Best Edible Wild Mushrooms of Midwest

!! and Similar Poisonous Mushrooms to Avoid

THE FOOLPROOF COMMON EDIBLES, easy to recognize once you've seen them.

Morchella deliciosa, esculenta, crassipes, the morel (three forms of same species). Morchella elata, black morel, not as common. Only found in the spring, mainly May. Saprobe under dead elms, near fruit trees, or other hardwoods.

!! Gyromitra, Helvella, false morels and saddle fungi, are poisonous, can be deadly.

Cantharellus cibarius, chanterelle. Mid-July to mid-September. Mycorrhizal, common with oaks, common with pine to north, especially jack pine. Cantharellus cinnabarinus and C. lateritius and other species can also be found.

!! Gomphus, poisonous, common with pines in north.

!! Omphalotus, jack-o'lantern mushroom, poisonous, in clumps growing from tree trunks and roots, especially oak, gills glow in the dark (bioluminescent when fresh). Common.

!! Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, false chanterelle, has dichotomously forked gills; said to be edible but has caused alarming symtoms (hallucinations) in some cases.

Laetiporus sulphureus, sulfur shelf, chicken-of-the-woods. Spring to fall, somewhat unpredictable in occurrence. Saprobe on live and dead hardwoods, especially oak. Grows on trunk or logs. Best to use only the younger tender portions. Can substitute for chicken in many recipes. The paler L. cincinnatus is also found in the Chicago area; it has a cream pore surface rather than bright yellow, and grows on the ground (tree root parasite).

Grifola frondosa, hen-of-the-woods. Mainly late summer and fall. Saprobe at base of hardwoods, especially oaks, can find in oak woods but is easier to spot in park lawns with oaks. Makes good pickles.

Calvatia gigantea, giant puffball. Saprobe on ground, open woods and fields. Good filler in a recipe, absorbs flavors (and butter) well, use slices as in eggplant parmigiana or as a pizza crust. Lycoperdon pyriforme, pear-shaped puffball grows on logs, other Lycoperdon species grow on the ground. Only eat puffballs when they are young and pure white inside, like a marshmallow. If turning yellow or green they will cause stomach upset.

!! Scleroderma, pigskin puffballs, poisonous, thick skin, dark interior.

Coprinus comatus, shaggy mane, makes an excellent (albeit gray) mushroom soup. Unpredictable in appearance, spring to fall. Saprobe on the ground, prefers recently disturbed and hard-packed ground and open areas, look in parks and along new roads and trails. Coprinus micaceus, mica inky cap. Much smaller but can be found in quantity. Common saprobe on dead roots, especially where elms have been removed in town.

!! Coprinus atramentarius, alcohol inky cap, this mushroom contains a compound which blocks a person's ability to detoxify alcohol; same reaction as those taking Antabuse.

COMMON GOOD EDIBLES, but not as foolproof - check features carefully.

Hydnum (Dentinum) repandum, sweet tooth, use like chanterelles.

Pleurotus ostreatus, oyster mushroom, of variable flavor, is quickly attacked by insects and a yellow slime mold. Saprobe on live and dead hardwoods, can fruit in the same location several times in a season, is easily cultivated. Hypsizygus (Pleurotus) ulmarius and tessulatus, elm caps or elm oyster, tougher texture than oyster mushrooms, has well developed stems, saprobe on hardwoods, most commonly found growing from knotholes on live elms and box elders.

Boletus edulis, the king bolete, the cep, this is the best bolete and prized around the world. Several color forms exist and it is mycorrhizal with hardwoods and conifers. Unfortunately, it is rare in Chicago area. Leccinum, scaber stalks, nearly as good as the king bolete (and sometimes substituted commercially). Various species mycorrhizal with aspen, birch, oak, and conifers. Suillus, many different species, texture is softer and not liked by all, typically use just cap flesh and stalks, peel off skin of cap and discard tubes (texture more slimy). Mycorrhizal with hardwoods and conifers, much more common in north.

!! There are some poisonous boletes, some of these bruise blue or have red tubes, check field guides. Tylopilus felleus can be confused with Boletus edulis but has pinkish spores and tubes and the reticulum on the stalk turns brown, it has a very bitter taste.

Clitocybe (Lepista) nuda, blewitt, the flavor is best when used the same day it is collected. Saprobe on leaf litter, most common under oaks. Mycelium or crumbled fruiting bodies can be mixed into oak leaf litter in the garden for a chance at home cultivation.

!! Do not confuse with violet species of Cortinarius (which have brown spore print).

Pluteus cervinus, fawn mushroom, pink spores, free gills, on wood. Common.

OTHER GOOD EDIBLES, either uncommon or not recommended for the novice mushroom hunter, check field guides for details on these.

Armillaria mellea and closely related species, honey-caps, this is a complex of several species whose identities are still being sorted out, so Armillaria is variable in appearance, habitat and flavor. Requires thorough cooking, preferably parboiled first, not liked by all. In some years fruits in great quantity, late fall.

!! Check carefully for Galerina, a deadly little brown mushroom also growing on wood.

