Wild Mushroom Foraging in Australia

Disclaimer  :  These notes are provided as a guide only.  Nanna Anna is not academically qualified in mycology (the science of fungi), and as such, cannot and will not accept any responsibility for consequences that may arise from the action of anyone eating wild mushrooms that they find and identify themselves.

Wild mushrooms. They’ve become quite The Thing these past few years, with more and more foraging tours, identification groups and recipe crazes popping up each year. So how can you get involved without putting yourself at risk of poisoning? 

It’s estimated that Australia is home to over 250,000 species of fungi, yet only around 5,000 have been described. Within that, only a minute portion have been assessed as safely edible. It’s therefore advised to consider any mushroom you find as toxic until undeniably proven otherwise. Whilst that may seem overly cautious, it’s worth knowing how real the risks are.

Deadly mistakes

Amanita phalloides, known commonly as the Death Cap, is responsible for a staggering 90% of mushroom-related deaths around the world, and has caused 4 deaths in Australia since 2002. Eating just one of these unassuming white mushrooms puts you at high risk of suffering fatal organ failure within a week. 

Whilst not as deadly as the Death Cap, Agaricus xanthodermus (Yellow Stainer) has been responsible for the greatest number of Australian mushroom poisonings, hospitalising scores of people every year, and poses a serious threat to the immuno-compromised. Its prolific growth in suburban areas and resemblance to store-bought white mushrooms make it a genuine pitfall species for novice foragers. 

The potential for fatal errors is what’s held us back from foraging white mushrooms for now, although we hope to spend time learning more about them over the next few years. That may seem like a long time, but realistically, it’s not uncommon for foragers to spend several years learning to feel confident in their identification skills. Prolonged field experience is a far better teacher than any one person or text, so no matter where and how you learn about foraging, be prepared: it’s a lifelong skill building exercise!

Identification is key

Mushroom identification is serious business, and not something to be rushed, as the potential risks are simply too high. It’s not an overstatement to say that you’re taking your life into your own hands every time you decide to eat wild foraged mushrooms, but a solid understanding of the factors you need to consider when making an accurate identification can reduce the chances that you’ll make an error. 

Australia has quite a few different species of edible mushrooms, and fortunately for us foragers, there are a small handful (Saffron MilkcapsWeeping Boletes and Slippery Jacks to name three) that have no really close toxic lookalikes. There are many other edible species as well, but some of these have doppelgangers with the ability to cause you some real harm if you eat them. 

Basic mushroom anatomy

Knowing the basic anatomy of fungi is imperative for any would-be forager. Understanding the difference between pores, gills and teeth is vital, as every reputable guidebook will use this terminology.

The diagram below is a hypothetical Franken-shroom showing basic defining features of different fungi. You’ll never find a mushroom with all of these features at once, but simply knowing they exist as possible ID features to look out for is a great place to start. Keep this handy when reading ID notes in field guides.

How to identify wild mushrooms

Once you understand that mushroom foraging can be risky, and you realise that you’ll need to learn a fair bit before cooking up a storm, you’ll want to get your hands on some reputable reference texts. Relying on ‘the internet’ as your primary source of information just doesn’t cut it with mushrooms. Sure, use well-respected foraging sites and botanical institutes to help hone your knowledge, but to begin with, you’ll need specific field-guides to help you learn to confidently ID different species. 

Australia has a limited number of fungi field guides written with reference to edibility of the named species, which you can find listed at the bottom of this article. Of them, the most recent – “Wild mushrooming: a guide for foragers”) by Alison Pouliot and Tom May – has the most user-friendly layout and useful content for beginning foragers, and is an invaluable guide to have on hand. 

We like to use Australian texts like this one to help us confidently ID a species, and then we’ll look that species up in texts and reference websites from around the world. Many of the edible species we have in Australia originally came from Europe, and as they’ve been foraging for centuries over there, there’s a lot more informative material to be found outside of Australian references. 

A word of warning: once you’ve started being able to identify different species, be prepared to feel even more unsure than before! Sometimes finding out what you don’t know can be disheartening, but remember that applying your ID skills will become easier with time and practice. 

How to hunt

  • Make sure you’re headed to a safe, legal zone.
  • Bring a sharp knife and small brush to cut and clean mushrooms, and guidebooks to help ID specimens. If in doubt, leave it out! (Meaning, if you wouldn’t confidently feed it to your best friends’ children, don’t eat it yourself.)
  • Pay attention to where the mushrooms are growing: this helps inform an ID.
  • Look for ‘shrumps’ (mushroom humps) in grass or leaf litter: there’s often a mushroom underneath.
  • Tread lightly: leave the environment undamaged; take only what you can eat/preserve within a day; leave behind more than you take.
  • Carry collected mushrooms cap-side up in a basket (so they spread spores throughout the area as you move).
  • Perform a spore print test of any specimens you’re unsure of: spore colour is useful in ID.

