The Russula: A Quick Foraging Guide
Russulas, also known as Brittlegills, are very common mushrooms and come in a multitude of colours. Whilst there are no deadly poisonous members, there are a few that can make you feel sick if eaten, including the aptly named "Sickener", Russula emetica. The sheer number of different Russulas, along with their multitude of colours, can make IDing specific members of this Genus difficult, with many only being told apart through microscopic study. Luckily, they all share some common features, and there is a quick and easy way of testing if the Russula you have is edible or not.
Common Features of the Russula Genus
🌳 Deciduous Woodland
🌲 Coniferous Woodland
🌞🍂❄️ Between June and November.
📈 Grow singly or in small groups.
🍄 The caps of Russulas tend to be medium-sized (normally about 8-10cm in diameter), round (although there may be some exceptions to this) and a singular, bright colour, ranging from grey, red, purple, yellow and green.
⚛️ Russula cells evolved differently from other mushrooms and this changed the texture of the flesh, making it quite brittle. The stems often snap like chalk and the gills, when brushed with a finger, flake away from the cap like thinly sliced almonds. For this reason, one of their common names is the Brittlegill. The gills of Russula are crowded and almost always white.
♊️ Russula stems tend be stout, white, quite straight and around 5-10 cm in height, and 2cm in diameter. The stems lack rings or skirts and don't grow from an egg. They are often described as resembling a piece of white chalk, being firm and grainy and snap like a piece of chalk, too.
⚪️ The flesh is thick, white, firm and brittle.
Aroma / Taste
👃 Smells mildly mushroomy.
👅 Mild mushroom taste, sometimes a little peppery.
🟨 ID Difficulty - Novice
👀 Very Round Cap in a single bright colour.
👀 White and crowded gills.
👀 White, stout, grainy stem with no skirt, ring or egg at the base.
🤚 Brittle gills that flake away like sliced almonds when brushed with a finger.
🤚 Firm stem that snaps like a piece of chalk.
🤚 Firm, but brittle cap.
⛔️ Some Russulas can make you feel unwell if eaten.
✅ Use the nibble test to confirm edibility.
🍄 Fungi - Used in mushroom recipes.
Identifying Edible Russulas
Luckily, there is an easy way to test for edibility of Russulas, known as the "Nibble and Spit Test".
✅ Firstly, only do this test if you are certain you have a Russula. This isn't an all-encompassing test for all mushroom species, just the Russulas!
✅ Secondly, I don't perform this test in front of Arthur, as we are very strict with the "not putting anything in your mouth" rule, and if he saw me doing it, it would be somewhat counter-productive! I tend to hide behind a tree to perform it so he can't see what I'm doing! Older kids will probably be more receptive to the practice under supervision.
✅ To perform the test, simply nibble a tiny part of the cap, taking the piece in and holding it against the tip of your tongue. If you feel a spicy burn, like chilli, then the Russula is not for eating. If though, the flavour is "mushroomy" or only mildly peppery, then it's edible. Make sure you spit it out afterwards!