Identifying White Mushrooms


Horse Mushroom (left) Yellow Stainer (right)

Of the two mushrooms in the photo above, one is a tasty, edible Horse Mushroom whereas the other is a poisonous Yellow Stainer. Both will stain yellow when bruised too; so how do you tell the difference?

There are plenty of white mushrooms that stand out in the grass or the undergrowth because of their colour; but which of those can you eat safely?

Some of the most deadly mushrooms in the world are white. For example the beautifully named Destroying Angel pictured here on the right is deadly even in small quantities.

There are many other poisonous white mushrooms but also many that are great edibles, and reasonably easy to identify.

From what I read, it seems that white mushrooms are responsible for the majority of mushroom poisonings around the world.

So to help you forage safely, this article is about how to identify the easier edible white mushrooms, and avoid the poisonous ones.

Please always be 100% sure of what you are eating and use numerous sources of information and photography when confirming your mushrooms identification.

There is no one simple rule to determine whether you have an edible or toxic mushroom, but if you can positively identify families of mushrooms, often there are simple ways to determine whether you have an edible member of that family.

Here are some things you should look for to try to determine what family your white mushroom is in and/or whether your white mushroom is edible:

  1. What size is it
    This article only applies to sizeable mushrooms, similar to those you buy in the shops with thick fleshy solid stems.It does not apply to small thin stemmed mushrooms such as Mycenas or small Wax Caps.There are many small white mushrooms, some like the snowy wax cap are perfectly edible, but often it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between species, so for reference sake this guide does not apply to any mushrooms with a stem less than 1cm in diameter.

  2. Is it growing from a tree trunk?There are a number of white mushrooms that grow from tree trunks, 2 are good edibles and fairly easy to identify. Porcelain Fungus, Oudemansiella mucidaSmall white mushrooms growing from a tree should be left behind, but the following 2 have key characteristics which make them easy to identify.
    , Porcelain Fungus, Oudemansiella mucida, which is easy to recognise because of the glutinous substance all over the cap, as pictured on the right.It is almost exclusive to Beech trees and grows in late Summer and Autumn.This picture is of young specimens. On the more mature mushrooms the cap will open out to almost flat, up to 8cm across with slightly translucent flesh.Cleaning the glutenous substance off this mushroom makes them a slightly better proposition for cooking, but they are quite tasty when you do.
    Second, White Oyster Mushrooms, Pleurotus pulmonarius, White Oyster Mushrooms, Pleurotus pulmonariusare almost exactly the same as the common grey oyster mushroom but white all over…These mushrooms are reasonably safe to identify as nothing else that is white and growing from a tree gets over 10cm across the cap.Oyster mushrooms have gills running all the way down the stem into the tree they are growing from.The photo on the right shows the start of the wavy edge you get to the cap on more mature specimens giving them the oyster look.There are a number of smaller
    mushrooms that may look similar so without a mature specimen of a reasonable size ID can be tricky.

    White Oyster Mushrooms are a choice edible. With a mushroomy flavour and fairly firm texture. They also have some other amazing uses which are talked about in the video on the right.

