Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet
2021 Coffey Rd., Columbus, Ohio 43210
C. Wayne Ellett
There are 2,000 or more kinds of wild mushrooms in Ohio. Some are
poisonous and some are edible and delicious when properly prepared.
The edibility of the majority is either not known or they are not
considered for food because of their small size or poor flavor or
Even though not every one is interested in collecting mushrooms to
eat, it is important to understand most have an important and
beneficial role in the environment. They grow in a wide variety of
habitats. Most of the mushrooms seen on a walk through a woods are
beneficial. Many species are quite specific about their food source
and will be found only under or near certain kinds of trees-some
under pines, others under oak, etc. Some are important as decay
organisms, aiding in the breakdown of logs, leaves, stems and other
organic debris. This important role of mushrooms results in recycling
of essential nutrients. Some mushrooms grow in, and form their
fruiting structures on living trees causing decay of the sapwood or
of the heartwood. Many woodland mushrooms are essential to good
growth, and even survival of trees. They establish a relationship
with roots of living trees that is mutually beneficial. These are
called mycorrhizal mushrooms.
All mushrooms, whether poisonous or edible can be admired for their
beauty and the fantastic variety of form, color and texture.
Which Mushrooms are Safe to Eat?
Some edible mushrooms are very similar in appearance to poisonous
kinds and may grow in the same habitat. Edible mushrooms are known to
be safe to eat because they have been eaten frequently with no ill
effects. Poisonous mushrooms are known because someone ate them and
became ill or died. There is no test or characteristic to distinguish
edible from poisonous mushrooms. This indicates a need to identify
with certainty one of several of the proven edible species and pick
and eat only those positively identified. At the same time, you
should also learn to identify some of the common poisonous mushrooms,
especially those that are similar to edible kinds. It is especially
important to learn the characteristics of the Amanita mushrooms,
since several of the species common in Ohio are poisonous, a few
causing serious illness and sometimes death.
The word "toadstool" is often used to indicate a poisonous mushroom.
Since there is no way to distinguish between a so-called "toadstool"
and an edible mushroom it is more precise to speak of poisonous
mushrooms or edible mushrooms.
The season for collecting wild mushrooms in Ohio for food begins in
late March and early April when the first morel or sponge mushrooms
are found. These choice edible mushrooms are most abundant during
April and the first two weeks of May. The false morels (members of
the Gyromitra genus) are found at this same time of the year, but
they must be regarded as poisonous and not collected for eating. It
is true that many have eaten false morels with no apparent ill
effects. However, recent research has shown toxins to be present in
some of the false morels that can cause death or serious illness. Do
not eat the false morels.
From mid summer to late autumn, a great variety of mushrooms may be
found in Ohio. A number of these are choice edibles. Photographs and
brief descriptions of several of the more common mushrooms found in
Ohio are included in this fact sheet.
Edible vs. Poisonous-True or False
- Poisonous mushrooms tarnish a silver spoon. False
- If it peels, you can eat it. False
- All mushrooms growing on wood are edible. False
- Mushrooms that squirrels or other animals east are safe for
- All mushrooms in meadows and pastures are safe to eat. False
- All white mushrooms are safe. False (In Ohio, the most common
"deadly" mushrooms are white.)
- Poisonous mushrooms can be detoxified by parboiling, drying
or pickling. False
Collecting Wild Mushrooms
- Be sure of your identification-eat only kinds known to be
- Do not eat mushrooms raw.
- Eat only mushrooms in good condition.
- Eat only one kind at a time and do not eat large amounts.
- Eat only a small amount the first time; even morels, generally
considered to be excellent, may cause illness in some persons.
- Don't experiment. There is an old saying, "There are old mushroom
hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold
- Obtain a copy of one or more books or publications on mushrooms
and/or join a mushroom club.
Sources of Information
Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America, by Kent & Vera McKnight.
429 p. and 48 pl. (A Peterson guide) Houghton Mifflin Co. 500 species
described and illustrated in color. Another 500 discussed.
Mushrooms of North America, by O. K. Miler. E. P. Dutton and Co. Over
400 species described; 292 color photographs; illustrated glossary.
Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, by Gary
Lincoff. Alfred A. Knopf. 926 p. 756 color photographs with
descriptions of all species.
The Mushroom Hunter's Field Guide, by A. H. Smith and Nancy Weber.
Univ. of Mich Press. 316 p. and 282 color photographs.
The authors of the above guides are professional mycologists. These
guides are often available in local bookstores or in public
North American Mycological Association
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Mr. Walter Sturgeon
Ohio Mushroom Society
288 E. North Avenue
East Palestine, OH 44413
Contact the above for more information. The membership dues are
nominal. Newsletters are issued several times a year-and field trips,
forays and workshops are scheduled. These clubs are for anyone
interested in any aspect of mushrooms. Both have professional
mycologists to help identify mushrooms and lead field trips.
Chanterelle (Cantharellus) is bright yellow to orange and
found from June to September under hardwood trees, especially oak. It
is edible and choice-be aware of look-a-likes.
Giant Puffball (Calvatia) Edible. It ranges in diameter
from 8 to 24 inches and is found in parks, meadows, pastures, open
woods, urban areas, late August to early October.
Shaggy mane (Coprinus). One of the inky caps. Late summer
to fall in grassy areas and hard-packed ground. Edible. Gills and cap
soon become inky.
Green-spored Lepiota. (Chlorophyllum). Caps large, up to 10
inches. In lawns and other grassy areas. Gray-green spore print. Late
summer and early fall. Poisonous.
Fly Amanita. Reddish-orange, orange to yellow caps with
whitish "warts." Poisonous. Under trees.
Morel mushroom (Morchella). Three species in Ohio late
March to mid May. Edible.
Meadow mushroom (Agaricus). In grassy areas, late summer
and early fall. Pink gills, becoming chocolate brown. Edible.
Russula mushroom (Russula sp.). Many species in Ohio of
various colors-green, yellow, orange, purple, red, white, etc. All
woodland and mycorrhizal. Some edible and some poisonous. Summer and
fall. Brittle in texture, especially the gills.
Sulfur or Chicken mushroom (Laetiporus). Orange-yellow with
pores. On wood, edible especially the tender edges. Summer and fall.
A false morel (Gyromitra sp.). Do not eat false morels.
April and May.
Jack-O-Lantern mushroom. (Omphalotus, Clitocybe). Base of
stumps, decaying tree roots. Poisonous.
Slippery jack (Suillus, Boletus). A fleshy pore mushroom.
Under 2 and 3-needle pines. Edible.
Smooth white Lepiota. Grassy areas, late summer to early
autumn. Edible for most people. Be aware of look-a-likes.
Destroying Angel (Amanita sp.). Three, all white similar
species, common in Ohio in mixed woods. Found July to October.
Scarlet cup. One to two inch cup or saucer shaped
mushroom. On fallen hardwood branches. March-April. A beautiful early
American Lepiota. Summer and fall. On wood in advanced
stages of decay, sawdust-wood may be buried.
Lactarius or milk mushroom. One of many woodland
species-some edible, some not. All are mycorrhizal. A latex (white or
colored) exudes from injured areas. Summer and fall.
A cup mushroom (Peziza).
Click here for a PDF version of this Fact Sheet.
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Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and
Director, OSU Extension.
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