Nearly every market I attend, I have someone come up to me and say something along the lines of “Foraging sounds cool, but I JUST KNOW I’d kill myself picking the wrong thing.” There is a lot of fear around mushroom foraging and while there are real risks, mushrooming is not an unreasonable goal for anyone. The reality is that only 3% of mushrooms worldwide are toxic to humans and only three people are killed in the US every year from ingesting poisonous mushrooms. To put it in perspective, 100 people die every year in the US from eating contaminated oysters. Foraging is a skill well within your reach.
Know the Risks
All outdoor activities contain an element of risk. Being aware of the risks and making reasonable accommodations to protect yourself is something you already do whether you’re swimming, hiking or foraging. The best way to protect yourself is knowledge.
Watch the Weather– The weather can turn a normal day in the woods into an emergency very quickly. Before you head out, know the weather for the day you’re going AND the day after. Make sure you bring any additional items you may need based on that information, such as ponchos, sunscreen, bug spray, boot covers, eye protection, umbrellas, gloves etc.
Know you Local Toxic Mushrooms AND Trees– A quick Google search should give a rough list of the toxic mushroom and tree varieties most common in your area. Even edible mushrooms growing on toxic trees can become toxic.
Clean and Cook Anything you Decide to Eat– Wild mushrooms are often toxic when eaten raw. Even those that are not may be contaminated by wildlife or humans in the area. So be sure to clean and cook your find thoroughly.
Stay Wilderness Ready– While knowledge is your absolute best defense against disaster, even experienced outdoorsmen get lost or injured in the woods. The reality is that nature can be unpredictable and even the most knowledgeable people can make mistakes in stressful situations. Always make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you plan on being back. Bring a simple survival kit with you when you forage, even in parks or on familiar trails. Your kit should be enough to help keep you alive for a few days should the worst happen. A few things from my personal kit: hatchet, ferro rod, role of plastic wrap, first aid kit, nature journal, Nalgene bottle, meal bars, extra water and my Audubon Society Mushroom Guide.
So you know the risks and are now ready to go find tasty goodies in the great outdoors, but where do you start? Here’s a few tips.
Narrow your Search– My favorite thing to tell people interested in foraging is that to be a successful forger, you do not need to know EVERY mushroom in the woods, just one or two. When you start, search only for specific mushrooms. Choose easy mushrooms with few or no lookalikes and read everything you can on them. Once you feel confident with a couple easy varieties, you can grow your knowledge.
Weather Matters– While the season matters for all foraging, day to day weather has a BIG effect on mushrooms. Most mushrooms like two or three days of rain and warmth. Some mushrooms, such as morels, are very picky about moister, ground temperature, air temperature and sunlight. Watching the weather is vital to mushrooming success.
Know Where to Go– Defining your search area can be tricky. As a beginner, choose one or two easily identifiable mushrooms, keeping in mind the season. You can then use info about the specific mushrooms to select the best hunting area. Examples: Chanterelles love rich soil near hardwood trees on hillsides, lion’s mane loves wounds on beech trees near water. You can then use online photos, reviews and trail info to find locations suited to your mushroom.
Document Your Finds– When you’re out, take photos of every mushroom whether you take it home or not. These pictures can be great materials to study and research later. Many mushrooms often grow well with other varieties, so it’s important to track what you found and where. After foraging I like to make a journal entry with drawings of what I found and what I’ve researched. I have found those notes helpful more than once.
Never be Ashamed to Double Check– When it comes to avoiding those toxic lookalikes, always double check your identification. Especially as a beginner, there is no reason to suffer over ego. Try Google, using an app(I recommend Shroomify), posting in a group, asking a friend etc. Use the resources you have to avoid a painful and potentially deadly mistake.
Best Finds for Beginners
What mushrooms should beginners start with? Those with straight forward visual characteristics and few lookalikes. These are a few suggested beginner varieties.
Chicken of the Woods– Vibrantly colorful and culinarily versatile. This choice mushroom grows by the pound! Read more…
Lion’s Mane– A meaty texture with a fishy taste. A popular mushroom in the US, but illegal to forage in the much of Europe. Read more…
Black Trumpet– My personal favorite edible mushroom(so far). With a complex, fruity taste and one of a kind looks, it is a great beginner mushroom! Read more…
Morels– This picky mushroom is many foragers holy grail. Read more…
More to Try: Giant Puffballs, Hen of the Woods, Chanterelles, Wood Blewit, Amber Jelly Fungus, Turkey Tail
Ways to Grow your Knowledge
Follow Some Pros – In the age of social media, there are plenty of experienced foragers sharing there knowledge via podcast, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Read about a few of my favorites here.
Join an Online Group– Online foraging groups are plentiful on social media. You can locate them by country, region, state and often down to your town specifically. Posting your photos and best guess on a group can also be a great way of helping you ID mushrooms better. No one is happier to correct you than a stranger on the internet.
Try an App– A mushroom ID app can be a useful tool. My personal favorite is Shroomify. It is a simple and straight forward app that shows what is found near you right now alongside great research and how-tos.
Buy a Book– As you can guess, there are dozens of quality mushroom guidebook on the market. When out in the woods where cell signal can be fleeting, a book can make your life much easier. My favorite is the Audubon Society Mushroom guide. It’s built to use out in the woods and has tons of full color photos and info. It’s divided to make quick lookups as easy as possible.
Take a Class – You would be surprised at the number of affordable foraging classes you can find in even the most urban areas. Many classes will take you out into the woods and show you edible plant and fungi in person. Some will even show you how to cook with what you find.
Follow a Blog(Like Mine!) – Many people who love foraging, love sharing their knowledge. You can find plenty of blogs online including mine at www.MidnightThicket.com
My Challenge to You
You CAN do this. You are smart enough and have enough access to information to find delicious free food in the great outdoors. So go grow your knowledge, and try it out. Happy foraging!
Leave a Reply