  3. Is it a puffball?
    Giant puffballs, Calvatia gigantea must
    Giant Puffball, Calvatia gigantea be the easiest mushroom in the UK to identify! They get to the size of a football, roundish and white all over, with white flesh all the way through when cut. The flesh yellows with age before it turns into trillions of spores. We do not eat them after they start to yellow.They grow in and around the edges of fields, or sometimes in open woodland, often hiding among nettles. The only thing you could confuse them for would be a football making them a foragers favourite and safe for novices!The Giant Puffball is a choice edible with a fantastic flavour. The texture is not so good though so we use the giant puffball to make mushroom schnitzels by frying them in butter, then coating Common Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatumthem in some spiced breadcrumb and frying them again to crisp them up. This really is one of our favourite mushroom dishes.Of the smaller puffballs in the UK, all of the white ones are edible when young.To make sure you have a puffball simply cut through it. Puffballs have a fairly solid white spongy flesh all the way through, their lookalikes do not.Some are slightly warty like the Common Puffball in the photo on the right, and some will be smooth. But as long as it’s white it’s all right :)All the smaller puffballs have a spongy texture and a fairly mild flavour, making them ideal to soak up sauces and marinades before cooking.
  4. Common Stinkhorn Egg, Phallus impudicusYoung Stinkhorns look like puffballs as shown in the picture on the right. Feeling this strange egg should put you off thinking it is a puffball but by cutting the mushroom in half you will find out what’s inside.Young stinkhorns have a glutenous substance inside, and the start of the spongy mushroom which is about to break out.Stinkhorn eggs are about most of the year but only emerge in the summer months.These mushrooms are actually edible if you can stand the smell!
  5. Death Cap Eggs, Amanita phalloides (deadly Poisonous)Young Amanitas also grown in an egg like sack with a baby mushroom inside.They could possibly be mistaken for a Puffball, as is illustrated in the photo on the right. Which is a young Death Cap Egg!It is obviously much more important to be able to recognise these as they could be deadly.Many other deadly Amanitas also grow exactly like this. So do be cautious when picking puffballs!


  1. Is it coming out of a sack or volva?Death Cap, Amanita phalloides, photo by Ditte BandiniIf so, it is likely to be an Amanita and probably deadly so leave it alone!The Volva is very clearly shown in the photo on the right of a Death Cap Mushroom, Amanita phalloides. Although not all Amanitas have such an obvious volva they do all have a bulbous base, some with ‘guttering’ like the Panther Cap.The mushroom itself emerges from this egg like structure as shown in the photo above right.

    It starts off as a small white ball and could easily be mistaken for a puffball until you cut through them.  If you cut an Amanita egg in half you will see a small mushroom inside ready to emerge, if it was a Puffball the interior should be plain bright white and spongy.The base or volva can be hidden underground or covered in leaf litter so it is important that you check the base of all mushrooms that you pick so you can rule out picking an Amanita by accident
  1. Does it have spikes under the cap instead of gills?
    If so, then it’s the aptly named Hedgehog fungus, Hydnum repandum, and a very sought afterHedgehog fungus, Hydnum repandum edible. It comes up in Autumn in many parts of the country.The Hydnum family has a few members in the UK; all have spikes instead of gills under the cap.The white version is the most common and easy to identify, the cap can get to 17cm across.This is one of the safest mushrooms for the novice forager to harvest.
  2. If it has gills what colour are they?
    Clitocybe rivulosa, Deadly PoisonousIf the gills are white then the mushroom is possibly poisonous. The cap and gills of the The Destroying Angel, the Spring Amanita, the Clitocybe Dealbata and the Clitocybe Rivulosa (right) are all white, and all are deadly. So a white mushroom with white gills is generally something to avoid.There are three exceptions to this rule that are edible, reasonably easy to recognise and have white gills. So we can recommend them to the reasonably experienced forager.First the St Georges Mushroom, pictured and video’d on the right. This mushroom is one of the few that grow in spring – normally just after St Georges Day. Hence the name, and apart from unseasonal occurrences of the above mentioned poisonous species, nothing that looks like it is poisonous at that time of year.Calocybe gambosa, The St Georges MushroomIt has a very fleshy stem, a really fleshy cap that can grow up to 20cm across, and a distinctive sawdusty or mealy smell.The Gills are quite small taking up very little vertical space when you cut through the capThey will be growing in rings in grassland often in clumps of four or five together at different intervals around the ring.This is a fine edible with a fairly unique flavour. It’s great dried or used fresh in chicken and mushroom pies 🙂Second the Clitocybe Geotropa or The Trooping Funnel, Clitocybe geotropaTrooping funnel, which is pretty easy to identify due to its size. It is a very large mushroom growing in long troops where the mature specimen’s caps grow into large upturned funnel shapes that can reach more than 20cm across. The mushroom can also reach 30cm in height or more and is usually to found late in the Autumn around the end of October and beguinning of November. As the photograph on the right shows why these mushrooms are sometimes known as Angels Wings. The size is important here as the deadly Clitocybe rivulosa is very similar but the cap size will only reach up to 10cm in diameter at most.

