Essential Mushroom Hunting Tips and Top 5 Edibles to Make your Mushroom Foray Safe and Productive PART 1
Tip # 1: Surprising Fungal Safety Ideas
It may surprise you to know that most mushroom hunting debacles when they occur, have very little to do with the fungi themselves. Unfortunate fungal forays have far more to do with weather and location than mushrooms. Dressing properly for the weather and staying in your geo-navigational comfort zone are the two most important considerations to guarantee safety, statistically speaking. Thirdly, after cold, rainy weather, and getting lost, are ground hornets, particularly in dry forests. This becomes less of an annoyance later in the season, and in the rain. And, surprisingly, a distant 4th of how folks get into unfortunateness in regards to fungus is by mistakenly eating the wrong mushroom. #4 is awfully serious, so don’t mistake its ranking for its level of seriousness. So our goals when foraying, are to stay relatively dry, warm enough to avoid hypothermia, found enough not to require sleeping in a debris pile, and unstung enough not to lapse into a dangerous level of immune dysregulation, and then, once we get home, aware enough to eat the things we are 100% sure we can. By following these ideas, some more elucidated in the following tips will allow you to not only traipse, but traipse joyfully through the forests of our beloved NW, and not to unwittingly become part of the fungal food chain!
Tip # 2: Dress For Fungal Success
The best mushroom clothing is mushroom specific, not hiking specific, rain gear and comfy shoes that match the conditions. Since mushrooming in the northwest can often be in the middle of a rainy season, we’ll discuss those conditions most. It can sometimes be challenging to get a sense of how the woods feel right now, when we’re in the warmth and relative dryness of our living rooms. Think about this. What if you had to go and stand in your shower for the next 5 hours with the cold water tap on full. What would you want to wear. (sounds like a fun video doesn’t it? I may make this one to illustrate…In this case, mushroom hunting is more akin to crab fishing in the Aleutian chain, and less to a relatively calm backpacking walk on a trail. Fungal seekers are off trail, and doing some climbing over, under and on very wet foliage, moss, and earth so its best to have the whole outfit-Rain Hat, Jacket, Pants and Boots. All made from either rubber or vinyl. The jacket and hat at the very least should more resemble the clothing that you see on The Most Dangerous Catch TV Show which showcases the crab fishing alluded to above. Anything is better than nothing and while you don’t want the breathable higher end stuff you see in an REI flyer it’s better than nothing. Breathable rain gear is great for backpacking with a pack but for mushroom hunting you’ll soon be soaked through to the bone if you use it on a mushroom walk. If you don’t want to invest in the rubbery vinyl stuff, you can just buy the inexpensive plastic ponchos, or relatively short lived stuff that they sell for much cheaper. In terms of color and design, consider a Moscow night club, circa 1995 (two fungal-loving culture Russia shoutout references in 1 tip!) bright color. Brighter is better. Yellow banana is my fave, bright orange is lovely, and green is not ideal for being found and seen. And, since animal hunting season, and location can overlap with mushroom hunting season and location, consider that camouflage and animal prints on clothing aren’t ideal.
Tip # 3: When In Doubt, take a pic and leave it
Mushrooms are Delish And Dangerish! We all know that- in the 4 general archetypes of the mushroom hunter, the Bold tend to have the most significant casualties and gastro misadventures. The 2nd archetype, the Untrained and Overly Trusting also run into problems. The Cautious, and/or the Studied tend to do pretty well. Exercising extreme caution is a very sound approach when it comes to wild mushroom eating. If you aren’t 100% sure of your finds, then remember that no meal is worth your life, so best to leave it in the forest or compost it.
** Don’t forget #1,2 and 3. Getting lost in the cold October rain is no fun. And wearing the right gear, though not up to the most trendy Paris garb standards, will keep you much more comfortable, and as you know, don’t ever eat a mushroom, or berry or leaf, that you aren’t sure of. Mushrooms kill people every year, and much of the time, it’s the mildly experienced mushroom hunters who eat the wrong stuff.
Tip # 4: Wax Paper is best
Use wax paper sandwich bags to hold each type of mushroom, and carry a wicker basket to hold your wax paper sandwich bags. Combining several types of fungi into one pile greatly increases the significant risk of contaminating your delicious mushrooms, and therefore your food, with something deadly. And plastic bags don’t breathe so mushroom will turn to mold and mush very quickly in plastic bags. Cloth or Paper is 2nd best. Neither are ideal, but better than plastic.
Tip # 5: Old and Mold. Do you eat moldy lettuce?
Mushrooms tend to confuse a person’s sensibilities for better and worse, and are so darn exciting, even increasing the reward neurotransmitter, dopamine, when you find em, they somehow can convince us to eat them even when they’re not in pristine shape. I usually tell people to think about it this way: Consider a head of lettuce in the store. Would you eat a wilted, brown, moldy head of lettuce? Then don’t munch a mushy, moldy, mushroom. I know, this kinda goes without saying but mushroom fairies are tricky and they often trick very reasonable people into eating them.
Tip # 6: Brush, don’t wash, and eat the forest
Brush and cut to clean-never wash mushrooms. Mushrooms are like sponges. Put em water and they’ll suck it up. So, if you wash em you get mushroom sponges. Not a great thing to eat. Brushing them with a mushroom brush or soft bristled, basting brush or even an unused natural paint brush, works great as it preserves just the right amount of forest duff, dirt and woods microbiome so you can consume just a touch of the forest with each bite.
Tip #7: Look for Moss
Moss is what mushrooms love. Yes, there are amazing mushrooms that grow right on wood including conks, oysters, honey’s, chickens and more, but the majority of the mushrooms we eat, including chanterelles, boletes, matsutake’s, and lobsters all like a bit of moss. Grass and moss don’t grow in the same spots very well. Some will coexist, but generally speaking, if there’s lots of forest grass, than usually there will be fewer edible mushrooms. Nature doesn’t always like to follow our rules so there are exceptions. There are meadow loving mushrooms so fairy rings, and big agaricuses and possibly a parasol or two can be found right in grass, but in our area, where woods predominate in most mushroom hunters minds, look for moss. Moss is a great indicator of the correct forest moisture level. When scouting areas, ensure that you’re not in too much grass, or just dirt like forest duff.
Tip # 8:Continued in Part 2