Questions to ask

With your field guide in hand, here are some of the things to consider when seeking to identify a mushroom. There are many more elements to each point than we’ve listed, but this gives you an idea of what you’re in for if you say you want to learn to forage mushrooms!

Colour & appearance of stem:

Is the stem short or long; hollow or solid? Does it have markings on it? Pock marks, a grainy texture, cracks? Is there a ‘skirt’ present on the stem? 

Colour & appearance cap:

Is the cap conical, rounded, flat, parasol-shaped? Do the edges curl under, curl up, ruffle, crack, disintegrate? Does the cap have markings – warts, striations, rings, pock marks, scales? Is the skin slimy, coarse, smooth, powdery?

Colour & appearance spore-carrying structure:

Is the underside of the cap covered in gills, pores or teeth? Are those structures small or large? Do they stop at the stem, or trail down the stem? Are they evenly spaced or haphazard? Is there evidence of powdery spores, or liquid spores?

Size and thickness

How big is the whole mushroom? What are the proportions of the cap to the stem? How thick is the cap, stem? 

Flesh

Is the mushroom flesh firm, soft, spongey, rubbery? Does it have a consistent structure? Does it change colour when you bruise/cut it?

Growth location

Which country are you in? Which state/territory/province? What’s the altitude? What is the predominant surrounding habitat? What plants are immediately near the mushroom? 

Substrate 

What is the mushroom growing from? Wood, soil, rotten timber/leaves, animal dung? 

Growth habit 

Is the mushroom alone, or in clumps? If clumps, how many in a group? Is it growing in a ring? Around a tree? On a tree??

Time of year/weather

What season is it? What’s the weather been like in that location for the past week? 

Smell

Does it have an odour? What about if you break it? Is the smell sweet, fruity, funky, dirty, acrid, rancid, chemical? Putting the mushroom in a closed container for half an hour or so will help amplify the odour, thus allowing you to smell it more clearly.  

Difference in appearance between young & old

What changes do you notice in colour, shape, size, texture between young and old specimens?

Overnight spore print

When you do a spore print test overnight, what colour are the spores that fall on the plate/paper? 

Even armed with all these facts, if you want to head down the path of ‘absolute certainty’, it’s widely acknowledged that the only way to be completely sure of a mushroom ID is to answer all the above questions, AND look at the mushroom spores under a microscope. For most foragers, this isn’t possible or realistic, so it becomes all the more important to hone your other observation skills. 

So, how do I get started? 

What to look for and where

According to a quick survey of Australian foragers, Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus) is the standout favourite edible, but other tasty species mentioned include Birch Bolete, Wood Ear, Wood Blewit and Lawyers Wig. Each of these grows in different climates and environments, so hit the books for more info on these species and their distribution.

The easiest edible species for novices to master in Australia–Saffron Milkcap, Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus), and Weeping Bolete (S. granulatus) – grow predominantly with the roots of Pinus radiata, so foraging around pine plantations is fairly common. Heading to regions where prime agriculture was introduced in the early 1900’s is a good idea, as many affluent homesteads belonged to Europeans with wealth behind them, and one of the things they did was to plant their properties with ‘exotic’ species from Europe and Asia, and often these brought existing fungi colonies with them. 

When to go hunting

Many edible fungi species require a combination of moderate temperatures and consistent moisture to grow the reproductive body we know as a ‘mushroom’. That means there’s usually a flush of mushroom growth in south-eastern Australia during autumn and winter. Occurrences in other northern and western states will depend more specifically on growth habitats and types of fungi. In recent years, we’ve been seeing species that traditionally pop up in autumn turn up all through the year, simply because climate and weather patterns are changing so drastically. 

Put simply, if you’re hunting for the more commonly known edible species, a decent general rule to go by is: when it’s cool enough to wear a jumper at night, and you have to wipe your feet before coming inside, it’s time to check your local pine trees!

Species to look for

This obviously depends on the season, your location, the surrounding habitat etc, so you’ll need to do some more research, but here are a list of species to keep an eye out for in the difference states of Australia. The Atlas of Living Australia is a great resource to use when working out how common (or not) a species is, so before you head out spotting, use this resource to find out which regions each species has been sighted in so you know what you might be able to expect. 