    Third, The Giant Funnel, Leucopaxillus giganteus, which looks a bit like the Geotropa but with a much shorter, stouter stem and a .larger flatter funnel shaped cap up to 30cm across or more. These mushrooms tend to be earlier than the Trooping Funnel and usually appear in late Summer to Autumn. It’s a tasty mushroom but unfortunately maggots seem to really like this mushroom to and seem to infest it from quite early in its development. As it is usually a gregarious fungi some can be found maggot free if you are lucky.

    Giant Funnel

    There are other white mushrooms with white gills that are edible such as The Miller, but due to their similarities with poisonous species we do not recommend you pick them until you are a very experienced mushroom forager. The above mushrooms are all easy to regonise because of the key features mentioned.

  3. Do the gills exude milk when damaged?Milk Cap Milk
    You must bruise the gills, to make sure it’s not a Milk Cap. These mushrooms are easy to identify as when the gills are bruised you will see a milky substance start to apparently lactate from the damaged area, as is clearly illustrated in the photo on the right, the milk can be a range of colours from white to green. Avoid all of these without further means of identification, the vast majority of milk caps growing in the UK are Toxic, and a number of the white ones certainly are.

  4. Are the gills brittle or flexible?
    Russula GillsRun your finger over the gills and see if they snap into little flat sections or bend back into place. You can also try snapping the stem to see how it breaks. This is to test whether you have a member of the Russula family or not. There are over 100 types of Russula in the UK and some of them have a white cap and white gills. Russula stems break a little like chalk, and the gills flake because they have a different cell structure to most other mushrooms, giving them the common name The Brittlegills. This is one of our favourite families of mushrooms, and being able to identify this family will make all your forays more fruitful as there are often many russulas around. Some of the white russulas are toxic though, so again without experience and further means of identification this article recommends you leave all white russulas behind. Most have white gills, so point 6 applies to these too for safe ID purposes.Identifying Russulas

