Summer Mushroom Foraging in Scotland

I spent an enjoyable few days foraging in Scotland at the end of July with one of Scotland’s top foraging experts, Monica Wilde. We toured the length and breadth of the country in search of fungal treats. Despite the hot weather and low rainfall, both unusual events, even in the middle of Summer in Scotland, we found a decent haul of Chanterelles and the first Penny Buns of the season.

Chanterelle and Penny Bun basket
Basket of Chanterelle, Penny Buns and herbs in the Scottish sunshine

I was also lucky enough to find a few mushrooms that are new to me and only found in the north of the UK. The most beautiful were the pure white Angel’s Wings. This is considered an edible mushroom in some parts of the world but a recent bumper crop in Japan led to a number of deaths from overindulgence. All the people that died were suffering from kidney disease before they ate the mushrooms. Edible or not it is still a beautiful mushroom to see and the first time for me.

Angels Wings, Pleurocybella porrigens
Angels Wings on a moss covered conifer log
Angels Wings, Pleurocybella porrigens
Angels Wings on a moss covered conifer log

Another first was finding the Deadly Webcap. There is no controversy over edibility of this mushroom. It contains the toxin orellanin which causes permanent damage to the kidneys. To the inexperienced or wishful forager it bears a vague resemblance to a Chanterelle but the presence of gills and orange-brown colour should be obvious differences to separate the two.

Deadly Webcap
The Deadly Webcap growing in moss on the forest floor
Cortinarius specioissimus
Deadly Webcap, Cortinarius specioissimus, in the Scottish sunshine

Also new to me was a yellow form Plums and Custard. In the south of the UK Plums and Custard is Tricholomopsis rutilans which has a plum red cap and yellow cap and stem, but we found Tricholomopsis decora which has a dingy yellow cap instead. Both species grow on the same habitat, old conifer stumps.

Plums and Custard
Plums and Custard, Tricholomopsis decora,
Plums and Custard
Plums and Custard, Tricholomopsis decora, on conifer stump

But the best of these new mushrooms was my first Chaga, Inontus obliquus. This is a prized medicinal fungus which is found on Birch trees in northern temperate forests. It has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, in North America, Siberia and Scandinavia. In Britain it is most common in the North. It is unusual in that the part of the mushroom harvested is not the spore producing structure of the mushroom, which is hidden under the bark of the Birch tree. The part harvested is a sclerotia, an irregular shaped lump that breaks out of the bark of the tree and, over time, grows into a horn shaped protuberance. The surface of the sclerotia is covered by a hard, black, clinker-like shell and the inside is golden brown with the texture of stale, crumbly, chocolate cake.

Inonotus obliquus
Chaga sclerotia sprouting from a Silver Birch
Chaga sclerotia
A sclerotia of Chaga showing it’s horn like growth form
Young Chaga
Young Chaga sclerotia breaking out of Birch Tree

As well as the Chaga, the Birch trees also had two other prized medicinal mushrooms. The Tinder Hoof, Fomes fomentarius, is a hoof shaped, grey polypore. It has a very hard shell of chitin and tough leather flesh. The Birch Polypore in contrast pale cream with a rounded and flattened shape. It has tough rubbery flesh. Both of these mushrooms were carried by Otzi, the ice man when he was killed in the Alps thousands of years ago. We found them growing on the same tree.

Hoof and Polypore on birch
Fomes Fomentarius and Piptoporus betulina growing on the same tree

Here is a very happy forager with a basket full of Chaga

Foraging Chaga
A happy Monica Wilde with a basket of Chaga

The River Runs Through Us: Coastal Foraging Walk at Wrabness


Film maker James Ravinet made a short film of the Foraging Walk I led for The River Runs Through Us project along the River Stour, the Essex Suffolk border. You can see the film here