Fungi – Which Book?
In this blog I aim to help you with your own fungi journey in recommending some reference material which will set you on the right path and serve you well. There is no one book that will give you everything you need, rather a combination of books to be used out in the field and on the desk at home, or back at camp.
Autumn is a great time of year for fungi, they are seemingly popping up all over the place in great numbers and so people’s attention tends to turn towards them at that time. There are however different varieties available all through the year to feed your interest after the amazing display of autumn has passed us by.
People in general seem to have a very healthy hesitation when it comes to collecting mushrooms for the pot, compared to greens and rightly so, confusing poisonous mushrooms with edible ones is a very real risk. With any form of foraging the golden rule is always 100% ID, anything falling short of that just doesn’t cut it. It may surprise you to learn that there are more poisonous and toxic plants out there than mushrooms. That said out of the 4,000 (approx.) species we have in the UK around 400 are poisonous, 20 of these are deadly and only one is responsible for 90% of deaths. The clue is in the name here, i.e. the Death Cap, so let us now turn our attention to some recommended reference material for some clarity on the world of fungi.
In terms of an ID desk books, there is only one you need to know and that must be “Mushrooms” by Roger Phillips. It really is worth its weight in gold. It comprises over 1,250 quality colour fungi images, detailing every growth cycle of any one fungus, if it oxidises blue upon cutting it or turns yellow upon bruising, then there is a photo of it happening. Each fungi comes with a small paragraph which gives the key ID details. The book is well laid out with a quick reference guide to the major genera’s as they appear in the book, which are divided into each fungi type, ie with gills, pores, stomach, etc, etc.
A combination of over 25 years to compile, it really is a work of art in Fungi identification and as you might expect with that level of information, it takes 384 pages slightly under A4 size weighing 1 ¼ kg. Not exactly pocket friendly, or one you will happily lump around on a woodland walk, but no other book does this better, a bargain at RRP of £20. One I happily leave as a reference back at camp.
For a field reference I often take “Mushrooms” No1 in the River Cottage Handbook series. It is written by John wright, one of the UK’s leading experts on fungi. It is roughly A5 size, with 256 pages of nicely laid out information. It begins with some great information for the beginner on how to start out and what I really like about it is the quick reference key to 50 edible fungi, that a mushroom hunter would be interested in putting on the dinner table, as well as the 22 of the estimated 400 poisonous ones in the UK at the back of the book.
Each fungus has a clear photo in the prime of its life cycle, with a quick reference ID guide on what to look for & when, above a page of interesting information, which ends in any warnings which you need to be aware of.
As you would expect being part of the River Cottage series, it has over 30 tantalisingly tasty recipes, from the quick and easy to the more adventurous servings. RRP £14.99. A great book to have on you while mushroom hunting.
The next offering is another one well worth using as a field reference. It is the Collins “How to Identify Edible Mushrooms” By Patrick Harding, Tony Lyon and Gill Tomblin. It is one we recommended back in 2013 in our Which-Book blog and it is still very relevant today.
It’s all in the name really, but the thing I really like about this book is how it collates it’s fungi. Most mushroom books display the edible ones first with the poisonous ones at the back. It won’t disappoint here, but it goes further in dividing what you will find in grasslands, broadleaf woodlands and coniferous woodlands, helping you to specifically target certain species to the environment you are hunting in. That’s not the only clever bit, the genius part of this guide is that with each edible fungi it will follow with all the lookalikes on the following pages, both poisonous and edible with key information, negating the need for thumbing through pages and pages of fungi, umming and ahring, about, well it might be that one, or it could be that one. It puts all the info you need to help eradicate doubt in one place, making it the most user-friendly mushroom guidebook out there.
The only thing that lets it down for me are that the images are drawings rather than photos, which as nice as they are, detracts from the detail for me. They do however give an artist’s colour impression of the spore print, which is very useful for when you are taking samples home, as it is a further id feature of fungi. RRP12.99, even comes with a transparent plastic jacket to help protect it.
The last one I’d like to recommend is “The Complete Mushroom Hunter” by Gary Lincoff a self-taught mycologist and philosophy major, who taught for more than 40 years at the New York Botanical Garden. It is published by Quarry. It is not UK specific, but draws on his knowledge from travels around the world. It is as close as I have come to the most rounded fungi guide (as the title suggests).
It opens by describing the different world markets for fungi, followed by some useful information for people starting out. It only lists just over 20 edible fungi, but it really releases some interesting detail, like where to look for morels and understanding why they grow where they do, which is insightful.
It spaciously lays out the information with nice large pictures and digestible amounts of text, giving lookalike and detailed cautions relevant to that species, which include any sensitivities people may have and issues with eating certain types of fungi whilst on prescribed medication. It follows the format of most with the poisonous ones at the back, but in addition of a chart of symptoms, of poisoning and treatments.
There is a good selection of recipes for you to try, before looking at how fungi is used in arts and crafts, but personally I find the inclusion of medicinal uses for fungi towards the back fascinating.
Overall it is a well rounded and interesting read, which doesn’t disappoint, recommended to me by a good old boy and friend (Bruce) that has been apart of the country side longer than most and still alive to tell the tale, just. RRP is £16.99. Makes a great first read.
There you have it, my four recommendations, out of the hundreds available. At the time of writing all four can be had for just over £30 online. So, get out there and release your inner mycologist, it is a fascinating world and these four books will set you on the right path.
Jay Jenner, Instructor