A budding artist who started seriously foraging for mushrooms after receiving a book on fungi for Christmas when she was 11 years old is now a leading champignon champion.
Since being given the book in 2010, arts and crafts teacher Emily Wall, 24, has become “obsessed” with picking them – finding everything from deadly to delicious examples of fungi in her local woods.
Emily, of Little Mill, Monmouthshire, South Wales, said: “Mushrooms are amazing. Some will kill you, some are medicinal and some feed you.”
She added: “I’ve come across really deadly mushrooms like death caps and destroying angels.
“But then there are mushrooms out there that can heal and even help treat cancer and then, of course, they are such a food staple.
“I love to photograph my forages, so I can paint them before I eat them.”
She added: “I am making a mini-series of them all as part of my artwork.”
Totally at one with nature, Emily swears that if she won the lottery she would buy a house hidden deep in the forest.
Encouraged to pick wild berries as a child, which her mum would make into crumbles, by the age of 10 she was also showing an interest in “mushrooming.”
She said: “I used to pick field mushrooms with my family. I really enjoyed it so, for Christmas, someone bought me a mushroom book, which really sparked my interest.
“There’s a picture of me just lent on the kitchen counter reading the book as a child. I already loved mushrooms and became obsessed with finding them.”
It was a huge wrench for Emily when, aged 19, she won a place at Cardiff University to study illustration and set off for life in the city.
She said: “I went to university in Cardiff to study illustration. But I quickly fell out of love with the course and realised I was more suited to fine art.
“I stayed in Cardiff for another seven months and lived in a flat with my friend. But I just felt a pull to return home, it’s such a nice place to live and I loved being by the forest.
“I came back and started walking in nature with my friend in the mornings. I would find amazing mushrooms.”
Do not eat it unless you have identified it – always make sure you know what you are eating
Be mindful of nature – Sheep, goats and even deer love eating mushrooms, so you will ever find them in their habitats. Think about where you are picking. The animals will always get there before you, so find mushrooms away from them.
Join a bunch of Facebook groups - people are more reliable than an app
She added: “There was so much peace around us and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Now something of a master mushroom picker, she loves cooking with her finds and says they taste their best when used as the base for ramen – a Japanese noodle soup.
“I love ramen. It’s my favourite food and it’s a great way to enjoy your forages, as you can throw in most leafy greens you find and of course mushrooms!”
She added: “I found a massive chicken of the woods mushroom the other day – it is huge and yellow and orange in colour and tends to grow in trees. It’s lovely cooked and I’ve been eating it for a week. I never buy mushrooms anymore.”
Foraging is a feast for the senses, according to Emily.
She said: “I use all my senses when I forage. How does the mushroom smell? What plants are growing near it? It’s a really immersive experience.”
She added: “My dream if I won the lottery would be to build a house in the middle of the forest.”
While she specialises in mushroom foraging, Emily also seeks out leafy greens and flowers.
“More recently I’ve got into leafy greens. I got a glass teapot for my birthday this year, so I’ve been collecting a lot of plants to make tea with,” she said.
“My mum, Tracey, still picks berries and loves seeing all the wonderful things I bring home, but I’m really the family forager.”
Some of her most exciting foraging finds give Emily a real thrill – like the polypore mushroom she picked recently.
Growing mainly on birch trees, they have medicinal properties and can be used as an antiseptic to clean wounds and promote healing.
Get a decent guidebook – whatever you do don’t trust foraging apps, identify things carefully using a good book, like Mushrooms by Roger Phillips.
Be sustainable – do not just pick all the mushrooms without a thought, think about putting effort into it. Foraging takes time and understanding, really do your research and leave some for others.
Research your local area – think about what grows around you, learn to identify the plants, even the inedible ones.
She said: “I think I got most excited when I found a polypore mushroom.
“One of my best mushroom sites had been destroyed, so when I found the giant polypore growing there again I was ecstatic. I was so happy it came back.”
Despite her unerring enthusiasm for mushrooms, Emily is keen to warn beginners to use reliable guidebooks when finding them and not to refer to unreliable apps, as some fungi can be deadly.
She said: “Don’t use apps, always use a guidebook.
“Don’t use your phone – look around you. What does the mushroom smell like? What plants are around it?
“Apps can be wrong and you need to be careful when picking mushrooms. They can be delicious but they can also be deadly!”
Now a master mushroom forager with nearly 15 years’ experience, Emily is never happier than when she is foraging in the forest.
“I don’t see myself ever living in the city long term,” she said.
“I love the country and I think I’d always end up living near a forest. I’ve been thinking about writing my own foraging book, doing all the illustrations for it and everything.”
She added: “That’s really my goal.
“I work outside as a teacher and I love going out in the evenings for an hour or even four and looking for great stuff to eat.
“And I never get sick of eating mushrooms!”
MUST PAR: Instagram.com/foragedbyemily