Watch: Meet this budding artist turned mushroom enthusiast
It all began back in 2010, when arts and crafts teacher Emily Wall, now 24, was given a book about fungi for Christmas.
The 11 year old swiftly became “obsessed” with searching for mushrooms – finding everything from deadly toadstools to edible delights in her local woods.
Emily, from Little Mill, Monmouthshire, South Wales, says,
“Mushrooms are amazing. Some will kill you, some are medicinal and some feed you. 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 has even undertaken an ongoing art project featuring her favourites.
A lifelong nature-lover, Emily's dream is to live in the middle of a forest, and her upbringing was the stuff of fairy-take cookery. As a child, she'd pick wild berries, which her mum would make into pies and crumbles, at 10, she was also showing an interest in “mushrooming.”
“I used to pick field mushrooms with my family. I really enjoyed it so, for Christmas, someone bought me the mushroom book, which really sparked my interest. There’s a picture of me leaning on the kitchen counter reading the book as a child.
"I already loved mushrooms and became obsessed with finding them.”
Aged 19, she headed to Cardiff University to study illustration, but after a few months, says, "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. There was so much peace around us and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Emily now knows mushrooms inside-out, and is practised enough to know which are safe - and which ones should be given a wide berth.
She loves cooking with her foraged finds, and says they taste their best when used as the base for ramen, a Japanese noodle soup.
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“I love ramen," she says, "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!
“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.”
Read more:A beginner's guide to foraging
And while others may practice mindfulness on woodland walks, for Emily, foraging is the answer.
“I use all my senses when I forage," she explains. "How does the mushroom smell? What plants are growing near it? It’s a really immersive experience.”
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 says.
“My mum, Tracey, still picks berries and loves seeing all the wonderful things I bring home, but I’m really the family forager.”
Sometimes, her treasure hunting turns up a real gem, she says: "I think I got most excited when I found a polypore mushroom."
Growing mainly on birch trees, they have medicinal properties and can be used as an antiseptic to clean wounds and promote healing.
“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.”
But despite her own expertise, Emily is keen to warn beginners to use reliable guidebooks when finding fungi - and not to refer to unreliable apps, as some can be deadly.
“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. 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 adds, " 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!”
Follow Emily online: Instagram.com/foragedbyemily
Beginners should always forage with a trained guide. Never eat a wild mushroom if you aren't certain it's safe, as deadly and edible fungi can look similar.