It’s no secret that wild mushrooms are having a moment
These days, we're seeing wild mushrooms everywhere—chaga mushrooms blended into coffee, lion’s mane mushroom sold in extract form, and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms served in risotto—so you might be curious about how to forage them for yourself. Before you wander into the woods looking for mushrooms, there are a couple of safety and sustainability tips to keep in mind when foraging in general, but especially when it comes to mushrooms.*
How to safely forage mushrooms
Do your research: Know your edible mushrooms, know their lookalikes, cross-examine and learn the differences. Until you start to notice the subtle variations between mushrooms, it’s always good to bring a guide book and a buddy on your foraging adventures.
- Mushrooms vary from place to place—and can look very different in different regions. Be sure to access a local guide to foraging mushrooms when travelling, or find someone experienced in the area to guide you on your first time out.
- If you’ve found a new mushroom and are curious about it, keep it isolated from those you’re familiar with in your bag. If you accidentally throw in a toxic mushroom with non-toxics, those elements could leach into the others.
- Because mushrooms are made up of mostly water, it’s always best to bring a basket to collect them, then store them in a paper bag in the fridge once washed.
Where to find mushrooms in the wild
Mushrooms grow in moisture-rich environments around fallen trees or in pastures. So the most common time to find mushrooms is in the late spring or early fall, although you can find them in about every season depending on your climate. Over time, you’ll recognize the environment for specific mushrooms, like finding turkey tail on broken trees and logs, hen-of-the-woods on oak trees, or chanterelles in mixed hardwood forests. Look for downed logs or stumps, and check around tree trunks and root areas. Some mushrooms even love burned parts of forests or fields, or are found around streams and creeks due to high moisture content.Photo by Lottie Griffiths on Unsplash
How to forage mushrooms sustainably
- Don’t over-harvest: It can be hard to say no to abundance, but mushrooms have a very specific role to play in forests—and taking too many can stunt their work. Excessive foraging affects future populations. Leave half of the crop behind on the tree or forest floor to reach maturity so they can spread their spores.
- Watch your steps: Look beneath your feet when you’re in the forest, especially when going off the beaten path for foraging. There are young plants, mushrooms and an entire fragile ecosystem under your steps, so it’s important to tread lightly and mindfully.
- Take the older mushrooms: Older mushrooms are more likely to have released their spores (a way for them to reproduce), which guarantees that the type of mushroom will live on. You can also give them a shake when harvesting to help release some of the spores.
- Leave the root: Bring a clean knife or a pair of scissors and slice the stem of the mushroom off, leaving the root attached, not disturbing the soil or bark of the tree.
- Pack it in, pack it out: Make sure to not leave any trash behind; don’t throw any fruit cores or other non-native food on the ground; and the general rule is if you brought it in, bring it back out of the forest with you.
Beginner mushrooms to forage
- Hen-of-the-woods (Grifola Frondosa): These ones have no poisonous lookalikes and are found in the base of oak trees in late summer or early fall. They’re rich in vitamin D, antioxidants, can lower blood sugar levels, and help to support an overall healthy immune system.
- Morel (Morchella Esculenta): Their lookalikes, “false morels” aren’t toxic, but can cause some gastric distress. The true morel mushroom is hollow inside when cut in half, has a honeycomb like cap, and is deeply ridged. You can find them in the springtime in sunny patches and commonly come up on areas that have been recently burned.
- King boletes (Boletus Edulis): Otherwise known as porcini mushrooms. They do not have gills under their cap; instead, they do have a yellow or brownish spongy surface of pores. These do have toxic lookalikes, some of which have spongy surface pores that are red.
- Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius): These have flat, narrow and film ridges, are more stout, and have a pure white interior. Their toxic lookalikes (jack-o-lantern and false chanterelle) have larger, forked gills rather than ridges which are fragile, and won’t be purely white. Foraged properly in late summer to early fall, it’s worth the hunt as chanterelles are a delicious and popular edible wild mushroom with a meaty texture.
- Lobster mushroom (Hypomyces Lactifluorum): These are found on birch and coniferous trees at the edge of forests, have a meaty texture and a hard red or orange exterior that looks like the shell of a cooked lobster, but a white interior. No poisonous lookalikes here!
Why forage for mushrooms when there’s so much hassle to it? Well, that discomfort only lingers in the beginning. Just like anything you’re starting out with, mushroom foraging takes time, patience and a whole lot of safe learning. You’ll become confident and comfortable before you know it, and then you’ll feel more connected to the nature around you, and have nutritious and delicious mushrooms at your fingertips.
*Always be mindful and aware when foraging. All content is meant for informational purposes only. Never consume anything that you are unsure about.