Foraging for fungi, hunting for wild mushrooms: call it whatever you like, but you can’t deny that looking for edible mushrooms in the wild is fun, challenging, and has the most delicious outcome imaginable.
Mushroom hunting is one of the most rewarding outdoor activities to do with your family. Don’t ask why just hit the woods with a basket or backpack during the fungi-finding season and see what you can find. If you’re doing this expedition during the night, be sure to read the The 10 Best UV Flashlights of 2019 article as ultraviolet flashlights can help with identifying scorpions that are otherwise easily missed with the naked eye.
Now let’s get started! Here’s everything you need to know about fungi foraging.
Fascinating Facts About Fungi
Getting children interested in fungi isn’t hard to do. They are neither animal nor plant; some mushrooms glow in the dark; fungi are the most forgiving ingredient in the kitchen as it can’t be overcooked! And that’s only a few fun facts about this amazing edible fungi.
The cell walls of a mushroom are made from chitin. This is a heat-stable polymer that doesn’t collapse like a vegetable or toughen like a protein when exposed to heat. Because the mushroom’s structure remains unaffected after prolonged exposure to heat, the taste stays the same as well. The “crispy” flavor you experience when eating a fried fungus is actually the fat adhered to the mushroom skin, not the flavor of the food itself.
Basically, a mushroom is chitin and water. This makes them the ideal diet food, as they create a feeling of fullness while supplying the body with essential vitamins. They also contain antioxidants, prebiotics, nutrients, and dietary flavonoids.
What Equipment Should You Take with You on a Mushroom Hunt?
As nice as it is to find a giant Portobello on a weekend hike, preparing for a purposeful mushroom forage isn’t something you or your family can do spontaneously. You need to follow a few guidelines for an enjoyable day’s foraging. Don’t forget to get the essential gear when you’re going hiking.
- Knife: Adults should look into buying a custom-made fungi cutter knife. It comes with a brush on the bottom, a curved blade that has the teeth on the back, and a ruler on the wooden handle. The brush is to gently remove the soil and the ruler is to act as a measurement when you are taking a photograph to post on social media.
- Backpack/Basket: Make sure the pack you are using has a certain amount of rigidity so that the mushrooms inside are not all squashed together. The pack shouldn’t be too large or the weight of the top mushrooms will break the ones at the bottom.
- Clothes: Fungi foraging is mostly done in the forests and woods, so the clothes you wear should protect you from bug bites, nettle stings, and don’t forget a hat.
- Water: Hunting for mushrooms can take the whole morning. The only thing that can make a group of fungi hunters turn back is if they run out of water. If you know the area well, you can use nearby streams as a water source and take a filtration device with you to top up your bottles.
- Shoes: If you know the terrain where you will be searching for wild mushrooms, wear the appropriate footwear: boots for backcountry and sandals for fields. If you aren’t sure where your foraging will be taking you, choose a solid boot over a pair of sneakers.
And while we’re on the subject of free-foraging over the backwoods, also don’t forget to pack a GPS device of some sort so you can find your way back to your car.
Foraging: Hunting and Gathering Mushrooms
Foraging for mushrooms is a lot of fun considering everyone has their heads down looking at the ground. You can also keep an eye out for other outdoor edibles too, such as fiddlehead ferns, herbs, and asparagus. Connecting with nature and all her bounty is a rewarding adventure for the whole family.
Once you get to know what kind of mushrooms grow in your area, this familiarity will give you the confidence to understand what types are best for the kitchen and the ones to leave well alone. This is made so much easier with plant and forest apps that allow you to take a snapshot of fungi. When you have posted the image onto the app, you will receive information about the ‘shroom directly to your phone the minute it has been identified.
Some of the More Common Mushroom Types Found in the United States
The image above was painted in 1914 for The New Students’ Reference Work. It shows all the edible fungi, although they were called different names than to what they are commonly referred to today. In fact, number one on the illustrated chart above is simply labelled as “Tasty Fungus.” And if that description was good enough for a student to use as a reference in 1914, it’s definitely not good enough for anyone to use today.
