First a warning, mushroom picking requires a certain level of experience and expertise because picking the wrong mushrooms for consumption can be quite dangerous. It’s essential that you know how to identify mushrooms to avoid unpleasant experiences.
If you’re new to mushroom foraging, it’s recommended that you don’t actually eat the mushrooms you pick; at least not for the first year or two. You should take this time to study and learn how to identify the different kinds of mushrooms instead.
Most mushrooms are inedible and some of the most common ones are poisonous, so it’s vital to take some time to get familiarized with the mushroom variety in your area.
What’s more, a great variety of edible mushrooms have poisonous doppelgangers that you need to be able to tell apart. In order to do this correctly, make sure you compare the mushrooms you find to different sources and always double-check your information; be skeptical even of your own conclusions until you’re 100% certain.
It’s also very helpful to surround yourself with other enthusiasts so you can learn from more experienced people. Look for mushroom clubs in your area and join your local mycological society as well! This will give you greater access to information and you’ll be able to consult with experts whenever you need.
The location of your mushroom picking matters, so make sure you choose high-quality landscapes, not areas near polluting industries or heavy trafficked roads. If you don’t live in a Scandinavian country where it is not necessary to ask for permission to pick mushrooms, make sure you obtain permission and, whenever possible, bring an experienced forager with you to serve as a field guide.
Once you’ve learned how to identify the first edible species and their poisonous look alikes with certainty, focus on them and only pick those mushrooms. Don’t try pick too many species and start with easy ones.
As a rule of thumb, avoid all mushrooms in the button stage because they’re even easier to confuse with poisonous and inedible types. Only pick those that already have opened caps.
You also must pay attention to safe storage and transport. The larger mushrooms you pick must be carried in paper bags, wax paper or in a container while the smaller ones should be carried in a small yet sturdy box. Make sure to keep everything separate as well!
As you can see, mushroom picking requires quite a lot of studying and attention to detail. It takes years of experience to have an educated eye, so in the meantime, be careful and follow the golden rule: When in doubt, toss it out!
The web can be a good source for information about foraging mushrooms, but nothing substitutes high quality books about the topic. We recommend the following books (click to go to the Amazon store):
Especially the book Mushrooming without fear is recommended for beginners. It lists mushrooms which not easily can be confused with poisonous ones and give instructions how to start with foraging mushrooms. The last book, Edible Mushrooms, by Geoff Dann, is recommended for Europeans.