The Perfect Wild Mushroom For Beginner Foragers: Parasols
There is something magical about the idea of going out to the countryside and finding wild mushrooms to cook with. It scratches an ancient itch in our hunter-gather brains. If you’re looking to get into this addictive hobby then the Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) is a great beginners fungi for anyone wanting to start wild mushroom foraging.
My name is James, I teach Bushcraft and Foraging in North Wales. I am the co-creator of Your Wild Food Year, an online course for anyone wanting to gain confidence in identifying, harvesting and cooking with wild foods. In this article I will introduce you to this commonly found edible fungi. You will learn how to identify it, where and when to find it, how to cook with it and what poisonous lookalikes you will need to avoid. Let’s dive in.
Where & When Can you Find Them
We have found good specimens as early as late July but it’s most often seen from late August and through September.
You’re most likely to find it in meadows and unimproved grassland. I’ve also found it at the edges of ancient woodland. The three locations I see it often are all National Trust estates, so that points to land that has been consistently managed over a long period.
At what growth stage should you harvest them? Well you can pick them when they’re not yet fully opened. But if doing this be sure you’re not confusing them for the Shaggy Parasol (more on that below). Basically if the specimen looks like it’s in good condition you’re good to go. Ensure you fungi is free of mold, sliminess on the gills and the cap is not starting to wilt. One word of caution, you do often get the odd maggot or two inside the cap, which you only find when you’ve taken them home and started to chop them up. These are more typically found in older specimens. If there’s just one or two, I pick them out and use the mushroom anyway. What you do is down to personal preference.
How To Identify Parasol Mushrooms
Well, true to its name it resembles a parasol umbrella. You’ll find a distinctive brown ‘nipple’ raised in the centre of the cap. The cream-white cap meanwhile is also patterned with light brown scales. Something that is important (you’ll see why later) is the typical size of the cap. When fully open they can grow to 15-35cm across diameter, so they get seriously big! You’re getting a lot of food from your forage here.
Looking underneath the cap you will find gills rather than pores. These are cream-white in colour. The flesh of the mushroom doesn’t discolour when bruised, it stays cream-white.
The stem (otherwise known as a stipe) is again cream-white in colour and looks like it’s covered in a snakeskin pattern. It can grow quite tall, reaching up to 25cm in height. You will also typically find a ring surrounding the stem. If handled carefully this can be separated from the stem and then it runs up and down freely. Another good way to identify this fungi.
You shouldn’t forget to use your nose when learning to identify wild mushrooms. Some fungi have really distinctive aromas, like Dryad’s Saddle which smells surprisingly like melon. Parasols have a pleasant mushroom-like smell which some say reminds them of warm milk.
How To Use Parasol Mushrooms In Cooking
Parasols have a nice, firm texture and a pleasant mushroom flavour. They do dry well, retaining their smell and flavour. So, we often slice up any excess mushrooms and pop them in our dehydrator. This means you can enjoy them right through the winter in your cooking.
Some people prefer just eating the caps but you can eat the stem, in fact some experts say there’s more goodness to be found in the stem of fungi than the cap. The flesh is not as soft as the cap though, so some folks use these for making a mushroom stock.
Like most mushrooms they go great in an omelette, in a quiche, stir fry or added to a stew. Try deep-frying them in breadcrumbs and serving with lemon and garlic mayo. The sheer size of the cap makes them an excellent replacement for the a large field mushroom in your cooked breakfast. Lovely stuff all round!
Caution: Beware The Shaggy Parasol
As with any foraging of wild mushrooms, you need to widen your knowledge beyond just the species you’re looking for, or think you’re looking at. As the old saying goes; “There are old foragers and bold foragers, but there are no old, bold foragers.” Heed these wise words folks.
If you’re going out looking for Parasols then you need to be aware of the closely related and similar looking Shaggy Parasol (Macrolepiota rhacodes). This is not a poisonous species, however with around 20% of people it’s been known to give them a bit of an upset stomach. It’s found in similar habitats and at the same time of year. Let’s learn more about the differences between the two fungi.
As the name suggests it is shaggier in appearance. Also the base of the stem is typically more bulbous than with the Parasol. It also doesn’t grow as large as the Parasol, the cap only getting to around 8-15cm in diameter and the stem reaching 12-18cm height. So a good way to avoid Shaggy Parasols would be to only pick fungi that are larger than this.
Remember that the flesh of the Parasol doesn’t bruise when handled? With the Shaggy Parasol this isn’t the case. The gills will bruise red and the flesh will turn an orange/red when you cut it.
This fungi also has a ring around the stem, but unlike the Parasol, this ring will not separate from the stem. So there’s another method of differentiating between the two.
So, can you eat this mushroom? Well yes, but as I’ve said it can disagree with some people. So good practise is to try just a little bit and leave it 48 hrs to see if your stomach is happy. If so, tuck in. Be aware though if you are going to eat the Shaggy Parasol, it must be cooked first.
One last fungi to mention here are the Dapperlings (Lepiota spp.) They are poisonous so need to be avoided. How could they be confused with Parasols though? Well they have a distinctive brown spot in the centre of the cap too. However, the saving grace is that they do grow much smaller than the Parasols. As a general rule, avoid picking any Parasols whose cap is less than 12cm in diameter.
Hopefully this has not put you off heading out the door for your first Parasol mushroom. If anything I hope it will make the thrill of the hunt even more enjoyable and the reward of positively identifying your Parasol all the more satisfying.
Discover More Wild Food
If all this talk of wild food and foraging has whetted your appetite then you can take your learning further with us either outdoors or online.
You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.
I think you’ll also be interested in our flagship online foraging course called Your Wild Food Year. When you enrol on this course you will go from clueless to confident on your journey to enjoying foraged plants, fungi, fruits and more with this detailed guide to identifying and cooking with the best wild edibles of Great Britain & Ireland.
Discover the joy of finding, harvesting and cooking with wild food with the very best each month has to offer. You will learn what to look for, where to look, and what to do with it in the kitchen. You will have videos, photo galleries, recipes and more at your fingertips, all taught by experienced foragers. Discover over 70 wild foods!
Crucially, you’ll also learn when to look. As each month we bring you the edible fungi, flowers, fruits and foliage which are in season from January to December.
There is even a FREE TASTER version of the course so you can try before you buy and see if the larger course is something that’s a good fit for you. So, start your journey to becoming a confident wild food forager today. Find out more right here.
“I’d always loved the idea of foraging for wild mushrooms but was too scared to try it. This course has shown me which species I can pick with confidence. The wild fungi hot spots I’ve discovered in my local area are now my closely guarded secret 😉 Thanks Lea and James.” Matt Corcoran
Until next time, stay safe and remember to always be 100% sure you have correctly identified a wild edible before consuming it. Good luck with your own foraging journey.