EDIBLE SPECIES

Whilst all of the listed species have been officially sighted in each relevant state, it’s worth noting that some of them have only been seen once, which is a fair indicator of a possibly erroneous sighting. So we’ve underlined the more commonly found species so you can focus your energy on those ones to begin with. 

Western Australia

“Field” or Horse mushroom (Agaricus species)

Slippery Jack and/or Weeping Bolete (Suillus luteus and Suillus granulatus)

Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda)

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Enoki/Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) 

Shaggy Inkcap/Lawyer’s Wig (Coprinus comatus)

Northern Territory

“Field” or Horse mushroom (Agaricus species)

Slippery Jack and/or Weeping Bolete (Suillus luteus and Suillus granulatus)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Enoki/Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) 

Shaggy Inkcap/Lawyer’s Wig (Coprinus comatus)

South Australia

“Field” or Horse mushroom (Agaricus species)

Slippery Jack and/or Weeping Bolete (Suillus luteus and Suillus granulatus)

Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda)

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Porcini/Cep/Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)

Shaggy Inkcap/Lawyer’s Wig (Coprinus comatus)

Rooting Shank (Xerula radicata)

Grey Knight (Tricholoma terreum)

Queensland

“Field” or Horse mushroom (Agaricus species)

Slippery Jack and/or Weeping Bolete (Suillus luteus and Suillus granulatus)

Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda)

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Porcini/Cep/Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)

Enoki/Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) 

Woodear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae)

Shaggy Inkcap/Lawyer’s Wig (Coprinus comatus)

Rooting Shank (Xerula radicata)

Grey Knight (Tricholoma terreum)

New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory

“Field” or Horse mushroom (Agaricus species)

Slippery Jack and/or Weeping Bolete (Suillus luteus and Suillus granulatus)

Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda)

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Enoki/Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) 

Woodear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae)

Shaggy Inkcap/Lawyer’s Wig (Coprinus comatus)

Rooting Shank (Xerula radicata)

Grey Knight (Tricholoma terreum)

Victoria

“Field” or Horse mushroom (Agaricus species)

Slippery Jack and/or Weeping Bolete (Suillus luteus and Suillus granulatus)

Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda)

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Porcini/Cep/Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)

Enoki/Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) 

Woodear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae)

Shaggy Inkcap/Lawyer’s Wig (Coprinus comatus)

Rooting Shank (Xerula radicata)

Grey Knight (Tricholoma terreum)

Tasmania

“Field” or Horse mushroom (Agaricus species)

Slippery Jack and/or Weeping Bolete (Suillus luteus and Suillus granulatus)

Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda)

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Enoki/Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) 

Woodear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae)

Shaggy Inkcap/Lawyer’s Wig (Coprinus comatus)

Rooting Shank (Xerula radicata)

Grey Knight (Tricholoma terreum)

TOXIC SPECIES

Because it’s important to know which toxic species can be found in your area as well as the tasty ones, here’s a list of the toxic species that have been logged in each state. Again, more common sightings have been underlined. 

Western Australia

Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus)

Ghost mushroom (Omphalotus nidiformis)

Laughing Gym/Jim (Gymopilus junonius)

Australian Emperor Webcap* (Cortinarius archeri)

Fairy Toadstool/ Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria)

Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes (or rachodes), C. olivieri and C. brunneum)

Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)

Brown Roll Rim (Paxillus involutus)

Northern Territory

Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

Australian Emperor Webcap* (Cortinarius archeri)

Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)

South Australia

Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus)

Ghost mushroom (Omphalotus nidiformis)

Laughing Gym/Jim (Gymopilus junonius)

Australian Emperor Webcap* (Cortinarius archeri)

Fairy Toadstool/ Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria)

Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes (or rachodes), C. olivieri and C. brunneum)

Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)

Brown Roll Rim (Paxillus involutus)

Queensland

Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus)

Poison Fire Coral (Podostroma cornu-damae)

Ghost mushroom (Omphalotus nidiformis)

Laughing Gym/Jim (Gymopilus junonius)

Australian Emperor Webcap* (Cortinarius archeri)

Fairy Toadstool/ Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria)

Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes (or rachodes), C. olivieri and C. brunneum)

Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)

New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory

Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus)

Ghost mushroom (Omphalotus nidiformis)

Laughing Gym/Jim (Gymopilus junonius)

Australian Emperor Webcap* (Cortinarius archeri)

Fairy Toadstool/ Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria)

Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes (or rachodes), C. olivieri and C. brunneum)

Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)

Brown Roll Rim (Paxillus involutus)

Victoria

Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus)

Ghost mushroom (Omphalotus nidiformis)

Laughing Gym/Jim (Gymopilus junonius)

Australian Emperor Webcap* (Cortinarius archeri)

Fairy Toadstool/ Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria)

Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes (or rachodes), C. olivieri and C. brunneum)

Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)

Brown Roll Rim (Paxillus involutus)

Tasmania

Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus)

Ghost mushroom (Omphalotus nidiformis)

Laughing Gym/Jim (Gymopilus junonius)

Australian Emperor Webcap* (Cortinarius archeri)

Fairy Toadstool/ Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria)

Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes (or rachodes), C. olivieri and C. brunneum)

Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)

Brown Roll Rim (Paxillus involutus)

* A less common Common name – usually just referred to as its botanical name.

Where to next?

Hopefully this has given you a good understanding of the ins and outs of foraging for edible mushrooms, and has provided you with a few places to start your learning. We’re slowly working on some ID guides in the background, but in the meantime, here’s what we’d suggest you do next to further your learning. 

  • Begin by reading up a bit on Australian edible wild mushrooms.
  • Get up close and personal with wild mushrooms. Visit fancy greengrocers and farmers markets and look out for Saffron Milkcaps (often called Pine Mushrooms or Red Pine Mushrooms), Weeping Boletes & Slippery Jacks, Wood Blewits and possibly even Turkey Tails. Ask the grocers how to prepare them, go home, cook and eat them. This will familiarize you with the smell, feel and taste of them. 
  • Buy or borrow Alison Pouliot’s field guide.
  • Watch some videos of foraging and identifying mushrooms in Australia. 
  • Join a foraging group, either online or in person. 
  • Attend a foraging workshop. We run a series of walk & talk sessions each year in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne you can sign up for, where you learn and practice the skills to identify a few of Victoria’s choice edible mushrooms. If you’d like to add your name to the pre-order list for this year’s autumn/winter sessions, drop us a line below and we’ll get your details on file. 

Further reading

Wild Mushrooming: A guide for foragers, Alison Pouliot & Tom May, CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, 2021.

By far the most useful guide for a beginning forager. Lots of background knowledge, excellent level of consistent detail, loads  of photos per species, detailed attention to potential lookalikes, and some scrummy recipes. A Must Have if you want to continue learning about foraging for mushrooms.

A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia, Tony Young, NewSouth Publishing, NSW, 2004.

Until this year, the most informative book on Australian fungi foraging No photos, few illustrations, missing a few common names. Has good notes on edibility of some species.

Field Guide to Australian Fungi, Bruce Fuhrer, Bloomings Books Pty Ltd, Victoria, 2011.

A good photographic guide of many Australian species, but less information (and its inconsistent between entries) so more of a guide to help you work out what you might be looking at before researching further.


Wombat Forest and Macedon Ranges Fungi Guide, Wombat ForestCare, Victoria, 2013

A great handy flier to take out foraging and bushwalking as it’s weatherproof and small. Excellent guide for steering your research.

Online resources

A Guide to Common Fungi of HCR Region, from the Local Land Services in NSW (https://hunter.lls.nsw.gov.au) . An online book with some great information on a wide range of mushroom species.

Fungimap.org.au is a great online resource, and they have a list of books they sell here https://shop.fungimap.org.au/product-category/fungi-books/

First Nature is a brilliant UK website https://www.first-nature.com/fungi/

An excellent source of info once you’re pretty sure of an ID. Be aware that because it is for the UK, it will *not* warn you about possible Australian lookalikes, so it’s still down to you to use all your Aussie field guide resources to help you make accurate identifications.

Profiles to follow on Instagram (they mostly have websites as well, which you can access from their IG accounts): @theweedyone @cotswoldforager @eduliswildfood@growforagecookferment @pascalbaudar @miltonmushrooms @blackforager – all excellent foragers and lovely people. 

In-person classes

If you’re interested in joining in one of our mushroom foraging classes, sign up for the workshops mailing list below. If you’d like to book your own private tour, sign up and drop us a little note in the field below and we’ll get back to you. 

We’ll be releasing our workshops to mailing list members on Saturday April 2nd, 2022, and then to the public on Monday the 4th. You’ll be able to find all the details and purchase tickets via the links here

If you’re in NSW, you may like to contact Diego Bonetto and join one of his foraging classes – he’s an absolute wealth of knowledge, and his website is full of great info too. 

Happy foraging!! 

Xo

Anna