Each geometrically arranged flowerhead hosted a happy horde of hoverflies and other pollinators. I’m 99.75% certain it is Wild Angelica, an edible plant – but I’ve never foraged it. The quarter of a percent of my brain that says “But wait, it might be Hemlock or one of the other poisonous members of the family out to deceive” prohibits me, despite the smell, season and appearance.
If in doubt, don’t. I no longer take risks with my foraging.
Taymount Wood is the wood that sidetracks me, every time. Up to the right, a sunlit glade. Cross the sleeper bridge to the left – what’s in here? Horse-hair mushrooms (Marasmius … ) swarming up from the pine needles. A collection of puffballs (Lycoperdon…) in mint condition cried out to be selectively foraged. Only firm, young ones are tasty, and leave more behind than you take. The family of mushrooms which you have to be wary is Amanita. There are some deadly poisonous members, some only moderately so. Others will send you psychotic.
There’s a few edible ones. Taymount Wood today was full of Blushers (Amanita rubescens), one of the edible ones. I have never eaten it, and never will. The flesh bruises pink, which is the indicator of species – but in other respects it is too like the deadly Panther Cap (A. pantherina). Just suppose a Panther Cap happened to blush one day….. In any case, Blushers are always riddled with worms and maggots before I get near them. Today, both species were growing close to each other and the difference was obvious. I still wouldn’t risk it.
The Tawny Grisette (A. fulva) I do eat. Unlike most of the family, there is no ring around the stipe, and the edges of the cap are evenly striated as if by a pastry-cook. They were here – but it’s a socially-distanced species that only ever appears singly – and I hate to take the only one. The stench of death – but not quite death – drew me to the well-named Stinkhorns (Phallus impudica) in the ditch. Most people recoil at eating this mushroom, which exudes a sticky gel smelling like a corpse to attract flies to spread the spores. But I’ve eaten plenty – at a very young stage when they look like eggs protruding from the forest floor. There’s no horrid smell and the jelly surrounding the immature fruiting body is actually delicious. To each her own!
Sidetracked again, I met half the foraging family. Marcin, his young son (and the dog) had just found the biggest Boletus mushroom of the day. We chatted, compared notes, and I admired Marcin’s basket of Ceps, Bay Boletes and others. Marcin learned his mushroom lore from his mother and grandmother in Poland, and their preferences are the Boletus family, chanterelles and Saffron Milk Caps. He loves these woods, and values them for their beauty and food supply. The giant Boletus he said he will not pick. He will leave it to spread spores and be admired. I showed Marcin my collection of puffballs. He looked aghast. “You eat them??” Apparently not a favourite in Poland!