The Amanita muscaria mushroom, commonly known as the fly agaric, is an edible mushroom found throughout the world. It’s distinctive bright red cap with white spots makes it easy to recognise – even for novice foragers. But it’s not just its striking appearance that makes this species recognisable; it’s also highly sought after for its culinary uses. Edibles with amanita muscaria, such as jams and pestos, are popular with experienced mycophagists. But before you can make your own Amanita muscaria dishes, you need to learn how to properly identify and collect the mushrooms in their dried form from the wild.
What you need to collect
Before embarking on a wild hunt for Amanita muscaria caps, it’s important that you have all the necessary equipment at hand. This includes a basket or bag for collecting the mushrooms, a knife or scissors for cutting them off at ground level (more on this later), rubbing alcohol/hand sanitiser for cleaning your hands afterwards and, most importantly, a field guide: A field guide! Knowing what other fungi look like is essential if you want to avoid confusing them with amanitas or picking up poisonous specimens by mistake.
Identifying the species
Once you’ve ready all your supplies, it’s time to start looking for amanitas! As mentioned above, they are hard to miss thanks to their distinctive red and white pattern. Look for caps that are between 5cm and 15cm in diameter (smaller ones may be immature) and have thick warts made up of white spots on the top of the cap that can be easily rubbed off (the latter is particularly helpful in distinguishing between edible and non-edible varieties). When in doubt as to whether or not a specimen is Amanita muscaria, consult your field guide and use additional resources such as books, websites or online communities dedicated to mycology.
Harvesting the mushrooms
Using either a knife or scissors – whichever is most appropriate according to local laws – carefully cut off each mushroom at ground level, taking care not to damage the delicate stem structure too much, so that the spores can still be released into the environment when they reach maturity. When harvesting multiple specimens, be careful not to crowd them together in your basket/bag as this could increase the likelihood of accidental cross-contamination between different areas. Also, don’t forget to wash your hands when you are finished!
Storage & processing of dried caps
Once harvested, leave your freshly picked mushrooms outdoors in direct sunlight until they are completely dry (do not expose them to temperatures above 40C). Then store them away from sources of moisture such as basements or cellars until they are ready to be processed into Amanita muscaria edibles. Alternatively, wrap each individual specimen tightly in either waxed paper or aluminium foil before placing in airtight containers such as mason jars so that moisture doesn’t build up inside during storage. Either way, remember: hygiene is key when dealing with food!
Foraging for Amanita muscaria edibles requires patience and knowledge to identify both poisonous imposters and mature, harvestable specimens. However, once safely collected, these culinary delights can be an exciting addition to any menu, from jams to soups to salads.