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The Beginner’s Guide to Mushroom Foraging

Foraging For Mushrooms

One of the best things about mushroom – other than their great taste, of course – is that we can find and pick them in the wild ourselves.

If you’ve never been foraging for mushrooms, you’re missing out on something special.

Yes, it can be challenging – spotting a morel on the forest floor is not the easiest of tasks. But, that is why foraging is also so rewarding.

Plus, there’s nothing quite like having a delicious meal prepared with the fruits – or in this case, fungi – of your labour.

How to Become a Mushroom Hunter

There are two main things you should know before you start hunting for mushrooms. First, you have to have at least a general understanding of when and where to look for them.

Different mushrooms grow in different environments and under different conditions. If you’re foraging for morels, for example, you won’t find any unless you’re out in the springtime near dead trees on the edge of a forested area.

Knowing where and when to forage is only part of the equation, though.

Every mushroom hunter should also have a had a good idea of what the mushrooms you’re after look like. There are plenty of poisonous species out there you need to avoid.

And don’t let that statement discourage or scare you off. It’s actually not that difficult to identify if a mushroom is poisonous or edible.

When you cut open a morel, for example, you’ll find it to be hollow inside. False morels are not. The delicious chanterelle mushrooms don’t grow in a cluster. However, the common chanterelle impostors – the poisonous Jack O’Lantern mushrooms – do.

Telling edible and poisonous mushrooms apart is often as easy as that and only takes a bit of research before you head out hunting. And when you stick to picking only the mushrooms you are familiar with, you’ll be perfectly fine.

Avoiding Poisonous Mushrooms

The vast majority of poisonous mushrooms are bitter, which is a bit of a safety net. If you eat one, you’ll likely know right away.

If you suspect you may have eaten a mushroom you shouldn’t have, don’t take any chances. Spit it out and rinse your mouth thoroughly with water. Then, to be safe, contact poison control – I would at least.

That said, not every mushroom that is poisonous tastes bad – some can be rather tasty. That is why, ultimately, it so important to understand well what you’re picking.

Other than researching the mushrooms you will be foraging for, I also recommend you have at least a cursory knowledge of some of the common poisonous mushroom species you may run into in the wild.

  • Death Cap (Amanita Phalloides):

    Death caps have a round, silver cap held up by a thin, white stalk. As the name implies, these are mushrooms you want to stay clear of. Irreparable liver damage can occur after eating just half a cap. Death caps are quite common too, and you can find them just as easily in the middle of the woods as in a city park.

  • Destroying Angel (Amanita Bisporigera):

    A mushroom with a narrow stem and a solid white cap with gills, the destroying angels is even more dangerous than the death cap. Eating one can mean potentially lethal damage to the kidneys and liver in as little as five hours.

  • Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria):

    Arguably the most iconic of all mushrooms, the fly agaric is another mushroom to avoid. They’re easily recognized by their white-spotted, usually red cap. Though not deadly unless eaten in excess, the fly agaric may cause you to hallucinate, sweat profusely, and feel tired and very nauseous.

  • False Parasol (Chlorophyllum Molybdites):

    Similar in look to the edible parasol mushrooms, the false parasols are large, with a whitish cap and coarse brownish scales. They tend to grow near populated areas, which is why they are the most often eaten (accidentally, of course) poisonous mushrooms in North America. Also, sometimes lovingly called the vomiter, the false parasol triggers severe gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea and vomiting.

Edible Wild Mushrooms to Pick

While there are plenty of mushrooms you shouldn’t eat, there are just as many species that are edible. And are they all ever tasty.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the more common edible mushrooms you can go foraging for.

  • White Button, Cremini, and Portobello (Agaricus Bisporus):

    All three are the same species of mushroom, just at a different stage of maturation (ordered from youngest to oldest). In other words, if you’re out foraging for portobellos and keep finding white button mushrooms instead, just come back in a few days. All three are found in forested areas in the spring and fall, most often at the base of trees or on decomposing wood.

  • Morel (Morchella Esculenta):

    Highly sought after, morels are also arguably the easiest edible mushrooms to recognize. Typically found in colder regions and growing on or near dead trees, spring is the time of the year to forage for morels.

  • Hen-of-the-wood (Grifola Frondosa):

    Because they have no poisonous lookalikes, the hen-of-the-woods mushrooms are an excellent choice for beginners. They are usually found in late summer or early fall at the base of oak trees.

  • King Bolete (Boletus Edulis):

    King bolete mushrooms, also known as porcini mushrooms, can be found in the fall growing under deciduous trees and conifers. Their caps range from yellow to reddish-brown. Many people say they look a bit like a greasy bun.

  • Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius):

    Chanterelles usually grow in small clusters on conifers, hardwoods, and shrubs in late summer to early fall. A very popular edible wild mushrooms, they are meaty in texture, white, yellow, or orange in color and have the shape of a funnel.

  • Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces Lactifluorum):

    Typically found on birch and coniferous trees on the edge of forests, lobster mushrooms have a meaty texture and a reddish-orange color that looks like the shell of a cooked lobster. They also have a sweet, nutty smell.

Final Thoughts

Foraging for mushrooms can be a challenging but ultimately enjoyable and rewarding experience. It’s a great way to reconnect with nature too.

But, be sure to do a bit of research beforehand or pack a good field guide. Doing so will help you know what to look for and where, and make your outing that much safer and more successful. Now go get them mushroom hunter.

Nate Martin

What started out as a curiosity about the health benefits of mushrooms has turned into an obsession with all things mushroom related. I forage for them, I grow them, I cook them, I eat them, I enjoy their many other benefits. And now, I also write about them.

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