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I hope your ready for Week #3 of our Foraging: A 28-Day Comprehensive Guide for the Modern Pioneer. This week we start the hard stuff ladies and gentlemen.
Remember all of those foraging rules we started off with on Day #1. You probably thought that was a whole heap of fluff, huh? Go ahead and grab your self some sippin’ juice and a cozy chair and catch up on your reading, because week 3…we are going hunting and those rules are less of a suggestion and more of a way to practice safe foraging skills.
Hunting for what? Mushrooms, folks! Have you ever heard the phrase “Beauty is toxic.” Sorry, If I am bursting your bubble… Yeah…Cosmo didn’t write that. Some wilderness hippie probably wrote that in reference to mushrooms. Buttery, gorgeous, decadent, earthy morsels of one of the most thrilling and most dangerous things to forage for. Week 3 we are foraging for mushrooms
A Foodie Love Affair
Prior to actually enjoying the flavor of mushrooms, I was in love with the idea of them. How could I NOT be? The iconic yet toxic Amanita muscaria toadstool literally infiltrated the homes of every child raised in the good ole’ U.S. of A when Nintendo made it instantly famous as the “Super Mushroom” on Mario Bros.
My love affair with mushrooms is a deep seeded creature comfort. The thought reminds me of a time where people whisked off into the forest anxious to fill wicker baskets full of nature’s edible ornaments in preparation for a meal or winter storage.
As a lover of nature, (I’m sure you couldn’t tell) I was always being whisked away to far off lands in my fantasy filled books where fairies lived on…you guessed it… mushrooms and lichen or trees dotted with shrooms. I watched with an intense admiration as the Hobbits on Lord of the Rings cravenly foraged for mushrooms and spoke of them with such esteem you would think they were talking about sex or women. Good food can do that to ya.
Can you tell I’m a little obsessed? Despite my slightly weird love of these unique bulbous growths of fungus…I never actually foraged them for myself until I moved to Patagonia. Foraging for mushrooms satisfies my exploring spirit fueled by my inner homesteading chipmunk that screams for me to fill my pantries.
The adventure of learning an entirely new world that was there all along is pretty thrilling…at least for super nerds like myself.
The Road Much Traveled
The best things in life are the ones you stumble upon by chance. Scattered showers had been forcing Cory and I to remain indoors for a few days. At the first sign of sunlight, we bolted out of the doors like two crazy toddlers. Desperately needing to be outside, we decided to take a leisurely stroll about a mile or so away to a friend’s cabin.
This particular hike is always a magical experience. The path is a meandering trail of moss covered stumps and over-sized trees with purple passion flowers ensnaring the brush. And after days of light rain…apparently an incubator for mushrooms. The familiar scenery of a much traveled trail turned into a scavenger hunt. Honestly, I am not sure we ever made it to our friend’s casa. I think we spent the afternoon foraging and dreaming of all of the dinners coming soon to our table. #winningafternoons
Mushroom Foraging Rules
Apparently, I am not alone in my adoration for fungi-fection. Mushroom hunting has become so prominent that the U.S. Forest Service is now regulating when, where, and how many mushrooms can be removed from national parks and lands. Oh, and did you PAY for a permit? If you are planning on scoring on public acreage you may want to be sure that you get that swanky permit they are now demanding from foragers. HUMPH!
With several thousand varieties of mushrooms around the world, it is impossible to know them all. The good news is that there are only about 250 types that are considered highly toxic and possibly deadly. The bad news is that that leaves quite a lot of room for error.
That is 250 reasons why misidentification is simply not an option. Even when you believe you have properly identified a mushroom check again with another resource…just to be safe. Mushrooms are no different than all of the other wild edibles we have been foraging. Look-a-likes are abundant and difficult to accurately label at times. Below I have made a list of rules to follow to practice safe hunting.
<=== Morel (Not too much difference other than one is toxic)
Bottom: False Morel
If you can not make a proper identification, do not put it in your mouth! We couldn’t identify the types of mushrooms that we were stuffing into our ruck sacks, but we knew that as soon as we got home, it was time to start educating ourselves because on the menu was a mushroom linguini and sauteed eggplant….hopefully.
Ask the right questions. Foraging for edible fungi requires a sharp eye, delicate touch, and strong sniffer. You need to be able to carefully observe each mushroom that you find. Some of the questions you should ask are:
Where is it growing? (On a log, in a shed, etc.)
How is it growing? ( in clusters, solo, sprouting from one stem or multiple stems, etc.)
What color is it? (Color is extremely important as mushrooms have an infinite variety of hues)
“All Mushrooms are edible but some only once in a lifetime.”- Czech Proverb
What shape is it?
What do the gills look like?
Is it straight, skinny, bulbous, or fat?
What does it feel like? (rough, slimy, rubbery, gritty, etc)
What does it smell like? (earthy, sweet, moldy, buttery, etc.)
Being able to answer these questions will allow you to identify the shrooms in your field guide. Don’t have a reliable guide yet? No worries. You know me and my books. I always have 50 million recommendations. No such thing as too much reading! Click on the photos below to be redirected and read a few pages yourself.