Here are some fungi types to look for when foraging for edible mushrooms outdoors. We’re going to skip over their Latin-based genus and species names because we’re mushroom hunters and not botanists.
Morels are a highly desirable mushroom because of their delicious taste and beefy texture. They can be found in most places across the U.S. hiding under fruit trees, freshly turned sod, and burnt areas. Morels appear for a short time in spring, and they begin to grow according to temperature changes, so an exact month doesn’t apply to every state.
You can’t miss a morel because of its unique honeycomb cap, which gives it a wrinkled sea sponge look. It is hollow through the middle, grows to between slightly under 1 inch/2 cm tall and 3,5 inches/9 cm. They have a strong taste to make up for the fact they are hollow and are delicious fried with butter.
Don’t Get a Morel Confused With: The False Morel
There is a fungus that slightly resembles morel mushrooms, but it’s easy to differentiate from the real thing. Just slice it open and you will be able to see the false morel is not hollow. Yummy morels are always hollow inside when you slice them open.
The False Morel
Chicken-of-the-Woods or Sulphur Shelf Mushroom
The vegetarian’s dream come true: a mushroom that got its name because it tastes like chicken. Even the dog in the image above is fooled by the smell of chicken! Check any dead oak trees or mature, live hardwood east of the Rockies, to see if this delicacy is growing on it.
Chicken-in-the-Wood flourishes all summer, although it can appear even earlier if the spring weather is warmer. You can tell a shelf mushroom by observing its lack of gills, expansive top salmon pink coloring, and underside of yellowish tones. They grow in clusters and clumps along tree crevices.
You can only use the youngest, freshest caps of this species. The older caps are tough and chewy. The young caps have a more-ishly meaty flavor when fried up in a vegetable medley.
The Problem with Shelf Mushrooms: If the mushrooms you see are old, and growing on a one of the following trees types, rather give it a miss. True edible shelf mushrooms only grow on oak and hardwoods. Suspect fungi grow on the following trees:
- Pine/spruce/fir tree (any conifer)
- Juniper bush
- Eucalyptus tree
- Tamarack tree
Laetiporus gilbertsonii: Looks more like an alien brain than a fungus
Chantelle (Latin: “Little Drinking Cup”) Mushrooms (over 15 species)
Chanterelles are found all over the world; on the trunks of pine trees in the coniferous forests of Europe, in the mountainous birch tree woods of Asia, and dotting the grasslands of Africa. Chanterelles of every species grow in late summer all the way through to the middle of winter. The chanterelles favorite places to grow are in clumps in the shade or on moss.
These delicious fungi are characteristically golden yellow and shaped like a funnel. They can be easily identified by the gills that run from the stem under the cap. Chanterelles have a delightful aroma of wood, earth, and fruit.
If It’s Not Golden Yellow, Firm, with Wavy Edges and Margins then Just Say No: Foragers have been safely picking chanterelle mushrooms for millennia. They stand out from imposters with a few easy differences in shape and texture.
Chanterelles: Funnel-shaped; yellow/golden cap; wavy edges and margins (see image above); firm white/pale flesh when sliced or torn open.
False Chanterelles: Cap is round or flat; when you slice or tear it open, it has a hollow stem; the color of the flesh inside is not white or pale white; there are real gills that can be flapped like the pages of a book.
The Giant Puffball
Image used courtesy Dept. of Biology Utah State University
You can’t mistake a giant puffball when you see it because it’s hard to miss. They are found in eastern and central U.S. and Canada throughout summer and fall. Before putting this monster in your pack, first, cut it open. It should have hard, thick, white flesh inside and no other color is acceptable. They don’t keep well and should be fried up in some oil for supper the same night.
Get Outdoors and Pick Some Mushrooms – They’re Free, Healthy, and Delicious
This is our list of the foolproof 4 fungi that litter the forest floors during the year. It’s fun looking for them, and even nicer eating the fruits of your hard work in the evening. What better reason do you need to go mushroom hunting.