Deliciosus! – The Saffron Milkcap

The mushroom season is well under way in the UK. Since September there have been many species popping up here and there, but there’s still more to come. October and November often produce the goods in abundance…

Saffron Milkcap MushroomOne of my latest and tastiest finds has been the Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus) – one the most sought after Milkcaps, especially in Europe which grows exclusively with pines from summer to autumn. They aren’t overly common but relatively frequent, and to add to the fun, they are quite regular in showing up in the same place every year – but this is only in my experience, perhaps it’s not always so. I’d just thought I’d mention it (leave comments if you agree or not).

This lovely edible mushroom, like most tasty finds (it seems) does have naughty lookalikes, but fear not as they are non-poisonous threats coming in the form of the aptly named False Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deterrimus) thought only to grow with spruce and Lactarius semisanguifluus which also occur with pine. The differences are annoyingly subtle which I will explain further. Firstly, let’s take a look at the main character itself…

The Saffron Milkcap’s cap can grow up to 12cm in diametre and is slightly funnel shaped with a margin that is noticeably curved inwards when younger. The fleshy, carrot orange cap often shows stronger concentric bands around the surface (in this case very subtle) which can be tinged here and there with olive-green patches. Caps on the lookalike mushrooms tend to develop a wider covering of green, sometimes covering the cap completely.

The milk colour is a key ID feature with this Milkcap, when compared to the others. It has bright carrot orange coloured milk (coming from the gills once damaged or handled). The lookalikes share a similar colour but are noticeably more reddish, turning deeper red/purpleish over 10 – 30 minutes minutes once exposed to the air.

Moving on to the stem you’ll see the gills are only mildy decurrent and the pale whitish/orange to salmon/orange stem often has a collection of darker, circular pits, as shown in the pictures here. The False Saffron Milkcap can have these marks but are less frequent and Lactarius semisanguiluus doesn’t have any – it’s stem can clearly be seen to turn green over time and upon handling.

With experience these finer differences will become more apparent but even now I sometimes don’t trust my own judgement. Luckily a colleague confirmed the finding. Always a good idea to get a second opinion. And if you’re unsure of the difference between Pine and Spruce (as I was) then this is a good link to help in identification.

And while we’re on the subject of good links, take a look at this great Saffron Milkcap recipe. Enjoy.

Lactarius deliciosus - edible milkcap

The Saffron Milkcap. Notice the darker pitting on the stem (top right) and the bright ‘carrot orange’ milk from the gills (bottom right).



3 – 15cm diametre. Varying carrot/orange colour / sometimes greenish in places. Darker markings showing concentric bands. Convex with central depression. Initially inrolled at margin. Firm, brittle consistency.


Slightly decurrent. Narrow spacing. Pale pink/apricot to saffron. Eventually carrot coloured. Olive-green markings when bruised.


3 – 7cm x 1.5 – 2cm. Whiteish/pale orange – salmon coloured. Often with darker circular depressions. Green in places over time.
Spore Print: Pale ochre (see how to take a spore print here).


In grass with pine trees. Summer/autumn. Frequent.


Edible. Very Good. Popular in Europe.

The Genus LACTARIUS (Milkcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Gills and flesh exude milk when broken or damaged.
• Look out for different coloured milks and any changes after a while when exposed to the air.
• Granular/fragile flesh similar to Russulas (Brittlegills), breaking easily.

7 replies
  1. Iain Sanders.
    Iain Sanders. says:

    Many thanks for this, John, re my last query. Thankfully there are many of these around here, & I’ll be after them now!

    Iain Sanders, Skye.

  2. Lluis Cecilia
    Lluis Cecilia says:

    You might be interested in a mushroom TV programme in catalan TV (TV3 catalunya) called ‘Cacadors de bolets’ (mushroom hunters). 30 min chapters on Saturday at 16.00. It’s on its 3rd year now. you can find it on youtube or on the app / website of TV3. You might not understand much but you see a group of people every week and lots of varieties as well as technical details. I watch it every week. I used to go hunting when I lived there and I agree with the ‘hunters’ in all those programmes: a true mushroom hunter enjoys more the hunting than eating them. But never managed to find a good spot for mushrooms in UK. I’m open to tips of any decent forests. And if you need any translation of any part of the programme let me know. By the way last May I found lots of morels (murgules in catalan) just walking the dog in a park in Oldham. It was in woodchip of a renewed park, I believe they appear in ground that have been tossed / burned / renewed,… and don’t tend to re appear. But I have seen another 2 parks with new woodchip and I’m looking forward to have a walk with the dog next spring. I’ll let you know.

    • J C Harris
      J C Harris says:

      Thanks for the programme information Lluis. I’ll check it out when I get the chance. I agree with the fact that the hunt is just as good, if not better than the eating. My best advice for local mushroom foraging is just to experiment and discover new places. I always like to do this as well as go back to my old haunts. Mushrooms are everywhere at the moment. Good luck with more Morels in spring.

      All the best

    • J C Harris
      J C Harris says:

      Hi Livia, I only retrieve the whole fruiting body to show a full specimen for identification and photographic purposes but do not when foraging (taking a few for the pot). I would always cut the top of the stem and take the cap.

      The mushroom itself doesn’t technically have a root. Instead, born from the mycelium in the soil. But you’re right in expressing your concern. I try not to damage the mycelium too much when I do it this way, so the mycelium will survive OK and continue to fruit many more mushrooms.


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