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Here’s What You’ll Need to Start Foraging Mushrooms
Mushrooms may be one of the staple foods because of how they can be incorporated in multiple dishes such as pasta, ramens, stews, stir-fried dishes, or just let the mushroom be the main component of a dish and not just one of the ingredients. Mushrooms are one of the favorites of a person due to their savory flavor even if it is a fungus and an edible one at that! But take note that not all mushrooms are edible because some of them are poisonous and are toxic.
Besides the fact that mushrooms are actually quite easy to be transformed into delicious dishes, mushrooms are somewhat easy to forage or grow even in the comfort of one’s home. Lucky for you, this article will help you learn how to grow your own mini mushroom garden.
Things to Consider Before Growing Mushrooms
In this segment, you will learn what are some things to consider in growing mushrooms in order to be successful with foraging.
Mind the temperature. Sure mushrooms may usually just grow almost everywhere but notice how foraging edible ones, usually grow in a temperature between 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit but not exceeding 60 degrees because it will be too warm for the mushrooms.
Added to this, when foraging your own mushrooms, you must not put them in direct sunlight but only place them in a dimly lit room or a sunlit, just not directly under the sun. Extreme temperatures will ruin the mushroom’s mechanism of action for growth and would probably die prematurely before it even grows into fully grown mushrooms.
Do you notice how mushrooms usually thrive in moist environments? If you are going to forage your own mushrooms, make sure that the environment or place wherein the mushrooms are situated is moist or at least the fitted temperature for them to thrive.
If you live in a place where it’s kind of or not cool, do not forget to tend to your mushroom’s needs by spraying them with some water to prevent any dryness and get rid of the heat that surrounds them. Do not overspray to the point wherein the mushrooms are already soaked because this could kill the mushrooms. Remember, the environment and temperature are correlated to each other and you should not exceed the ideal temperatures.
With remembering these important factors in foraging mushrooms, it is guaranteed that your mushrooms will have steady growth and be bountiful!
What is the Process of Foraging Mushrooms?
There are a variety of mushroom species as what was mentioned before and some species are not edible. This is the reason why most people who want to commit foraging for mushrooms are somewhat hesitant because they might be foraging and eating the wrong ones.
There is a popular saying among mushroom hunters, “You can eat any mushroom…once.” Another aphorism goes, “there are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
Due to this fear and anxiety, other people would not even try to commit mushroom hunting. Even if the death rate for eating mushrooms is only about three every year in the United States, according to the National Poison Data System. However, a lot of people do experience nausea and liver failure due to eating the wrong species of mushrooms or due to the incorrect way of preparing wild mushrooms.
There are indeed some mushrooms such as the “death cap” that are extremely deadly once eaten but there are some mushrooms wherein the amount of toxicity is only at a minimum thus not entirely fatal but will cause some sickness to you.
As for other species, some are completely edible however, they need to be thoroughly cooked because there are still some nonlethal toxins left in the mushrooms that could cause some sicknesses. Another reminder when it comes to mushrooms is that despite it being edible, this does not mean that you should eat it raw. Added to this, cooking triggers the mushroom to release its nutritional value.
When picking or hunting mushrooms, remember that if you doubt the appearance of a mushroom you picked, throw it out to save your health. Edible mushrooms are hard to mistake for other species. Morels have their distinguishable brainlike appearance and can only be mistaken for false morels which do not look exactly like the real morels once viewed closely. The same goes for chanterelles.
There are some chanterelles that are fake ones that have the characteristics of having gills instead of ridges located in the underside that a true chanterelle has. Lastly, for matsutakes, the type of mushrooms that are somewhat hard to identify with just simply viewing them but with their scent. Matsutakes are usually described to have the scent of cinnamon and gym socks.
In order to avoid picking poisonous mushrooms, you must familiarize yourself with their appearances whenever you are looking for a specific mushroom. You must also know if they are in season or available. The best way to familiarize yourself with mushrooms is to purchase a mushroom-identification book so you could study the various characteristics of the specific mushroom that you are looking for and memorize them to avoid mistaking other mushrooms that could be poisonous. These types of books about mushrooms also give you a detailed description about a mushroom such as their shape, texture, scent, time and season of availability, and their edibility or toxic traits.
Examples of Books Regarding Mushrooms
- Region-specific mushroom guidebooks. These types of guidebooks about mushrooms will help you with mushrooms that are only geographically specific for their growth thus narrowing different species down to fewer numbers and it will be easier to navigate. A great example of a region-specific mushroom guide book is by David Arora’s All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms. This book also exists for the Northeast, Southeast, and the Midwest.
- A mushroom key: A mushroom key could also come in handy which is why it is also a great idea to carry a single-page mushroom-identification chart (PDF) so you can get a ballpark idea of unfamiliar mushrooms while you’re in the field. I laminated mine so I can carry it in all conditions.
- General textbooks regarding mushrooms. These types of books give a lesser specific description on mushrooms and give you an overview of them for you to easily ease into mushroom foraging and not overwhelm yourself. Some great examples of these types of textbooks are by Arora’s, Mushrooms Demystified, or Gary Lincoff’s, The Complete Mushroom Hunter: An Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying Wild Mushrooms.
- Get yourself a mushroom identification app. A mushroom identification app could come in handy if you do not have any traditional mushroom textbooks with you since this is convenient and you can easily access and research other information by just typing on your phone. Identification apps could also help you with identifying mushrooms easily because you can look at different angles and have better quality than those in textbooks. A great app for this is iNaturalist wherein it does not only just help you identify mushrooms but helps you catalog where you found those species so you can return to it if you decide to hunt for mushrooms again. This app can also help you find out about where the other mushrooms that other mushroom hunters have found.
Take note that even if you have found edible or regarded as safe mushrooms, they could still be contaminated with pesticides or other chemicals that were used by road crews, farmers, and landscapers. Reports have mentioned that some mushroom hunters who ate the said mushrooms contaminated by chemicals are due to the toxicity of mushrooms and not the chemicals. So remember, once you pick your mushrooms, wash and cook them thoroughly.
If you are planning to eat foraged mushrooms for the first time or if you have found a familiar species of the mushroom in an unfamiliar area, Sister Marie Kopin suggested that thorough cooking and sampling a small amount of the species must be implemented—ideally with a supervision of an adult or someone who is knowledgeable with mushrooms to ensure that any adverse reactions to the person will be promptly treated. If a day or two passes and you feel alright, then it is a good signal that you can include those mushrooms in your diet.
It is time to find and pick mushrooms!
Now that you have the knowledge and have your mushroom almanacks, it is time to finally search for mushrooms and harvest them. But before that, you need to prepare your gears in harvesting mushrooms. Luckily for you, mushroom gears are actually basic and pretty inexpensive so you have got nothing to worry about!
Things to get for your mushroom picking:
- Basket or mesh bag. One thing you must know, mushrooms grow sporadically. The air or other factors that could sweep up a mushroom’s spores from one place to another can help with increasing the number of mushrooms in a place. With a wicker basket or mesh bag, since it has small openings, if you contain your mushrooms in here, it allows the spores from them to drop back to the soil and repopulate the area where you picked it.
- A pocket knife. Mushrooms have dirty stems so you need a knife to clean the dirt out. You can also use the knife to check if the mushroom you picked is infested with parasites such as worms, and a knife is also used to cleanly extract the fungi from the ground (every bit of the mushroom counts you know!). There is some debate regarding whether it is better to pluck or cut the mushrooms. But there is evidence regarding plucking not ruining the mycelium and picked mushrooms could still drop spores regardless whether they are cut or pulled from the ground. An old knife would suffice in extracting mushrooms but make sure it is not rusty because the tetanus could kill you and affect the quality of the mushrooms. You can also use a folding pocket knife or a retractable one in order to not get yourself a cut or damage your other items while carrying all of your gears.
- Bring a brush. A brush is necessary when hunting for mushrooms because it ensures cleanliness. With brushes, you can use it to clean the ridges, the gills, the stems, and other parts of the mushrooms that could house some dirt that are not easily removed. A good brush to be used is a paint brush with fine bristles to ensure no damages in cleaning the mushrooms but still getting into the crevices of the mushrooms.
- Topographic map. If you are looking for specific species of mushrooms, you are going to need a topographic map to search for the location easily. Some species of mushrooms only grow in specific elevations or specific characteristics of land, temperature, or climate.
- Bring a permit. A permit is necessary when hunting for mushrooms because there are some mushrooms that could grow in private properties or owned lands that require a permit for entrance. You do not want to be filed for trespassing when you are just looking for mushrooms, do you?
- Water and snacks. These may not be for your mushroom hunting extravaganza but for yourself! In travelling and hunting, you will surely get hungry and thirsty which is why you need to bring some snacks and water. Besides that, there might not be any nearby stores where you can purchase food and drinks so better be prepared. Do not bring any meals, though. Just bring this type of snacks that are easy to carry such as chips, nuts, dried fruits, or a granola bar, not a full course meal!
- Be aware that land is vast and there is a possibility wherein you might get lost so it is best that you bring a GPS with you to track where you came from or other nearby places to ask for help.
- Walkie-talkies. There might not be any signals in a forest or area you chose to hunt for mushrooms so it is best that you bring walkie-talkies with you. If you get lost from the group, try contacting them with a walkie-talkie, but if you only get lost at a nearby distance, a whistle would suffice.
- Bright clothing. Bright clothing is also necessary when hunting for mushrooms. Preferably neon colours such as orange or yellow. Do not wear any clothes that could blend in with your surroundings or else other people would not notice you and not find you easily.
- Bug spray. It is of great knowledge that forests are homes of infamous bugs and insects. In order to repel these heathens from you, brung bug spray and spray it all over your body. Not only that it will keep the bugs away but it will save you from illnesses brought about by bugs.
- Friends or a dog. You can forage solo but it is also great to bring friends with you or a dog. With friends, not only is it great to have more minds to navigate the forest and the mushrooms but it is also a great way to bond too. If you have a dog, it can help you find your way throughout the woods because of their sense of smell. Just remember to bring a leash so you can keep them within your sight if they see a squirrel.
That is basically it with foraging mushrooms. It takes time to truly get the hang of mushroom knowledge and specifics in order to be a master mushroom hunter but fear not, this knowledge will be beneficial to you for your future mushroom hunting endeavors. So keep educating yourself, do your due diligence with research, and be careful with eating mushrooms.