Learn how to forage for wild mushrooms with commercial mushroom picker and chef Robin Kort of Swallow Tail Culinary Adventures!
Why would you want to forage? Foraging is one of the most fun activities you can do with your family and friends in temperate or boreal forests. It’s like a treasure hunt for food and so exciting when you come upon a basket full of goodies to take home to dinner. For me, as a chef, it’s about reconnecting with nature and finding flavours that you can’t get in the grocery store. It’s a free lunch too! All these reasons are good ones to start the learning process and have a little fun, so how do you get started?
Rules of the Game
1. Learn to Identify A Few Edible Mushrooms
Learn to ID the simple edible mushrooms that don’t look anything like the poisonous ones. Start with a few mushrooms. There are 10,000+ species of mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest alone, so let’s narrow that down. The following mushroomsa re all good beginner mushrooms with no deadly look alikes:
- Chanterelles (Canterellus cibarius)
- Lobster (Hypomyces lactifluorum)
- Bears tooth (Hericium erinaceus)
- Oyster mushrooms
2. Know the Poisonous Mushrooms
Get to know the poisonous one’s first. Our foraging classes teach you to recognize the handful of mushrooms that can really harm you. The Amanita phalloides (death cap), Gyromitra esculenta (False Morel) and Amanita smithiana are important ones to start with. The false morel has a compound in it (MMH) that is used in rocket fuel!
3. Go with an Expert
Get a good handbook like “All That the Rain Promises and More” by David Arora to take out on your walks in the forest. Start taking pictures. If you really want good grounding on the basics of mushroom identification, come out on one of our trips!
Got these three things down? Then you’re ready to start hunting!
When to Forage for Mushrooms
The best time to go is in fall when most of our edibles fruit in abundance. Plus it’s a wonderful thing that makes people look forward to the first rains of autumn, instead of feeling depressed.
The rainforest is a peaceful place to be, especially when no one’s around. My favourite mushroom hunting moment was at Tombstone National Park. It was pouring rain, but I went out on a slow walk near our campsite anyway and got completely soaked. As I was sadly walking back, I came upon a mushroom that was the size of my head, a woodland Agaricus! Fried up over our campfire it tasted like the best steak I’d ever had, crispy edges and a buttery, nutty flavour. I’ll never forget it.
Going Out on Your Own
Don’t feel confident enough to go out exploring? One of the first questions I get asked by guests on my wild foraging tours is: Is foraging for mushrooms safe?
It’s such an interesting question and highlights the North American fungiphobic leaning. We’re like fish out of water here as most of us don’t have a long tradition of foraging for mushrooms passed down through generations. My European guests never ask, largely because of the closer tie to relatives that do hunt for mushrooms; white truffles in Italy and chanterelles in France for example. Some of the same species of spectacular culinary mushrooms that grow in Europe grow here too.
In the Pacific Northwest, there are very few mushrooms that are truly deadly. Most mushrooms aren’t edible or poisonous – they’re too hard, small, strange or slimy to be interesting on your plate. It’s also perfectly safe to handle all mushrooms, even the poisonous ones.
Many edible mushrooms are in fact packed with antioxidants, antifungals, vitamins, proteins and minerals. When someone tells you that mushrooms have ‘no nutritional value’, they are just plain wrong. Since mushrooms are far from being dangerous for you, with a little knowledge, hunting for mushrooms can be a healthy, fun way to get out into the wilderness.
Have I convinced you to come hunting with me?