Foraging Season, Part 1: Why You Should Forage for Mushrooms
Welcome to part 1 of our three-part series, Foraging Season. Over the next few weeks we’ll be diving into the rewards and benefits of hunting for wild mushrooms – from the satisfaction of identifying the unique varieties growing in your own backyard to brewing up your first cup of Turkey Tail tea. Join us as we walk through the finer points of mushroom identification, then be sure to join the conversation in our ‘Shroom Club, where you can share your own tips, tricks and tales of foraging success.
“Free, better than organic, and truly fresh food. When you start to develop a connection with the food you ingest, the benefits are immense.”
For many, hunting and eating wild mushrooms seems risky. For the rest of us, it’s a challenging and often time-consuming passion... where the rewards are many.
A fun fact is that many of these wild mushrooms are sold in your local supermarket, with the hefty price tag of up to $50/lb! It’s not unusual these days to come home with pounds of mushrooms to cook for your friends and family. And really, there’s still room for more eager foragers! Millions of tons of mushrooms are left unpicked in the forests every year all around us.
You don’t have to be a hardcore health nut or outdoors person to start foraging. Every one of us has the “foraging gene” that can be re-awakened. After all, how else did our ancestors survive when there was no one growing, processing and packing ready-to-eat food for them? When you roam in the forests and fields, breathing in the fresh air and possibly even discovering organic food to nourish yourself with, the connection is strong – much stronger than “4G”.
To us, foraging is an integral way to connect with nature and calm the mind. Scouting edibles pretty much always becomes a natural way of being outdoors, and the finding of healthy, free food is really just a bonus of this hobby. The biggest achievement for us with this series would be to get more people out there opening their eyes to the bountiful, wild mushrooms growing around them. Everybody finds their own level of passion and devotion to the hobby.
There are many, more detailed field guides and other books by experts out there that will help and be essential in moving forward. Some of them may seem intriguing enough to actually get you started in getting your hands and feet dirty in the forest. Hopefully, this series will show you the un-intimidating qualities of mushroom foraging and motivate you to actually get going on the path into the world of wild mushrooms!
“Wild fungi are no different from other groups of wild organisms. Some are useful to humans, some are not. Some are edible, some are poisonous. Some are easy to identify, others are very difficult. Learning about medicinal fungi that may occur in your region is especially useful for developing health sovereignty for a family or community.” - Arthur Haines, author of A New Path
The only one, truly important rule in mushroom foraging is, only eat mushrooms that you have identified as edible with 110% certainty. Even then, start with small doses, just like with any new food.
Yes, there are some mushrooms that are poisonous and even deadly. However, none of them will kill you without you swallowing them.
Much like foraging for wild herbs, these are skills that require study and time to gain a base level of expertise. That being said, you don’t have to learn the use and preparation of 100 mushroom types before you can implement what you know. By becoming familiar with just one mushroom species at a time, you can fully embrace and develop the relationship between you and your new little fungal friend. From there, it’s easier to continue on to the next species with more confidence.
At the end of the day, use your senses, your field guides, and other people whom you trust to enhance your knowledge. It takes time. Embrace it.
GUIDELINES TO PICKING WILD MUSHROOMS
At this point it should be quite obvious that what can be picked in the forest are the fruiting bodies of fungi. These are the actual mushrooms that are formed from the mycelium spreading in the soil and inside trees. The mycelium is doing its own amazing job decomposing organic matter and it’s not meant for human consumption – Nor would it be very convenient to dig up soil and somehow try to consume the mycelium intermingled in it. Fruiting bodies are what humans, and all animals, have always eaten, as that is what is naturally available to us.
There are more than 140,000 species of known mushroom-bearing fungi across the globe. Of these, an estimated 2,000 species are thought to be edible and/or medicinal. Thus, the odds are not actually in our favour that any random mushroom would be wise to consume. On the other hand, there are a few thousand species for you to choose from!
Our general recommendation for beginners is to familiarize yourself with one mushroom species at a time and develop a relationship with that one. It’s safer to start by collecting mushrooms with pores, teeth and ridges rather than gilled mushrooms. At the end of this series, you find our four suggestions for easy and safe species to start with!
Give gratitude for the mushrooms you find. Our hippie approach is to sometimes talk to the mushrooms – you heard us right. Have a little chat with them, even in your head, and ask for guidance on which direction to move in the forest to find more. Often, you’ll come across bigger and bigger batches of the mushrooms you were looking for! Remember that these life forms are much more like animals than plants, after all. Embrace all the finds you take home and make delicious meals out of them to share with your friends and family. The mushroom gods will smile on you and continue to bless your forages with bountiful catches!