  5. Do the gills turn into an inky substance when crushed?
    The Coprinus family are commonly known as the Inkcap family as their gills deliquesce into a Shaggy Ink Cap, Coprinus comatus.perfectly useable ink, either when you crush them or just by leaving the mushroom to do it itself. There are a number of Inkcap mushrooms. With the Shaggy Inkcap being by far the best edible. It is a fairly tall white capped mushroom, with a shaggy appearance to the cap. This is often compared to a judges or lawyers wig; hence both are common nicknames for it. It really is one of the best edibles around when young, but you will never find these in the shops or on restaurant menus as they have a shelf life of less than 48 hours, with more mature ones like the one pictured right lasting no more than a few hours once picked before turning into ink. So the only way you will ever get to taste a Shaggy Inkcap is if it has been foraged that day! Any other white or patchy white ink caps should not be eaten unless a positive ID can be made.The Magpie fungus in particular can look similar to the Shaggy Inkcap when young but is less shaggy and the white scales cover a black background. It is not deadly but it is poisonous so care should be taken when collecting these mushrooms, and they are perhaps not one for the novice forager.
  6. How to Identify an Agaric
    The main Genus that this article is about
    are the Agaricus mushrooms.They mostly all have a skirt on the stem, which can remain attached to the cap until the mushroom is quite mature; or partially attached to the cap as in the photo here on the right. They have stout, fleshy, solid stems, and the white cap can be fairly smooth to Agaricus Mushroomslightly coarse, both may discolour when bruised or cut. They all start with pink gills which darken to brown in maturity as shown in the images and videos on the right. Typically Agaric mushrooms look very much like the Button Mushrooms, Chestnut Mushrooms or Portobello mushrooms that you buy in shops and supermarkets. This is because all of those shop bought mushrooms are cultivated and farmed versions of one member of the wild Agaric family, the Agaricus bisporus.Agarics grow in a number of different environments but mainly in grassland.People often refer to them as field mushrooms, though along with the Field Mushroom itself, there are other Agarics that look almost identical and grow in fields. Some of those are toxic, so if you know you have an Agaric those toxic ones are the most important members of the family to be able to identify. So how do you do that?Once you know you have an Agaric
  • Bruise It!
    Yellow Stainer, Agaricus xanthodermus, PoisonousBruising a mushroom helps you identify it by the way the bruised area reacts with air. Some Agarics will bruise yellow, some slightly reddish brown and some will not bruise at all. One of the mushrooms in the Agaricus group is called the Yellow Stainer (right); it looks almost identical to a Field mushroom, and is poisonous. Though not deadly this mushroom can make you very ill. Its name does suggest the method for identifying it, though. Once bruised, or cut, the Yellow Stainer will bruise bright yellow in the affected areas. The Agaricus pilatianus which is also toxic, also stains yellow when bruised, but with this mushroom the bruising will be more prominent at the base of the stem. Horse mushrooms, Field mushrooms and Agaricus macrosporus all bruise slightly yellow too though, and are good edibles. Normally they will not discolour as vibrantly or as quickly. But there is one further test you can do to be sure you have an edible.

  • Smell it!
    Look at the photo on the right. One is a A Horse Mushroom (left) and a Yellow Stainer (right)lovely Horse Mushroom; one is a poisonous Yellow Stainer. You must be able to tell the difference if you want to pick from the Agaric family safely! Cutting the mushroom will enhance the smell. A smell of aniseed is good – it means you have a Horse mushroom, a Wood mushroom, an Agaricus excellens or one of the other edible types. A pleasant mushroomy smell probably means you have a Field mushroom or an Agaricus bitorquis, which are common. A faint smell of almonds means you probably have an Agaricus Macrosporus or a Prince, again both of these are fine edibles. What you are looking for with the smell is an unpleasant, carbolic, chemically or inky smell – this would indicate one of the poisonous members of the family. This rule only applies to Agarics, but the rule is that if it smells edible then it is, if it smells bad then it isn’t! Please forage with care and use numerous sources for identification of any wild mushrooms. Never eat anything from the wild unless you are 100% sure what it is! Happy Hunting!


32 comments for Identifying White Mushrooms

  1. Foulstone says:

    I just found a white mushroom in the woods rather than an open field, in South Yorkshire. It is white and very mushroom like, that is to say it is very fleshy and smells like a mushroom from the shop. The gills are white and not brittle. The stem is not really bulbous there is nothing attached to the stem either at the base or higher up. I broke a bit of the cap and it doesn’t stain. Do you have any idea what it is without trying to find a microscope and checking the spores?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hi Foulstone, we can’t ID mushrooms from descriptions but you can send photos of the cap, the gills and the stem along with where they were growing and any smells to [email protected] and we’ll try to ID them for you. Please send IDs of one mushroom at a time.

  2. Stephen Hughes says:

    Found an agaricus 12cm diameter, stem 10cm long in grass by cherry and ?hornbeam. Beside it older ones were 20cm in diameter, packed one on top of the other, discolouring eachother black with spores, blinding like a high vis vest in the sun. I got an intermittent smell of aniseed. The cap and base did not discolour yellow, or pink on slicing. Fine scales on cap. Confused. Could be agaricus urinascens var urinascens except no almond smell. Not excellens because it didnt bruise pink on cutting and not horse because cap didnt bruise yellow. Ive seen a few yellow stainers turn yellow at base and know the chemical smell. Traces of ring were adhering to edge of cap. Can u help?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hi Stephen, it’s a bit late now I’m afraid but they sound like Horse Mushrooms, they do not always bruise pale yellow on the cap or maybe Wood Mushrooms. They do sound like Agarics and as you know the smell of Yellow Stainers you should be safe with that family.

