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