Forage in an area free from chemicals. If you know that an area is sprayed for weeds or insects avoid picking mushrooms there. Consider choosing a site that is remote. Over grown or wild areas are a sure bet. Fungi inhabit every nook and cranny of the living world, so they are often easy to locate. They thrive in areas that most living things could not live. No light? Damp? Kind of creepy? Sounds like mushroom heaven to me!
Make sure to take only what you need. If you find a trove of mushrooms leave a few behind to allow them to spread their spores. If you remove all of the shrooms, they will most likely never grow there again.
Do not forage older rotting mushrooms. Like fruit and vegetables, eating rotten food can make you ill. Fight the temptation of cutting around the moldy parts…I know it can be hard…maybe it is just me… If the more mature shrooms are at the end of their life span they will begin to spread their spores (seeds) which means more for later.
When harvesting remember to leave two inches of the stem intact to encourage re-growth.
Not all mushrooms can be consumed raw, check your field guide prior to chowing down to ensure you are practicing foraging for mushrooms safely.
You are an individual, so are mushrooms. Each person reacts differently to different varieties, even the edible ones. Prior to indulging decadently on these tasty morsels try just a few bites and wait 2-3 hours to make sure that you do not have an adverse reaction.
When/Where Foraging for Mushrooms: Scavenging Nature
Most species of fungi require very specific conditions to grow. Some will only grow on certain trees whilst others only in a particular region. Picky little buggers. The best times for successful mushroom gathering vary from region to region. In Idaho, you may want to keep your eyes peeled from May to June. Whereas in Louisiana I would say LATE fall to early Spring is your best bet. Mushrooms generally emerge in spring and/or fall when moisture, soil, and temperature are just right.
Most often the ideal location is in areas that have been burned or the soil was disrupted the previous year. Fungi typically grows in places where all else fails. Having a scattered shower storm? SCORE! Consider this your lucky day. The perfect time to hunt is a day or so after a light shower.
Look up your local online extension of the United States Forest Service to find out exactly when the best time of year is to hunt mushrooms where you live. Don’t forget look check your field guide. It is full of useful information about when and where to find these tasty bites. The Mushroom Forager is the man to look to when you want to farm the forest floors. He puts out a “forecast” detailing location of the best mushrooms. I LOVE his blog. It is a wonderful resource!
Benefits of Gathering
Aside from the sheer pleasure of indulging in this activity, there are many benefits to foraging fungi for yourself.
Want to score some extra cash? You can earn top dollar for selling your foraging scores. Chefs and connoisseurs scour the internet and brokerage firms ( Yes, that’s a thing. I told you I am not the only foodie weirdo.) to find this precious commodity.
Store bought varieties are not very plentiful. Besides, after being shipped across the nation and “processed” most of the earthy natural flavor is diminished and what remains often has a rubbery grody texture. YUCK! Good chefs will search for rare species and purchase them from a vendor. Great chefs demand the highest quality ingredients. Meaning, wild hand picked shrooms for their clientele.
Hunting for mushrooms is a lucrative business once you learn how to identify and locate the valuable varieties. The Modern Farmer has an excellent article about the Business of Hunting Mushrooms.
Magic & Mushrooms
Ever hear the term magic mushrooms? Oh, come on…I am not talking about the hippy psychedelic stuff. I am talking about the healing magic of natural medicine. For centuries, China has used mushrooms for their therapeutic and medicinal properties. In the U.S. , we are a little late to the DIY natural medicine movement. Take a page from the Chinese. Fungi are known to aid in the prevention and fight against everything from cancer to stress!
My mom has a rare form of Lyme Disease called Rickettsia. There was a period where we thought we would lose her. One by one her organs were slowly shutting down. Until a traditional Chinese practitioner placed her on a daily regiment of dried mushroom capsules. Within weeks, my mom had more pep in her step. Her body began to miraculously revive itself. Where Western medicine gave up and recommended heavy opiates on her way to her death bed, Eastern medicine gave her a second chance…with a mushroom. Needless to say… I am a believer in Magic and Mushrooms.
Check out this article for a little more knowledge on the medicinal qualities and properties of mushrooms.
In the dead of winter, food loses its color and flavor. Produce at the market looks sad and lifeless and often tastes like someone injected it with water. We tend to gain weight during this season, because we turn to starches and grains. At least they TASTE the same. Comfort food. Nom Nom Nom.
Alas, there is a solution! You probably saw this coming a mile away. Mushrooms! No, you are right. They are not growing when all is quiet in the dead of winter. BUT if you did your foraging homework and hunted and preserved your finds, you will be pleasantly ecstatic to open your pantries and have glorious mushrooms to save your dinner..and some of the calories. With a rainbow larger than skittles and more varieties than Bertie Botts, you would be hard pressed to find a better winter food.
Want to Know More?
So, now you know why and how to gather wild fungi sustainably. If you are interested in learning how to identify specific breeds and whipping up a decadent dinner on a budget, you can sign up for our FREE 28-Day Comprehensive Guide for the Modern Pioneer. Be our guest and have a front row seat, as we deliver 28 days of the wild life to your inbox with your FREE V.I.P. Access. Click the link below to learn more! See you on the flip side foragers!