  3. Jan Adams says:

    I suddenly found several beautiful quite large mushrooms under the bushes in our garden, white, flat with brownish gills, exactly like a field mushroom, but was nervous! Your extremely comprehensive article made me try to bruise it, which had very slight yellowing, but when I cut the base of the stem with a knife, it cut yellow, so we are definitely not trying them, although you mentioned that some with a little yellow may be alright.
    Thank you so much for your advice.

  4. George Fornadley says:

    Large dome shaped mushroom on ground. No visible stem. Approx. 9 in. dia. by 5 in. high, in beige color. Surface NOT smooth but composed of attached ruffled type ridges that look like leaves.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hi George, we can’t do IDs from descriptions but you can send photos of the cap, the gills and the stem along with where they were growing and any smells to [email protected] and we’ll try to ID them for you. Please send IDs of one mushroom at a time.

  5. Carolyn Scott says:

    Found these in my garden which is surrounded by fields , could you perhaps identify them for me please, they smell delicious like regular shop bought mushrooms.

    * they don’t turn any colour when bruised or cut, stay white.
    * smell like edible mushrooms
    * About 10cm tall 8cm wide
    * Seem to grow in a large ring
    * I live in Suffolk
    * don’t seem to have any noticeable sac or volva
    Should I be concerned, I have a toddler grandson who’s into everything!

    I have a few photos I can send, unfortunately no option here to upload.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hi Carolyn, I would need photos of the stem, gills and cap. You can send them to [email protected]. If you can’t ID a mushroom and it has white gills leave well alone.

  6. Manila says:

    Very helpful article for a new forager like me. I am curious to know about the huge mushrooms that grows in the woods of UK, specially in Somerset region. I am unable to post the picture here, but it is like a flat flower, with a black spot in the middle and gills underneath. The width would be around 20cm. I will appreciate for your suggestion

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      We find it almost impossible to ID mushrooms from descriptions but if you send in photos of the gills, cap and stem to [email protected] we’ll give it a try.

  7. Diane Merki says:

    I found a beautiful, all white mushroom, with a second one growing from the stem but smaller, both with soft white gills, and thick stems. They were growing from a dead tree. The cap of the larger one is about 5 inches across, and I picked another one with a cap about 4 inches across. But the smaller mushroom attached to the larger one has different type of cap. It is more rounded, while the larger ones have turned up edges. The cap of the small one is white also and about 2 inches across. I can’t come up with a distinctive smell, but they do color slightly to yellow after being touched.
    I am searching the internet and my mushroom book but still am not sure of what kind it is. Anyone????

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      If you can send in photos of the caps, stem and gills We’ll see if we can ID it for you.

  8. Jane Holmes says:

    After watching your excellent videos for identifying edible mushrooms, I picked over 1kg of mushrooms, including what I believe are horse mushrooms and some prince. All of them smelled pleasant, none had any yellow staining when sliced. However, after slicing majority to salt prior to make mushroom ketchup we were left with two smaller ones which I presumed were less mature versions – pale pink gills, skirt still attached over gills. These were sliced, no staining, but when fried they turned fairly yellow with an unpleasant chemical aroma – we have thrown these away. I am now concerned I may have included one of these in the mushrooms put aside to macerate for 24 hours before cooking for ketchup. I have carefully looked through and can see no yellowing at all but obviously I feel I should discard the whole lot now. I just wondered whether it is normal to get this chemically aroma when cooking what appeared to be edible mushrooms? I can send photos. Thanks.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      There are a very small handful of Agarics that can cause gastric upsets and, luckily for us, they all have a chemical smell, they won’t all bruise yellow though. The Yellow Stainer and it’s close relatives look just like Horse or Field Mushrooms.

