Easiest Mushrooms to Identify for Beginners
If you want to learn how to forage for mushrooms, it's a good idea to start with a few easy to identify varieties first. Here is a list of the best edible mushrooms for learning mushroom identification and foraging in British Columbia.
Pacific Golden Chanterelle
Pacific golden chanterelles are a prized edible mushroom in many parts of the world, and for good reason, as they are both delicious and beautiful.
The distinctive ridge-like gills make chanterelles easy to identify, and they often occur in large numbers - enough for preservation and storage.
Our beloved local variety, the Pacific Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus, or "beautiful cup") is usually found in the fall. Look for chanterelles on damp, mossy forest floors below young Douglas fir trees.
There are many types of chanterelle, including white chanterelles, cascade chanterelles, black chanterelles, blue chanterelles, and winter chanterelles.
Pros: Relatively easy to spot and identify, usually bug free, can be found in large numbers.
Cons: Often requires some backcountry hiking, tricky to cook properly, hard to find your first patch.
Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the woods is one of the most striking mushrooms, and one of the few polypore mushrooms that are considered a choice edible.
Chicken of the woods is often bright orange, with a sulfur-yellow edge and underside, fading to chalk with age. Harvest them when soft and rubbery, and cut away any parts that are hard, crumbling, or woody.
For a delicious meal, cook chicken of the woods thoroughly until it starts to brown at the edges. To combat the dry texture, add moisture while cooking (like a white wine), or dip them in sauce before eating.
Chicken of the woods usually appears on fresh wood (living or dead) in late summer to early fall.
Eat a small amount at first to check if you have the stomach for it.
Pros: Easy to spot and identify, great taste and texture (when young), will grow in the same spot year after year.
Cons: Blooms are relatively rare, causes upset stomachs in some.
Chicken of the woods, or sulfur shelf. Varieties west of the Rockies are Laetiporus conifericola and Laetiporus gilbertsonii. Some are made ill by it, so eat with caution at first.
Hypomyces lactifluorum. One of the few edibles you can find growing under cedar trees. Also excellent for making dye.
Lobsters are the result of a parasitic fungi colonizing another mushroom (usually the short-stemmed russula). Don't worry - all known hosts are edible, and the infection only makes them better!
Despite their bright colour, lobster mushrooms are often hidden deep under moss and plant matter.
Also, don't worry if you see white powder on or around a lobster mushroom, those are just the spores. A patch of white powder on the ground could mean that a lobster mushroom is hiding underneath.
Lobster mushrooms appear near the end of summer.
Pros: Very easy to identify, easy to spot in some conditions, can be found in large quantities.
Cons: Long cooking time, can require a lot of tedious processing (cutting away embedded plant bits).
Hedgehog mushrooms taste good, are easy to cook, have no poisonous lookalikes, and tend to be bug free.
Hedgehogs could be the perfect mushroom for foraging. If only they appeared in larger numbers!
The two varieties on Vancouver Island, Hydnum repandum and Hydnum umbilicatum are identifiable by their pale colours, relatively firm stems, and (most importantly) the hundreds of tiny "spikes" instead of gills.
Hedgehog mushrooms are found in late fall on mossy banks, or tucked away in the undergrowth. If the weather is mild enough, you can find them deep into winter as well.
Pros: Often found next to hiking trails, delicious, easy to identify, bug free.
Cons: Hard to find in satisfying quantities, individuals can be hard to spot because of their small size.
Hydnum repandum, AKA "sweet tooth", varies from white, to cream in colour. Hydnum umbilicatum is taller, more slender, darker in colour, and often has a "belly-button" dimple on the cap.
Gem-studded Puffball - Lycoperdon perlatum
There are a few species of puffball mushroom. While some grow to astounding sizes, the varieties found on Vancouver Island tend to be small.
To check for edibility, cut a specimen in half. It should be all soft and white inside, perhaps with vague, chaotic swirls. If you see any discoloration or structure (stalk, gills, etc.) discard!
Puffballs are widespread, appearing on stumps, lawns, in large clusters, or small groups.
Dried puffballs can be ground up to use as soup stock.
Pros: Widespread, easy to spot, occurs in large numbers.
Cons: Could possibly be mistaken for buttons of other mushrooms (always check!)
Oyster mushrooms are one of the few mushrooms native to Vancouver Island that can be grown commercially. You've probably seen them in your local grocery store and they're also a popular choice for home-growers
In the wild, oyster mushrooms grow on dead hardwood trees (like alders), and usually near rivers.
An oyster-producing log can fruit multiple times in a season, so check after every rainfall to pick them when they're freshest. Get there quickly, because oyster mushrooms grow and go bad quickly.
On Vancouver Island you can find oysters ranging from white, to grey-brown, to pale yellow.
Pros: Relatively easy to find, can cover a single log many times over in a single season.
Cons: Often bug-ridden (soak in vinegar or brine to get most of the worms out).
Read more about oyster mushrooms with our comprehensive oyster mushroom guide.
There are a number of mushroom species referred to as "oysters". On Vancouver Island we have Pleurotus pulmonarius and Pleurotus populinus.
So, if you're looking to get started foraging for wild edible mushrooms on Vancouver Island, start with these: