No, the name “Jew’s Ear” is not anti-semitic



Jew’s Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) fruiting from an old Elder tree, in a cemetery, in winter.

There’s a lot of Jew’s Ears (Auricularia auricula-judae) around at the moment – it is one of the few edible wild fungi that can be found right through the year, and it is typically abundant throughout the winter. And that means there’s a lot of something else around at the moment: arguments on the internet about the acceptability of its name, some of which escalate into extremely bad-tempered personalised battles. The truth, as usual, tends to get lost in the crossfire.

This battle, in its modern form, originates with a decision by the British Mycological Society (the “BMS”) to give it a new official name of “Jelly Ear”. In doing so, the BMS has arguably overstepped its remit. This is an organisation that, because its membership consists of senior and respected mycologists, wields scientific authority. It has no such authority in the fields of history, etymology or politics. In recent years the BMS has embarked on a project to designate official English common names for fungi, with the stated goals of making fungi more accessible (and fun) to non-scientists (by reducing the need to use cumbersome Latin names) as well as avoiding confusion where a species has more than one common name, or a common name refers to more than one species. All well and good, but this example doesn’t fit into either of those categories: “Jew’s Ear” (or names it is derived from) has long been the recognised common name for this species (it is the oldest English common name for any fungus), and it only refers to this species. This is the sole case where a decision was made to replace an established common name with a newly invented one, and the motivation was political. While the BMS has no legitimate authority to impose political judgements on the English-speaking world, it nevertheless had to make a decision as to what the “official” common name of this species was to be, and since accusations of anti-semitism were already lurking in the shadows, they played it safe and chose a new name. I think this was the wrong call, and this post explains why.

Hottentot Fig (Carpobrotus edulis).

Why is this name considered, by some, to be “anti-semitic”? Usually no justification is given – people condemning the name seem to just expect everybody else to assume it is self-evidently anti-semitic. But plenty of species have similar common names that aren’t considered derogatory. Are we going to reject the names “Lady’s Slipper” (Cypripedium reginae) or “Lady’s Smock” (Cardamine pratensis) for being sexist? Are “Monk’s Rhubarb” (Rumex spp.) or Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum angustifolium) anti-Christian? What about Hottentot Fig (Carpobrotus edulis)? This is an edible plant native to south Africa, but well established in Europe. “Hottentot” is an old Dutch name for a southern African tribal people now more correctly known as “Khoekhoe”, and the etymology suggests “stutterer”, or just an approximation of what Khoekhoe language sounds like to dismissive European ears. As such, it is polite today to refer to these people by the name they use for themselves and “Hottentot” is considered mildly derogatory, but I’m yet to hear anybody suggest we rename Carpobrotus edulis something boring and inoffensive like “Succulent-leaved Fig”. But “Jew’s Ear” doesn’t even reach this level of offensiveness – what is actually offensive or discriminatory about “Jew’s Ear”?

One theory that’s been postulated during these online battles is that the Nazis issued anti-semitic propaganda posters depicting Jews as “ugly” – with over-sized ears and noses. This may well be true, but since the name of the fungus predates the Third Reich by several centuries, the claim of a causal connection with Nazi propaganda doesn’t make sense. The accusation of anti-semitism also predates the Nazis, the first example anyone can find coming from American mycologist Curtis Gates Lloyd (1859-1926). But Lloyd’s main claim to fame was his eccentric opinions on fungal naming conventions (in both Latin and English), and I can find no account of his justification for rejecting this one – just another claim that it is a self-evident “slander on the Jews”. He also disliked the Latin version (which means exactly the same thing) for being too long and including a convention-busting hyphen.

Judas Iscariot hanging from a tree (which looks a bit large and robust to be Elder…)

The origin of this name is not a mystery, and does not appear to have much to do with anti-semitism or Judaism. It is a contraction – “Judas’s Ear” became “Judas Ear” or “Jude’s Ear”, which was eventually shortened to “Jew’s Ear”. The Latin specific epithet “auricula-judae” means “Judas’s Ear”. This name was derived from a Christian myth that Judas Iscariot hung himself from an Elder tree, and because Jew’s Ears particularly like to grow on Elder, it was said that Judas’s spirit passed into the tree, and thus these fungi are somehow his ears. This mythology is itself something of a curiosity. An older traditional claim  is that Judas hung himself on a Mediterranean Redbud tree (Cercis silquastrum). And anyone familiar with Elder must surely agree that it is a strange choice of tree to hang yourself from: it’s just not robust enough, and you’d expect the branches to break. Although Elder does occur in the Levant, there is no historical record of an association with Christianity until that religion started to exert its authority in Europe, and this is where we need to look to discover the true origin of these myths.

Two Christian myths appeared regarding Elder. One was that Elder wood was used to make the cross Jesus was crucified on (again, a very strange choice from a practical point of view), and the other was this story about Judas hanging himself. Both myths associate Elder with bad things. But there was already a rich Pagan mythology surrounding Elder in which it was associated with feminine spirituality (see here and here). All across northern Europe, Elder was associated with Goddesses or “the Elder Mother”. The spirits of dead witches were said to inhabit Elder, and for these reasons the wood should only be burned with great caution and reverence. If you delve into the mythology and history of this era, the true origins of the Christian Elder mythology become clear: this was an attempt by the Catholic Church to displace Pagan beliefs that were profoundly incompatible with Christian theology with Christian mythology aimed at demonising the revered Elder tree and exorcising its feminine spirituality. And it largely worked.

So the truth is that the name “Jew’s Ear” isn’t even remotely anti-semitic. If anything, it is anti-pagan. And in fact you’ll find that most Jews themselves don’t find the name offensive. Like so much political correctness, more people seem to be vicariously offended on behalf of other people, than people being offended themselves.

I am going to make a political statement myself: political correctness has become the scourge of modern western culture and is an obstacle to free thinking, free speech and the pursuit of truth. I am very much hoping that the election to the highest political office in the world of a person who pays no heed whatsoever to political correctness will be seen as a turning point. Perhaps, at long last, we have passed “Peak Political Correctness”. Another sign of this cultural change is the meteoric rise to fame of Canadian academic Jordan Peterson, whose interviews and youtube videos are inspiring a whole generation of younger people to abandon political correctness wholesale. The trigger for that rise to fame, along with the publication of his second book, was to point blank refuse to accept that the Canadian government had any right to compel him to use gender-neutral pronouns to when referring to transgender people: he viewed it as an assault on his freedom of expression, just as is the attempt to compel people to abandon the traditional name of A. auricula-judae.

Apart from anything else, the attempt to change the name of this fungus has failed. It was a case, perhaps, of it being better to let sleeping dogs lie. By attempting to impose a political directive, via language policing, the BMS, rather than putting this issue to bed, has ensured that every time anybody uses either common name, this whole argument will re-ignite. And I am willing to bet that the traditional name will survive into the 22nd century and beyond, and the name “Jelly Ear” will forever be associated with a period in the late 20th and early 21st centuries when political correctness was allowed to steamroller the truth.

Review of The Useful Plants of Great Britain by C. Pierpoint Johnson (1862).



There have been two rather special arrivals in the Dann household in the last few days, one very new and the other very old. The new one is our daughter, and first child (for me, at the age of 49!), Dorothy Heather, who was born in the small hours of yesterday morning.

I passed much of the time spent waiting in the delivery room reading the very old one: The Useful Plants of Great Britain: A Treatise, written by C. Pierpoint Johnson, illustrated by John E. Sowerby and published in 1862. For anybody interested in the history of foraging and the other uses of wild plants, it doesn’t get any more fascinating than this. Johnson was one of the leading botanical authors of his time, and the publisher (Robert Hardwicke) was the leading publisher of medical and scientific books in the third quarter of the 19th century. The book is very well researched and written, covering several hundred plants, as well as a few seaweeds and fungi. It is about 350 pages long, and includes 25 colour plates at the back of the book, with illustrations of the most important of the species covered. It is in effect, a mid-19th-century version of Richard Mabey’s Food for Free, although that classic modern foraging book is almost entirely about food, rather than the myriad other uses of wild plants.

The book has one foot in the modern world, and one foot in the pre-scientific past, especially regarding the medical terminology. So you’ll have one sentence explaining the active chemical constituent of some plant, perfectly understandable and accurate from a modern biochemical point of view, and then an account of its properties that belong to a different age (“The Comfrey is slightly astringent, and was formerly regarded as a vulnerary, but its styptic qualities are very slight.”), etc…

Every page contains little gems – snippets of information I never knew about plants I am very familiar with. Hogweed, for example, is “greatly relished by cattle”, so much so that its name in the book is “Cow Parsnip”, “although it has never been cultivated for fodder.” Johnson informs us that in Siberia, a spirit is distilled from the stalks, which contain high levels of sugar. He then goes on to admonish the Russians for their “addiction” to the strong stuff, although he tells us that the smoking of opium poppy in China is “no worse than a strong tobacco.” The Chinese government didn’t see it that way, of course. It is obvious that the book was written from the perspective of a confident Britain as it rose to the peak of Empire (it was the British who were peddling poppies to the Chinese, of course). The author tells us quite a bit about plants that had been imported from various colonial outposts, and native British species that hard started to run amok after being introduced abroad.

Some edible species were very common in Johnson’s day, but are now hard to find in the wild. Barberry, for example, could be found in hedgerows all over the British countryside, but at the time of writing the folk knowledge that the presence of Barberry was bad news for a wheat crop was already suspected of having some scientific basis, and not long after the book was written, Barberry was systematically exterminated because it was proven to be a secondary host of a fungus that devastates wheat. Others, such as the non-native seaweed Japanese Wireweed (Sargassum muticum), had only just established a foot-hold in the British Isles, but are now rampant all over the place.

It is a shame the book has not been reissued, because while I am sure many modern-day foragers would find it as interesting as I do, not many of them will be sufficiently interested to pay the considerable sums of money that sellers of antique books are asking for copies of this 1862 hardback. There is one big advantage of books that are so long out of print: nobody cares about the copyright. I am therefore free to leave you to enjoy the introduction.

New edition of Edible Mushrooms coming soon!



Happy New Year to all my readers, and here’s hoping that 2018 can match last year for fungi. 2017 was a cracker. Details of this year’s events are now available (see links at the top of this page). These include a couple of public fungi foraging sessions at a piece of woodland (“Mill Wood”) recently purchased by an old friend of mine. Near Brede (East Sussex), it had been used as a woodland pig farm until being abandoned to nature four years ago, and I am looking forward to finding out what fungi grow there. The selection and age of trees suggest it is likely to be quite interesting.

The main purpose of this blog post is, however, to provide an update about my book “Edible Mushrooms”. The first print run of 5000 copies is now almost totally sold out, and as a result you’ll find it is currently unavailable from many sources. A new version is en-route from the printers in India, and it should go on sale (as a paperback) at the end of this month (January). This new version has a new, brighter picture on the cover – the Dark Honey Fungus of the old version having been replaced with Winter Chanterelles. The most important change is the addition of a Latin index, which is likely to make the book considerably more useful for people who want to cross-check information with books written in languages other than English. Some of the contents have been slightly re-arranged to make better use of space, which has meant some additional information could be added, including three new species. Finally the font has been changed, since some readers expressed a dislike of the rather fancy ligatured font used in the original version. There will be an official launch of this new version as a “new edition” in June, when it will become available as a hardback for the first time.

Introducing the Sooty Parasol – Macrolepiota fuliginosa



Conifer Parasol (Chlorophyllum olivieri)

The parasols used to be so simple. One big one with a stripey stem, one small one with a plain stem that turned red when you cut it open, and also made some people violently sick. They were the Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) and the Shaggy Parasol (Macrolepiota then Chlorophyllum rhacodes). And there were a couple of others that weren’t very common, but seemed reasonably easy to identify, and had English common names.

Everything has since all become rather more complicated. The old Shaggy Parasol has been split into three, two of which were given new English names while my book was being put together (Brown Parasol – Chlorophyllum brunneum and Conifer Parasol – Chlorophyllum olivieri). The Conifer Parasol in particular has been throwing people astray this autumn, with many mistaking it online for a Macrolepiota. This situation is not made any easier by the presence of at least two other Macrolepiota species, both of which have caps more similar to the Chlorophyllums than that of M. procera.

Macrolepiota fuliginosa (Sooty Parasol?)

One of these has turned up quite a few times, both on my own travels and in posts from southern England online. It is supposedly very rare, but I am beginning to suspect it is not as rare as all that. Today I came across it growing on a grass verge right next to a busy main road, not far from a school, and most of the fruit bodies had been disturbed by passers-by. It doesn’t have an English common name, and there wasn’t enough space to include it in my book (or it would have been given one at the time). Maybe it is about time it was given one, and in this case it is there is a very obvious candidate for a name. Its specific epithet is fuliginosa, which means “sooty”. Since this rather aptly describes its cap, at least relative to its better-known relative, “Sooty Parasol” is surely the odds-on favourite. I have suggested it to the British Mycological Society, and will be using this name until/unless informed that a decision had been made to call it something else. Regarding identification, another difference is the stem, which is more “marbled” than “snakeskin”. It also tends to turn up more often in woodland than procera does.

Macrolepiota, possibly fuligineosquarrosa. Scaly Parasol.

They have an even rarer relative, which I believe I may have come across a couple of years ago (although having only found it once and relying on rather minimal information about it, I am far from certain that this picture really is the species concerned). This fungus also has a descriptive Latin name – Macrolepiota fuligineosquarrosa. “Squarrosa” means “scaly” in Latin (I think!), so perhaps this one should be called “Scaly Sooty Parasol”. Though I think I’ll wait for the first suggestion to be accepted before offering another…

(Update: Liz Holden from the BMS likes “Sooty Parasol”, but perhaps fuligineosquarrosa is going to end up just being “Scaly Parasol”, which is admittedly less clunky.)

They are both just as edible and tasty as a normal Parasol Mushroom.

Lamb Shanks with Horn of Plenty recipe



Horn of Plenty / Black Trumpet (Craterellus cornocopioides)

As requested by several people, here’s my Horn of Plenty and Lamb Shanks recipe.


2 large or 3 small lamb shanks
Lots of Horn of Plenty (and possibly other wild mushrooms, see below)
500ml vegetable stock
250ml Côtes du Rhône red wine
1 onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
mixed herbs, salt & pepper
vegetable or olive oil for frying
optional: carrot, stick of celery, bay leaves, bouquet garni

For the mushrooms, horn of plenty is definitely recommended and works best, either on its own or mixed 50/50 with penny buns or other good quality boletes. They can be dried or fresh, and the quantity is up to you. Today I happened to use 50% horn of plenty (fresh), and 50% mixed penny bun, dark penny bun & summer bolete, and a couple of morels (all dried). You cannot overdo the wild mushrooms in this dish.

There’s two ways to cook it – a deep casserole dish in an oven, or in a slow cooker. The methods are about the same, but the slow cooker takes longer.

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C or set the slow cooker to high, and put the stock and wine in the slow cooker or the casserole dish. If using a casserole dish then put it on the hob on low.

2. Seal the lamb shanks on all sides in a frying pan with vegetable or olive oil. This takes only a couple of minutes. Add the sealed shanks to the pot.

3. Fry the chopped onion for 3 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to fry for another minute or so. Don’t let either of them burn. Add to the pot, with a large pinch of dried herbs, seasoning, and all the mushrooms. Also add the optional ingredients if so desired.

4. If using a casserole dish (now put in the oven) then check every now and then to make sure there is enough liquid (it will depend how much is escaping). The shanks should be nearly covered with liquid. If there’s not enough, add some extra water. Turn the shanks occasionally to make sure all parts get long cooking. In an oven the meat should be almost falling off the bone after 3 hours. It will take longer in the slow cooker because it can take ages to get up to temperature and start bubbling.

Lamb Shanks with Horn of Plenty

5. Carefully remove the shanks, and put on a plate, then tip the rest of the contents into a large pan and return the shanks to the cooker/casserole. The shanks can just sit there keeping warm, and maybe getting a bit crispy round the edges. Now remove the optional ingredients from the liquid if you used them (they were just there to add flavour), and turn up the heat on the pan to reduce the liquid to a thick sauce with an intense taste. There’s an optional stage here too – you can either just reduce the liquid to a sauce leaving the mushrooms as intact as they still are, or you can use a hand blender to break them into smaller pieces. The first method produces a thinner sauce with identifable bits of mushroom in, the latter a thicker sauce without. Both taste great, which to do is a matter of aesthetics. You can also add a bit of cornflour-in-water to thicken the sauce if you would like more of it with a less strong taste.

6. When the sauce is sufficiently thick and tasty, plate up the shanks with seasonal vegetable and pour loads of sauce over each shank. The sauce goes particularly well with mashed potato.

Cornucopia of Craterellus



Horn of Plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides). October 2013. October is when you typically find this species in southern England.

Fungi foraging fanatics live for days like the one I just had. So many times you go out and find very little, or at least very little that you actually wanted to find. But by persisting, sooner or later you end up in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and you find something spectacular – something rare and beautiful, something you’ve never found before or just the motherlode of one of your favourites. Last weekend it was the something I’d never found before, today it was the motherlode of my absolute number one favourite fungus. Today I not only saw more Horn of Plenty or Black Trumpets (Craterellus cornucopioides) than I have ever seen in a day before, I probably saw about as much as I have in my entire previous life before. Truly this fungus lived up to its name. I also learned something new about the way it grows and the way it spreads.

It wasn’t a great day for most other species. I was out with a private group and the only boletes we saw were a handful of Leccinums, the only Amanitas a few False Deathcaps, one or two Brittlegills, some Laccaria, along with a selection of very common inedible species like Wood Woollyfoot and Spotted Toughshank. Only the relatives of the Chanterelle were doing well, and not all of them were doing anything special. We saw a few Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), but 2017 is not, so far, a classic year for members of the genus Cantharellus. Their more-distant relatives Hedgehog Fungi were also about in good numbers, but that’s true nearly every year. It’s only the Craterellus species that are going crazy.

Wavy-capped Chanterelle (Pseudocraterellus undulatus)

Rewind to last week. When I got up last Saturday morning there were two British members of the genus Craterellus I’d never found in the 30+ years I’ve been hunting for fungi. (These are both better known under old Latin names, because they’ve recently been moved to Craterellus from Cantharellus. Recent evidence has suggested that all the hollow-stemmed members of this family should be Craterellus, not Cantharellus.) They are the Golden Chanterelle (Craterellus lutescens) and the Ashen Chanterelle (Craterellus cinereus), and I’d been searching for them without luck for so long that I wondered whether I might never find them. Anyway, last Saturday my wife and I were walking our labradoodle in a tract of woodland I have frequently visited over the past five years, and there were various sorts of Chanterelle all over the place. Significant quantities of Horn of Plenty in places I’d never previously seen them, Winter Chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis) just starting to fruit, at least a month earlier than they usually do, but most noticeable of all were quite a lot of Wavy-capped Chanterelles. These aren’t Craterellus – their Latin name is (currently) Pseudocraterellus undulatus – but they really ought to be. They share the same smooth spore-bearing surface and hollow stem of the Horn of Plenty and Golden Chanterelle, and are closely related. They are also supposed to be rather rare, but they aren’t this year. I have found large quantities of them over the last week, in many locations I’ve never seen them before. Then my wife found yet another patch of Black Trumpets – apparently in better condition than a lot of the others, which were well past their best. But as I turned them over, I immediately noticed they had false gills – gill-like wrinkles like those of a Winter Chanterelle. Black Trumpets don’t have false gills – they are smooth underneath. Much as they looked like them from above, these were no Black Trumpets.

Ashen Chanterelle (Craterellus cinereus syn. Cantharellus cinereus)

They were Ashen Chanterelles, and it turned out that there were quite a few of them, although they are so rare that I only took a small amount for experimenting in the kitchen. It is not often I get the thrill of finding a wild fungus delicacy for the first time anymore, but one more was crossed off my dwindling to-find list that day. They turned out to be the most fragrant of any Chanterelle-relative I’ve eaten – intensely fruity, even more so than Black Trumpets. That day it became clear that 2017 is a classic Craterellus year, but only today has it become apparent to what extent, at least in some locations.

We were two-thirds of the way through today’s session, and we’d already filled a trug with Horn of Plenty and Hedgehogs. I decided to switch routes and headed off across a road to a different area, hoping to find something else. This was another very familiar tract of woodland, that I’ve observed carefully for the last few years. And I had seen some Horn of Plenty near the entrance to it before, and in a couple of locations in the interior. The most I’d seen in any one year was probably about enough to fill a couple of carrier bags – a decent “haul”, but not an explosion. Today there was a supernova. There were Horns of Plenty in every direction. They weren’t just growing in vast areas where I’ve never seen them before, but they were growing in dense clusters and some individual fruit bodies were enormous (for this species). I had not come equipped for foraging anything myself – the group had borrowed my trug and all I had was a small plastic carrier bag at the bottom of my rucksack. They also had a couple of bags. We spent nearly half an hour moving no more than 50 metres, collecting only the largest of the Black Trumpets, until we ran out of containers. Since running out containers pretty much ends a foraging session, we returned to our start point and the group disappeared off to Hastings planning a Horn of Plenty risotto – before a long evening of removing small creatures from their trumpets.

It had already been a very long weekend (I did another three-hour session yesterday), but my curiousity was such that I could not resist going back out in the woods one more time (my trug now returned, and my bag of trumpets emptied into a box in my car boot). I wanted to know what I would find at a location where, in previous years, there had been considerably more Horn of Plenty than where the group just hit the jackpot. It was only a ten minute walk.

Horn of Plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides), today in Sussex. It was like this for 30 metres in every direction, and this was just one patch.

Oh. My. God.

This patch had also spread, and in the same relative direction, and the same relative extent. This wasn’t just an expanding mycelium, but hundreds of newly established mycelia, all fruiting like there is no tomorrow. I have never seen anything like it before, and that’s taking into account I’ve spent the last six years foraging full-time in the autumn, and I’ve seen mass-fruitings of this species before. There’s no way I could possibly have picked them all – I just grabbed handfuls of the largest specimens from each little patch, then moved on to the next. I don’t normally approve of “taking more than you need” or posting pictures of your “haul” but in this case these fruit bodies were unbelievably numerous, and a lot of them are at the point where if not picked, they would start to rot (and this is also a species not normally eaten by insect grubs, and largely left untouched by other wildlife (perhaps their strong odour is actually some sort of deterrent for other animals?). And this is one of the few species that is not only easily dried (it is thin-fleshed), but better dried than fresh, so easy to store in quantity without using freezer space. I too have a busy evening of cleaning and drying Black Trumpets; I have enough to last me until next Christmas.

Horn of Plenty, with a few Wavy-capped Chanterelles thrown in for luck.

What do I do with them? They go great in omelettes (a “tromplette”), with pasta, in a cream sauce with white fish, in casseroles and stews and quiches and have many other uses. But my absolute number one black trumpet dish is lamb shanks, slow cooked with mountains of black trumpets and penny buns. I am planning on getting round to posting the recipe some time soon, but tonight I have work to do!



Three Serious English Poisonous Mushroom Incidents in 3 weeks



Deadly Webcap (Cortinarius rubellus)

There has been a spate of poisonings and near-poisonings involving wild fungi in England this August. That they happened in August is itself unusual – in many years the toxic species involved haven’t even started fruiting by now. This year the main fungi season has started early, and some species have been fruiting very abundantly, and this includes some of the most dangerous poisonous species. Combined with the ever-increasing number of people foraging for fungi in the UK, a spate of incidents involving poisonous varieties was probably inevitable. However, these incidents expose a persistent myth – a hangover from our long-standing mycophobia. The impression given is that fungi foraging is a dangerous pastime and even “experts” can get into serious trouble. This is simply not true, as anybody who really does know what they are doing will confirm.

The first case involved some fungi picked on Dartmoor about three weeks ago. It has not, to my knowledge, been reported in the national media, but the victim’s friend’s sister notified the

Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda)

foraging community via social media. She told us that the victim “knows his mushrooms”, and that he had offered his friend some too, but she had rejected them because they were too infested with insect grubs. The insect grubs wouldn’t have harmed her, but had she eaten the fungi then she might have died. The victim is currently in hospital, on dialysis, suffering from kidney failure and in need of a transplant. Within a couple of days, confirmation emerged of the species involved: the victim had mistaken a Deadly Webcap (Cortinarius rubellus) for a Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda). The discussion on social media immediately turned to how this could possibly have happened. How could somebody who “knows his mushrooms” have made this particular mistake? The answer is that this is simply not possible. Blewits are blueish-purple-grey, and while there are plenty of Webcaps which are a similar colour, one or two of which are indeed easily mistaken for Blewits, Deadly Webcaps are red-orange. The two fungi also have very different gills and grow at different times of the year – you wouldn’t expect to find a Wood Blewit in England before October, even in a year where everything is early. In short, this is precisely the sort of mistake a novice would make, not an experienced shroomer.

Thai Death Soup (photo by Stephanie Jayne Thomas)

The second case involved absolute beginners: two Thai ladies who had never been mushroom foraging before. They had encountered a local forager who’d been picking Blushers (Amanita rubescens), and they decided to pick some for themselves. What they didn’t know was that beginners and Blushers don’t mix well, because it is far too easy to mistake a Panthercap (Amanita pantherina) for a Blusher, and Panthercaps are dangerously poisonous. These two ladies were lucky enough to run into some people from Glamorgan Fungi Group, who, having noticed their bucket full of Blushers, asked them what they were doing. They offered to go through the collection, and check to see whether any Panthercaps had crept in by mistake. No Panthercaps turned up, but something far worse did. In amongst the Blushers were some Deathcaps. More than enough to kill not only these two Thai ladies, but most of their families as well, had they got home and made the wild mushroom soup they had planned. No experienced forager would have made this mistake either. (And I’m not even going to start on the state of this pile of mushrooms, ruined by dirt even without the lurking Deathcaps – what a pointless waste).

A third case emerged yesterday, reported in a local newspaper in Essex. Details are scarce, but what we do know is that an “experienced mushroom picker” who lives in Southend has eaten a Deathcap and has been “hospitalised for several days with severe illness”. It might be true that this was an experienced forager, but I simply don’t believe it. These stories get reported like this, both by the traditional media and on social media, by people who do not understand the risks associated with fungi foraging. Yes, it can be dangerous, but only if you are over-confident, foolish or complacent. “Experienced foragers” do not make these sorts of mistakes – only people who themselves do not know much about fungi make the claim that “even experienced foragers can easily make fatal mistakes”, and this includes both journalists and friends of victims.

Deathcap (Amanita phalloides), deadly but does not really look like either The Blusher or a Panthercap, regardless of being related.

Foraging for fungi is perfectly safe provided you take the time to educate yourself about the risks. The two species of fungi involved in these incidents are very well known, and have been responsible for countless previous poisonings worldwide. For any particular edible species, we know what you are likely to confuse them with, and how to tell them apart. The people who end up poisoning themselves (and their friends and families) are nearly always either beginners who didn’t understand the risks, people who are foraging in foreign lands with unfamiliar fungi, or people who made a very stupid mistake that could easily have been avoided. The truth is that people who do take their time, make a bit of effort to learn about fungi and then take a reasonable amount of care, do not end up eating any poisonous wild fungi.

If you want to learn more about safely foraging for fungi then there’s two things you need to two. The first is to buy a good book (mine came out last year, and is the most comprehensive and up-to-date book on fungi foraging in northern Europe).  For details see the link at the top of this page, or reviews on Amazon . The second is to go on a forage (for food) or a foray (just about mushrooms) with somebody who really does know what they are doing, because this greatly accelerates the rate at which you can learn.

Below are some photos of the fungi involved in the recent incidents, and some other of the “usual suspects”  and I’ll leave you with one other comment posted on social media a couple of days ago:

“Has anyone ever eaten a poisonous mushroom? I know they all have varying effects but is the worse that can happen sickness and or diarrhoea? I’m more up for trying mushrooms but my other half is really adamant unless we can know 100% what it is which I find hard as a lot have poisonous look alikes”.

The Blusher (Amanita rubescens), edible but looks like a Panthercap.

Panthercap (Amanita pantherina), poisonous but looks like The Blusher.

Fool’s Funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa), another well-known seriously toxic species, though rarely deadly.

Livid Pinkgill (Entoloma sinuatum), just about as dangerous as a mushroom gets without actually being deadly.

Deadly Fibrecap (Inocybe erubescens) (photo by Andrea Kunze)


School holidays fungi foraging special offer


Phone: 07964 569715


The mushroom season has started early in England this year. Usually you wouldn’t start finding much until early September, but this year the woods were already full of fungi two weeks ago. Therefore I’m offering a special deal for anybody who’d like to introduce their kids to the joys of fungi foraging, before the end of the summer holidays. My private groups on weekdays cost £150 for 3 hours and are limited to 6 people. Between now and Friday September 1st, children under 16 go free (up to 6 per group, so the maximum group size would be 12, including 6 under 16s), and the price will also include a free signed copy of my new book (RRP £20). Additional copies will also be available for just £15. Price applies anywhere in Kent or East Sussex.


Mushroom Season 2017 opens early and spectacularly!



Giant Puffballs. This photo was taken in very wet weather last week. There were about 25 of them in the same field. It is a classic year for this species.

WOW! What a stunning start to this year’s mushroom season. I have seen it start with a bang in early September before, but I have never before seen anything like what I’ve seen today. Penny Buns a-plenty, loads of other boletes including two I’ve never found before, masses of Russulas (Brittlegills), all sorts of members of the Agaricaeae, plenty of Amanitas and a lovely selection of other stuff including some that don’t normally fruit until the start of October. I have no idea why things have gone so crazy so early – perhaps something to do with two unspectacular previous years, or perhaps the fungi just like this year’s weather. The plants are early too – things like blackberries and plums in fruit earlier than normal. What this indicates for the coming autumn I do not know. Maybe it is going to be an absolutely storming year for mushrooms. Or maybe this is a flash in the pan and it is all going to go very quiet in the autumn. Either way, NOW is the time to get out there if you want to find some good late summer fungi. The situation in Kent and Sussex is better for fungi than I have seen it at any time since the peak of the 2014 season in October that year. Given that the season has started early, I have very few bookings for what might be the best time to go mushrooming this year. Please contact me if you want to get a group together, or arrange some personal tuition. I was with somebody from northern Italy today, who told me it was the best day’s mushrooming he’s ever experienced.

The first of these photos was taken last week (by journalist Sophie Haydock – thanks Sophie!), and perhaps the torrential rain on the morning it was taken has helped with the current flush. All the other photos were taken today. This is not a complete record of what we found today, just the most interesting from a foraging point of view.

Good old Field Mushrooms

Meadow Puffballs, growing on an industrial estate in Hastings

Bilious Bolete, growing beside a road in Hastings. Poisonous, beautiful and rare.

Penny Bun (the first of many)

Horn of Plenty. At the start of August!!! More typically this species fruits in October. The best of the best. Woo-hoo!

Bay Bolete – a superb edible and very unusual to see them this early in Sussex

Fiery Milkcap – edible, but very hot.

Larch boletes. We saw many hundreds of these today.

Yellow-gilled Brittlegill / Olive Brittlegill. A big, meaty proposition. Excellent edible species.

Charcoal Burner – an enormous one. I must have seen a hundred of these today, probably more.

Green Brittlegill. Good edible, but can be mixed up with some poisonous species if you don’t know what you are doing…

One of the small Xerocomus species. Not so many of these today, and hardly exciting as edible fungi go.

Tawny Grisette. A few of these popping up – they are due a good year.

Snakeskin Grisette. Wrongly believe to be poisonous by many people, including Roger Phillips. Excellent edible species (must be cooked), but for experts only (too similar to a Deathcap).

Deathcaps, knocked over, probably deliberately by some **** who thinks destroying poisonous fungi is a socially acceptable pastime.

Deathcaps (unmolested)

The Miller. Mmmmmm. But do not confuse with Fool’s Funnel!!

Stinking Dapperling. Not for the pot! Although unlike some of its relatives, this one won’t kill you.

Grey Spotted Amanitas – edibility disputed.

Chanterelle – looking rather lonely and out of focus. We saw a few of these today, but not worth picking. I found a better patch last night while walking the dog and ate them for my breakfast this morning.

The Blusher. Fruiting in abundance right now. Excellent edible if you can avoid mistaking a Panthercap for it.

Spindleshank. Widely dismissed, but not bad, actually.

Purple Brittlegill (probably atropurpurea or xerampelina)

Blackening Brittlegill in edible state, but hardly worth bothering about when there’s such a bounty of other stuff available.

Rooting Shanks. Edible, but not worth collecting when there’s so much great stuff around.

Blackening Waxcap. Edibility disputed, and too pretty to disturb today.

Hazel Bolete

Brown Birch Bolete. Plenty of these around at the moment.

Parasol Mushroom, past its best.

A rather shaggy Sticky Bolete. Uncommon, and though  edible it is not worthwhile and should be left to multiply.





Homo what? Oh, sapiens, yes
Chimpanzee in fancy dress
Then one day it started farming
And ecologically self-harming
Millennia passed; it never learned
Fiddled while the planet burned
Cleverest ape there’s ever been
Anthropos of the Anthropocene

Cue battlecries, Silent Springs
Summers of Love and hippy things
Environmentalism’s birth
Jonathan Porritt’s “Save The Earth”
Save the Earth? Save it from what?
Whatever’s in danger, Earth is not
Ah, back in the day when I was a Green
And nobody mentioned the Anthropocene

Times have changed, we have to admit
It’s far too late to dodge this shit
Stare the monster in the face
Karma for the human race
There’s a whole new era dawning
Old one’s over, I’m not mourning
Come to terms, feeling stoic
Not Anthropocene but Anthropozoic

Cleverest Ape there ever was
Caring, sharing Anthropos
Didn’t want to read the runes
Sowed the wind and reaped typhoons
Environmentalism? Empty shell
Green-blue planet? Terrestrial hell
Rock and hard place, in-between
Anthropos of the Anthropocene