Mushrooms Not For Survival

I am often asked how you properly identify edible mushrooms in a survival situation. My first reply is usually, "Why bother?" Don't worry about identifying mushrooms, don't pick them! Of course, they want to know why, and I inform them that they are not worth the effort, especially if you are hungry.

Here is my reasoning. In a survival situation, especially a long term situation, you need energy and that means calories. Mushrooms are a fat burning thermogenic food that is why they are great for diets. This does not mean that mushrooms have negative calories, only that they require more calories to digest them than they contain. As a result, if you tried to live on mushrooms, you would starve yourself to death. A good example of this would be the Nazi concentration camps. They feed the prisoners cabbage soup. Cabbage is another thermogenic food. The prisoners were eating but being starved at the save time.

Next, I indicate that learning to identify edible mushrooms is something you should think about long before you need to do so. You should start by getting together with a good instructor who knows their mushrooms and learn that way. Never rely on a book alone to identify edible mushrooms, at least not at first. Mistakes can be made and they can be deadly. I know of a survival instructor years ago who mistakenly included a false morel with morels that he was picking during a survival outing. It didn't kill him, but he became sick resulting in both vomiting and diarrhea. These are not conditions you desire when in a bad situation and could lead to severe dehydration.

Now am I saying you should never eat mushrooms in a survival situation? Of course I'm not! As long as you realize that you will not be able to sustain yourself on mushrooms alone. They can supplement other food, but you need calories, and they won't provide them.

Personally, I consider mushrooms a comfort food and use them as an addition to other sources of food obtained in the field. In the spring I can't wait for the morels, which is the only wild mushroom I eat. They come out in the spring about two to three weeks after the last frost.

If you are going to pick morels, make sure you identify them correctly. In my area, we have the gray and yellow morel, and they are pretty easy to identify. To me, they look like a brain, but others think they look like a sponge. They have a hollow stem and the inside looks like a chocolate Santa. The hood is all one piece with the stem, not a separate piece. However, make sure that you absolutely identify them before eating. As previously stated, there are false morels and they can make you sick. If you cut them lengthwise, they will not have hollow stems like the morel.

This photo shows morels growing on the ground.

This shows the outside of morels which have been cut in half.

This photo shows how the inside of a morel looks like a chocolate Santa.

The bottom line with mushrooms in a survival situation is they will not provide you with calories needed for energy, and will actually deplete calories you have. Again, thermogenic foods are great for diets for this reason. If you want to supplement food you have obtained with wild mushrooms, as means of having a variety, or a comfort food, make sure you can 100% identify the mushrooms you pick. Getting sick or dying is not part of a good overall survival strategy.

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Copyright © 2014 by John D. McCann

Warning: Never pick and eat a plant that you have not 100% identified as edible. There are many reference books and field guides which can help in the identification of edible plants. I also suggest a plant walk with an expert to help in the correct identification. On the east coast I recommend Wildman Steve Brill, and on the west coast, Christopher Nyerges.

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