While foraging is as old as humanity itself, the availability of all kinds of foods in a local grocery store made it into a forgotten art. Now, in a bid to live locally and sustainably, more and more hikers are looking down instead of up. Hunting for mushrooms is a pastime for the whole family: relaxing for the adults and exciting for kids. It is also a hobby much more rewarding than others; just think of the aromatic stews, wholesome veggie burgers and tangy stir-fries that can all be made with self-picked wild mushrooms.
How to start mushroom hunting
Despite flying somewhat under the radar, mycology—or the study of mushrooms—has always had its faithful enthusiasts. There are nearly 80 local mushroom clubs across the US and Canada, specializing in education and social activities for its members. Joining a club is a great way to start foraging safely and meet people with similar interests.
An additional perk of getting into mushroom hunting is that it will likely take you places you would never visit otherwise. (Click here to discover the best mushroom picking locations in the US.)
A forager’s starter kit
A wicker basket is a wonderfully old-fashioned mushroom harvesting accessory but its importance goes far beyond style. Unlike a plastic bag or a soft tote, it allows mushrooms to breathe without getting squashed, ensuring that your forage makes it home without molding or bruising.
It is best to use a pocket knife to cut the mushrooms off just above the ground rather than picking them whole. Leaving the lowest part of the mushroom base intact means that its mycelial threads (you can think of them as roots, although scientifically speaking they aren’t) are preserved to allow the fungi to regrow.
Most shrooms can be found on wet ground and many species flourish in the colder months. As foraging means you are moving much slower than on a regular hike, you will need to wrap up warmer than on more active hikes. As with any other outdoor pursuit, layering is key.
Mushroom picking is a highly addictive activity, but keep in mind that it does come with some dangers. As foraging becomes more popular, unfortunately so do cases of poisoning as a result of people confusing species that look similar.
Fungi are usually classified as edible, but non-edible and poisonous can cause a host of serious symptoms including organ failure or even death. To avoid doubt and stay safe, the best option is to learn from an experienced forager and always consult your forage before it finds its way into your food.
A particular challenge of mushroom hunting is that many edible species have harmful lookalikes. In addition, seemingly identical mushrooms might actually be two different species if found in different geographical locations.
To make foraging safe and fun, educating yourself is the most important step. There are plenty of books and websites designed to identify mushrooms but it is essential to make sure they are relevant to your location.
In addition, even experienced hikers can get lost while foraging. By focusing on what’s directly in front of your feet, it is easy to lose sight of landmarks, so having a GPS device or a compass is a good idea.
If the necessary safety precautions seem a little off-putting, click here for wild mushroom recipe inspirations that will make you eager to get over this initial hurdle and on the way to becoming an experienced forager.