  9. Owen Inskip says:

    We have a regular “fairy ring” of large white mushrooms in a hay meadow which appear (nearly) every year. There are basketfuls there now. They look just just like Field Mushrooms but, when cooked, have a strange not very nice smell and they don’t taste very nice at all. What can they be? I love mushrooms but these are a massive disappointment.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      They sound like toxic Yellow Stainers.

  10. Susan Lee says:

    We have found three sizeable pure white mushrooms with white gills and slightly bulbous bottom of stem growing in our polytunnel amongst a large patch of carrots. If these are poisonous will the carrots be as well?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      The poison in mushrooms will not spread to other plants or fungi nearby.

      1. Jane R says:

        That is a superb bit of information to have. Indeed, that was an excellent question to ask.
        Thank you.

  11. Noelle edgerley says:

    I found today whilst watering my well which is filled with compost and a large growth of lavender multiple large mushrooms white underneath and a huge ball like growth on the end with veils their was wood license on top of the older ones of which I had never seen before this has never happened before

  12. Peter Moralee says:

    I picked some horse mushrooms yesterday out on the hill, eaten, delicious. Found today under trees what seems like a horse mushroom but it has completely white gills with a bit of a wave in them. Does not bruise yellow. My wife, who has a better sense of smell, said fennel when I asked her to smell it.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Agarics never have white gills.

  13. Johnny says:

    Great article! I love to hunt and identify mushroom. The Springtime Amanita (Amanita velosa) is considered an edible species.
    Happy foraging!

  14. Peter says:

    I have a good crop of these here in Carson City Nevada but my wife is absolutely opposed to picking mushrooms so I just sigh and watch them grow.

  15. Kevin Zwolinski says:

    Jan Adams posted this, and I had exactly the same experience:
    I suddenly found several beautiful quite large mushrooms under the bushes in our garden, white, flat with brownish gills, exactly like a field mushroom, but was nervous! Your extremely comprehensive article made me try to bruise it, which had very slight yellowing, but when I cut the base of the stem with a knife, it cut yellow, so we are definitely not trying them, although you mentioned that some with a little yellow may be alright.
    We smelled ours, only mushroom smell, we grazed them, slightly yellow, cut them and eat a tiny bit. Nothing untoward, so I was going to try them. Upon putting them in the pan with a drop of olive oil the carbolic smell was overwhelming, and they turned as yellow as mustard!
    Thanks for the superb advice, they went in the bin.

  16. corey alan welch says:

    found a mushroom, didnt realize it growing underground. It looked like a walnut that a squirl buried. But when i kicked it, i found it was whitish outside (dirty im sure) the inside was a greyish look. Not much of an odor and was the size of a walnut with the green shell still attached. Any ideas? Wish i could add a pic, second one ive found. Didnt know if it was poisonous, i notice bugs and animals dont touch it. ty for your time.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      It sounds like either an Earthball or one of the Truffles but I would need to see photos. You can send them to [email protected].

  17. Des Roberts says:


    I have mushrooms growing in my garden. They have white skin with white gills and I’d like to know if they are safe to eat or if I should avoid them at all cost. I have photos and can forward them to you if this would help. I live in Bedfordshire UK.


    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Generally, mushrooms that are white all over is a danger sign unless you know your mushrooms. You can send photos to [email protected]
      Please include photos of the cap, stem, gills and any info on where it was growing, what trees were nearby and any smells or colour changes after picking.

  18. Christine Ravensdale says:

    Where do I send photos to for a positive identification. Thank you.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      You can send photos to [email protected] Please send one mushroom at a time and include photos of the cap, underneath, stem and where they were growing.
      If possible tell us any trees that were nearby and any smell you get from the mushrooms.

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