How many species of wild mushroom are there in the UK?
The British Isles is home to a staggering 15,000 species of wild mushrooms or fungi. These organisms live almost everywhere in the UK, but tend to grow more abundantly in woodland and grassland. For those who know little about fungi, the task of identifying them can be difficult.
Here is our guide to 10 of the most common wild mushroom species found in Britain, each with a few key details regarding where they grow, characteristics and whether they are edible or poisonous.
Mushroom picking and safety
If you are unsure whether a wild mushroom is safe to eat or not, seek advice from an expert. Eating a poisonous mushroom can be fatal – or at least make you feel very unwell, so don’t risk it. There are many foraging courses you can join where you can be guided by an expert.
Most common British wild woodland mushroom species
Pleurotus ostreatus ©Getty
Generally found in a tiered formation on tree stumps, particularly beech. Its shell-shaped cap varies in hue from cream to grey-blue, beneath which is a white underpart and short, stubby stem.
Is Oyster mushroom edible or poisonous? Edible, with a delicate taste.
Chicken of the Woods
Laetiporus sulphurous ©Getty
Often, but not only, found growing on oak trees, this bracket fungus is made of fan-shaped layers with wavy edges. The young surface is soft and creamy in colour, with an acid-yellow underside.
Is Chicken of the Woods edible or poisonous? Edible, especially when young, but may cause an allergic reaction.
Calvatia gigantea ©Getty
This colossal fungi, found in meadows and on sports pitches, is often mistaken for a football. Young puffballs have soft clean white skin and firm flesh when cut. Aged puffballs split to release spores.
Is Giant Puffball edible or poisonous? Edible, best eaten when young.
How to forage responsibly
Always be sure you can positively identify any plant before you pick it, and never eat any plant you are unsure of. When foraging, ensure you leave plenty for wildlife.
Here are a couple of key foraging guidelines:
- Seek permission before foraging. In certain areas, plant species will be protected so it is important to do some research and check with the landowner before you start gathering.
- Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply. Look for areas where you can find food in abundance and then only collect a small amount for personal use. Never completely strip an area as this could damage the species and deny another forager the chance to collect.
- Leave enough for wildlife and avoid damaging habitats.Many animals rely on plants for survival, so never take more than you plan to eat as this could also deny wildlife from a valuable food source. Be mindful about wildlife habitats and avoid disturbing or damaging.
- Never pick protected species or cause permanent damage. Britain’s wild plants are all protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), which makes it illegal to dig up or remove a plant. Check the law before you forage or if in doubt, why not take part in a foraging class with an expert and learn the basics.
Boletus edulis ©Getty
Also called Penny Bun because of its brown, bread-like top when young, porcini has a short, pale-brown stem with a clear veiny network at the top. Found under oak and conifers.
Is Penny bun edible or poisonous? Edible, used in cooking around the world. Can be dried and eaten.
Cantharellus cibarius ©Getty
Found in woods, particularly beech and oak. This rich-yellow fungi, shaped like a funnel, develops a wavy, turned-under edge with age. Beneath, gills form deep ridges down the stem. Accompanied by a delicate apricot scent.
Is Chanterelle edible or poisonous? Edible, among the most commonly consumed of all mushrooms. Versatile.
Coprinus comets ©Getty
A fragile mushroom with an elongated, narrow dome cap, found on grassy verges. Gills turn from white to pink and finally black, before emitting an inky liquid as the mushroom deliquesces.
Is Sahggy inkcap edible or poisonous? Edible, worth eating when young.
Auricularia auricula-judae ©Getty
Found on dead and decaying branches, particularly elder. The small fungi – gelatinous with a rubbery texture – often becomes ear-shaped with age.
Is Jelly ear edible or poisonous? Edible, with an indistinct and gelatinous taste.
Amanita mascara ©Getty
Usually seen on the edges of mixed woodland. Its vivid red/orange cap is sometimes flecked white spots – although these can be removed by rainwater. Has white gills and a slim stem.
Is Fly agaric edible or poisonous? Poisonous and hallucinogenic. Do not consume.
Piptoporus botulinus ©Getty
A bracket fungi, rubbery in texture, often seen on the trunk of birch trees, either living or dead. White and smooth when young, it turns grey/brown and increases in size as it ages.
Is Razorstrop edible or poisonous? Edible, with a strong mushroomy smell and bitter taste.
Agarics campestris ©Getty
Smooth, slender stem, tapering downwards. Deep, pink gills, then dark brown. A white cap than can be discoloured brown. Was once very common, now harder to find due to agricultural chemicals and habitat lost. As implied by its name, grows in fields and meadows, as well as broad-leaved mixed woodland.
Is Field mushroom edible or poisonous? Edible, pleasant but mildly acidic taste.