Flammulina velutipes, winter mushroom, prefers cool weather, is grown commercially as Enotake (but looks completely different). Commonly in clumps on dead hardwoods.

Agaricus arvensis, campestris, bitorquis (rodmani), relatives of the store mushroom.

Agaricus subrufescens, a very close relative of the prince (in west), Agaricus augustus, excellent strong almond odor and flavor, unfortunately it is rare.

!! Carefully identify any Agaricus; there are many common poisonous Agaricus species found in both woods and open areas!; also be sure that they are not Amanitas!

Stropharia rugosoannulata, wine-caps, good flavor, can be cultivated on wood chips.

Lepiota procera, rachodes, americana, parasol mushrooms.

!! Chlorophyllum molybdites (Lepiota morgani), green-spored lepiota, poisonous.

!! Several small Lepiota are poisonous, a few deadly. Identify carefully.

!! Don't confuse with Amanita.

Rozites caperata, gypsy mushroom, found in north in mixed woods and with birch.

Lyophyllum decastes, fried-chicken mushroom, grows in clumps on ground in parks. This mushroom is fairly nondescript, so better to have it shown you several times, before you try to identify it on your own.

Craterellus cornucopioides, C. fallax, black trumpets. Good, a few don't care for its cooked appearance. Others say this is by far the best edible mushroom.

Hericium species, distinctive white toothed fungi on wood. Delicate flavor and texture.

Clavicorona pyxidata, crown-tipped coral, this coral grows on logs. I don't recommend any other corals, some are poisonous.

Hypomyces lactifluorum, lobster mushroom, an ascomycete parasite commonly found on certain Russula and Lactarius; has a characteristic vase shape. Common in north. Use only if fresh and crisp, older specimens quickly rot and harbor bacteria. Do not eat any other Hypomyces; they are commonly white or yellow and grow on mushrooms such as boletes and amanitas.


!!! Amanita bisporigera, virosa, verna, destroying angels.

!!! Galerina autumnalis and related Galerina species.

!!! Gyromitra species have caused fatalities, leave them be.

!!! There are several very poisonous species of Lepiota and Cortinarius, luckily they are uncommon and rarely eaten in the Midwest.


Do not eat any mushrooms raw. Some edibles can have minute amounts of mild toxins which are destroyed with cooking, this includes the morels. A few people even consider not eating store mushrooms raw (various chemicals may be employed with their production).

Do not take chances or experiment. If you are not sure of your identifications don't eat the mushrooms; ask a qualified mushroom hunter.

When eating a mushroom for the first time try a small amount to see if it agrees with you (wait a few hours). Persons can have allergic reactions to certain mushrooms but this is generally uncommon (a few exceptions are Laetiporus and Lepiota). Also don't mix mushrooms in the same meal unless you've had each one before.

Do not overindulge when eating mushrooms, too much of a good thing can lead to indigestion. Also go easy on the butter when frying, especially the absorbent puffballs.

When collecting mushrooms for eating it is helpful to clean as much dirt and debris off of them in the field. Also check for maggots, and discard old specimens. Be sure you know what you're picking if you cut stems off in the field!

Use only very fresh mushrooms, old, soft or off-color specimens are likely to be spoiled and could cause food poisoning because of bacteria. Don't use ones with mold. Also mushrooms don't keep well in the refrigerator more than a couple days, they loose their freshness and flavor.

Be cautious with edible mushrooms growing on conifer wood (e.g. Laetiporus and Armillaria), the flavor can be adversely affected and compounds from the wood may produce illness. Never eat anything growing on Eucalyptus trees.

Mushrooms are excellent at concentrating metals and toxins. The Chernobyl disaster demonstrated this all too well. So do not use mushrooms growing in areas where herbicides, pesticides, or other chemicals have been used, or along busy roadways and next to old houses where the soil may contain lead.

If collecting in parks where pets are exercised be aware that dogs may mark mushrooms (such as Grifola) in addition to trees and fire hydrants.

And remember, there are many edible mushrooms that are not commonly eaten simply because they are too small or too few to bother with, or have inferior flavors or textures, or are uncommon, or are related closely to poisonous species. It's best to stick to the tried and true edibles.

There are bold mushroom hunters and there are old mushroom hunters. But there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.

Death Angel

The white Amanita virosa and related species are deadly, having toxins that destroy liver and kidney function.

Like a volleyball

The giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea is like tofu — great for adding texture. But beware, it can soak up a lot of butter!

Sweet Tooth

The uncommon Hydnum repandum is an edible toothed mushroom related to the chanterelle.

Fungal shellfish

The oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, can be found from spring to late fall, and is one of the easiest to grow from spawn.

Safe Bolete

The Old-man-of-the-woods, Strobilomyces, is a dark shaggy bolete with red staining inside. This edible bolete is fairly distinctive.

Leave them be

Poisonous Cortinarius, shown here, can be easily confused with Clitocybe nuda.

Don't gamble on this

The green-spored lepiota, Chlorophyllum molybdites, causes many poisonings each year, but some people are not affected when eating it.

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