are pale, cream, white etc. that look similar maybe poisonous members of the Clitocybe family.

 

Shaggy Inkcap (Coprinus comatus)

This is a species which many people see, as it’s more common in urban areas and places where the grass is cut, than in the ‘wild’. Front lawns, churchyards and parks are all typical places to spot this iconic species.

Its other name is Lawyer’s Wig, and you can see why, as the shagginess of the cap and its overall shape is particularly distinctive. When fresh, the gills are white with a pinkish tinge, but as it matures the gills turn black and inky, to the point where the mushroom looks as if it is melting, so you may be wondering why I would call it an edible species. Well, when the gills are still white and fresh it can certainly be eaten, but as as soon as the gills develop a dark tinge then they are too far gone and they will just turn to ink in the pan.

You need to find Coprinus comatus when they are still small, with fresh gills. In terms of flavour they are nice, but not the best, in my humble opinion. They are so iconic, however, that it’s a great one for beginners to feel comfortable with foraging and eating.

There are other members of the ink cap family, but the larger ink caps like the Common Inkcap (Coprinopsis atramentaria) and Magpie Mushroom (Coprinus picaceus), don’t have the distinctive ‘lawyer’s wig’ shaggy appearance on the cap.

It should be noted that some people want this mushroom when they are producing the black ink, which they can use to write and draw with! Over the years I have seen some beautiful pictures of mushrooms painted in their own ‘ink’.

 

Brown Rollrim (Paxillus involutus)

The last species I want to focus on is the Brown Rollrim, a very common species in the U.K., possibly because a number of species are actually all lumped together as one. At least 4 of which are relatively common, but all should be avoided as the brown roll-rim is known to be deadly poisonous.

A description of the Brown Rollrim generally covers the other new species too, as they are broadly similar, with subtle differences. A large mushroom, usually tan in colour, with a smooth cap (can be a bit slimy when wet), the colour of the mushroom’s stem and gills are generally uniform. The gills are ‘decurrent’ – meaning they come down on to the stem creating a funnel like shape, rather than joining the stem horizontally like other mushrooms.

Its main feature however, is of course its ‘roll rim’, the edge of the cap rolls back, this roll can be quite deep in young specimens and very slight in older specimens, but is nearly always present.

Generally, the Brown Rollrim is found in Birch woodlands, but it can be found with other trees like Willow and Oak too. The Brown Rollrim is a species you will come across often when you are looking for mushrooms, so it is one to learn to avoid when you are foraging.

It is a deadly poisonous species, as the toxins can accumulate in the body over time, but some people have mistaken this species for the edible Chanterelle, which does have a slightly rolled cap and decurrent gills. Importantly, the Chanterelle is smaller, bright egg yellow in colour and does not have real gills, they are more like veins. The Brown Rollrim has real gills which are flexible to the touch.

 

As usual enjoy your walks and enjoy looking for mushrooms, but wherever you explore this month, only ever pick and eat something from the wild if YOU are 100% sure that YOU know what it is.