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Mushroom hunting, also known as mushroom picking or mushrooming, is the act of picking up mushrooms from the wild. While mushroom hunting is done mostly as a hobby, pickers usually cook or store the mushrooms for later consumption. Mushroom picking is a family tradition in Slavic countries, especially Poland and Russia, where even small children can recognize edible mushrooms from the poisonous kind; mushroom picking is also common practice in Italy and other Southern European countries.
Mushroom hunting is a safe hobby as long as you can recognize the species of mushrooms that are safe to eat. There are few species that should be avoided, but it's important that you learn to identify them, as some of them can be deadly. Poisonous mushrooms to avoid when mushroom hunting include the Destroying angel, the Deadly Webcap, and all members of the Lepiota species. There is no single characteristic that marks a mushroom as poisonous, so it's important that you learn how individual species look.
While not all mushrooms are deadly, some can cause severe poisoning, kidney failure, and allergic reactions. To make things even more complicated, some people are immune to the poison in certain mushrooms while others may react violently to it. When mushroom picking, always bring a full-color guide, so you can compare photos to the actual specimen and then decide if you should take it or not. Another option is to take a mushroom hunting trip, which is normally led by an experienced mycologist or herb expert that can help you get started. A great advantage of going on your first mushroom hunting expedition with an expert is that they can point out which areas to avoid because of chemical contamination or privacy issues. If you are mushroom hunting on your own, spring and fall are the best seasons, although mushrooms grow all year round in most climates.
Finally, resist the urge of eating a large quantity of mushrooms picked up during a mushroom hunting trip. Make sure you know what species you picked, and always eat no more than a tablespoon on the first day so you can wait out any potential reactions.
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