A Beginner’s Guide To Mushroom Foraging: Tips & Resources

Published on July 03, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

If you’re a beginner interested in mushroom foraging, you probably have many questions, concerns, and even some legitimate fears.

That’s perfectly understandable, given few of us grew up learning how to forage anything, not to mention the poisonous mushroom factor.

Yet, few people realize the bounty of edible fungi surrounding them and that the chance of dying from a poisonous mushroom is relatively low. REF#2208

However, you can get sick from eating the wrong mushroom, and organ damage and death are real possibilities.

This is why investing in high-quality education and in-person foraging mentorship with a mycologist is essential before picking your own wild mushrooms.

In this article, we’ll share information on the safety of mushroom foraging, examples of common wild mushrooms found in the United States, the benefits of eating wild mushrooms, and helpful books, apps, and online resources to help you get started.

*Note: This article is not intended to provide readers with instructions on how to forage and/or identify mushrooms safely. It is intended to direct aspiring foragers to appropriate resources for further education.

Is Mushroom Foraging Safe?

People have been foraging wild mushrooms for centuries for nutrition, pleasure, wellness, spiritual practices, agriculture, and survival.

More than 14,000 varieties of mushrooms have been identified globally, with approximately 2000 species considered edible. REF#2209

Wherever there are trees, open meadows, or decaying plant matter, you will find various species of wild fungi, many of which are edible, flavorful, and healthful.

Some mushrooms, however, are poisonous and harmful, which deters many people from foraging.

However, as previously mentioned, research shows your chances of dying from eating poisonous mushrooms are low.

According to evidence published in Mycologia, the vast majority of reported ingestions of toxic mushrooms resulted in no or minor harm. REF#2210

However, some groups of mushroom toxins or irritants, such as cyclopeptides, ibotenic acid, and monomethylhydrazine, have been deadly.

Some common species of highly toxic mushrooms found in the United States include:

  • Death Caps (Amanita phalloides): These are responsible for most mushroom-related deaths worldwide. Victims typically experience liver damage or failure due to the toxins.
  • Destroying Angels (Amanita sp): These fall under the same genus as Death Caps, Amanita. The amatoxins initially cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms, followed by liver and/or kidney damage or failure.
  • Funeral Bell: Also known as “Deadly Skullcap,” it contains amatoxins that can result in organ failure or death.

You can learn a lot from a name!

There are other less-toxic varieties often mistaken for edible mushrooms. These can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, but their toxins will not kill you or damage organs. 

Some examples include:

  • False Morels: These can be mistaken for a true Morel.
  • Jack O’Lanterns: These are often mistaken for Chanterelles.

This is not a complete list of all the toxic mushrooms in the United States.

However, it demonstrates that safe mushroom foraging requires careful study, practice, and mentorship.

So, is mushroom foraging safe?

If you’ve had proper training and mentorship from a mycologist, it can be a safe, rewarding, and self-sustaining practice or profitable business.

What Are The Benefits of Foraging Wild Mushrooms?

Edible wild mushrooms provide a wealth of nutrients, including fiber, protein, polysaccharides, antioxidants, terpenes, vitamin D, amino acids, and various minerals. REF#2211

Wild mushrooms are so nutritious they have been studied for their effects on many aspects of health. REF#2212

They have also been used in traditional herbalism practices, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, to promote various aspects of well-being. REF#2213

Certain types of wild mushrooms can also be used for bioremediation;REF#2214 the process of using natural substances to clean up toxic chemicals such as solvents, oil spills, and heavy metals.

Wild mushrooms also taste great, make a fantastic meat substitute, and add texture and flavor to various dishes.

Here are some examples of the versatility and benefits of wild mushrooms:

  • Lion’s Mane has been likened to lobster when cooked in butter. It’s also been studied for its potential effects on cognitive health, cell health, and immune function.REF#2215
  • Shiitakes and Maitakes lend an earthy flavor to dishes and have been studied for their effects on cellular health and cardiovascular function. REF#2216 REF#2217
  • Reishi and Turkey Tail mushrooms are sought-after in the supplement industry for their demonstrated effects on immune and cellular function. REF#2218

Foraging mushrooms can provide a wealth of nutrition, culinary, wellness, and financial benefits—with time spent in nature as a bonus.

Plus, practicing foraging as a hobby or a profession can provide social, environmental, and economic benefits to the individual and their community.

Books on Mushroom Foraging/Mushroom Hunting For Beginners

There are many excellent books on mushroom foraging/mushroom hunting, identification, cultivation, benefits, and science.

Whether you’re interested in mushroom foraging as a hobby or a profession, here are some beginner’s books to consider. 

Best All-Around Books on Mushroom Foraging and Identification In North America:

Region-Specific Books on Mushroom Foraging:

Other Helpful Books On Wild Mushroom Benefits, Cultivation, and Preparation

Foragers often expand their interests into other aspects of wild mushrooms, including cultivation, tincture-making, bioremediation, conservation, or research.

The following books cover these topics and more:

Mushrooms Foraging Classes—In-Person Is Best

Once you have a foraging foundation established from books, it’s time to find a mushroom foraging class or mentorship program.

Although online classes are available and convenient, they cannot replace in-person, local instruction with a mycologist or highly experienced forager.

Here are some courses and mentorship programs to consider:

Mushroom Mountain

This South Carolina-based education program is an excellent resource for various classes on mushroom foraging, cultivation, and food safety certification classes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced individuals.

What the Fungus 

This is the Canadian-based company of mushroom cultivator and innovator Brian Callow. 

They offer classes and mentorship and are an excellent resource for online video instruction. 


This is the company of mushroom influencer and educator William Padilla-Brown. They offer various events, including intensives, on mushroom foraging.

Forest Farmacy 

This school is based in Asheville, NC, and provides a variety of in-person classes on foraging, cultivation, and much more.

Looking for Local Classes? 

Use Eat The Planet to find mushroom foraging classes near you, or check with your local Botanical Garden, herbalist’s guild, or community college.

Mushroom Foraging App

An app cannot replace the knowledge and experience gained from extensive study and mentorship.

However, a little technology can be helpful when learning to identify mushrooms.

Picture Mushroom Fungi Finder is a highly-rated mushroom ID app for Apple or Android.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Mushroom Foraging?

This depends on many factors, including learning styles, previous experience, your instructor/mentor, how much time you have to dedicate, where you live, and how you go about learning foraging.

Becoming proficient in mushroom foraging takes dedication, purpose, and focus. 

For instance, if you try to become an expert at identifying all the mushrooms in your area at once, it will take a long time to feel confident in your skills.

If, however, you do some preliminary reading, sign up for a few classes with a local mycologist, and focus on just a few local mushrooms, you could become proficient and confident much faster.

It pays to take your time and invest wisely in a good education and mentorship program.

How to Get Started Foraging Mushrooms

Most people get started with a book or two on foraging and/or by experimenting with preparing some wild mushrooms purchased from a trusted source.

Generally, the best next step is to get out into the woods with a mushroom-foraging mentor and get your hands dirty!

If you’re not ready for that, you could try some online courses to see how you enjoy the study and visual practice of foraging.

However you get started, remember to consider safety first! 

Even experienced foragers have been tricked by look-alikes, which can change their shape or smell depending on the season.

Do not attempt to eat any wild mushrooms without first being sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are non-toxic.

This is best achieved under the tutelage of a mycologist or experienced forager before branching out independently.

Finally, enjoy connecting with and discovering the vast range of fungi that do so much for people and our planet.

Happy foraging!


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