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10 Secrets To Finding The Best Wild Mushrooms

Each species of mushroom grows in a very specific habitat. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Each species of mushroom grows in a very specific habitat. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Foraging for wild mushrooms can be a fun way for food lovers to enjoy being outdoors before bringing home ingredients for a gourmet meal. However, without years of experience, mushroom hunting can be an exercise in frustration. These insider tips can help you find greater success in your quest.

Be 100% certain of identification

Always be certain you’ve identified mushrooms correctly. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Always be certain you’ve identified mushrooms correctly. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

The first rule of mushroom hunting is to never eat a mushroom unless you are certain that you’ve correctly identified it. One of the best ways to safely learn about mushrooms is to go on a foray with an expert. Seek out your local mycological society. They lead walks for people of all knowledge levels, identifying mushrooms with experienced hunters. These events often end with a mushroom tasting.

Additionally, make certain you know the regulations regarding mushroom collecting in your area. Even if there are no limits or permits issued where you live, obey the greater laws of not taking more than you can use and never leaving a place less beautiful than you found it.

Know your trees

Know your trees. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Know your trees. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Each species of mushroom grows in a very specific habitat. Mushrooms tend grow in association with a particular tree. If you don’t know how to identify the trees where you are hunting, mushroom foraging is a shot in the dark. Save your time and focus your efforts by researching which tree your desired mushroom grows near or upon.

Scout locations in the off-season

Scout your foraging grounds in the off-season. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erica Marciniec

Scout your foraging grounds in the off-season. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erica Marciniec

The act of seeking out and collecting mushrooms is time-consuming. When mushroom season comes around, you’ll want to target areas where you have the best chance of finding them. Take advantage of times outside prime mushroom season to walk new trails, carefully noting habitat.

Mine the Internet

Mine the Internet for information. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Mine the Internet for information. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Your local mushroom club more than likely has social media groups where you can post questions, arrange forays and share pictures. You can use that information for clues about when and where to hunt. If many people in your region start to share pictures of the mushroom you desire, then you know it is time to hit your favorite spot.

When it comes to searching the Internet for mushroom hunting information, don’t underestimate unusual sources. Hiking blogs will often mention what kinds of trees are alongside a trail and will share pictures of “toadstools” seen on the hike. If you know that fly agarics grow in the same area as porcini, and you see a picture of a red-capped mushroom with white spots on a hiking blog, you’ll know it’s a trail where you’d have a good chance of finding fungal gold.

Keep a journal

Keep a journal. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Keep a journal. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Note the date and location of your forays, which species you saw, what the conditions looked like (Is the ground too dry or too wet? Is a particular flower in bloom, or a kind of fruit ripe?), as well has the number or weight of each species of mushrooms you collect. Also, record the weather patterns in the time leading up to and during mushroom season. This information is invaluable in learning the fruiting patterns of mushrooms, as well as predicting when and where a flush will occur from year to year.

Learn a few less-loved edible mushrooms

Sarcodon imbricatus is a lesser known edible. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erica Marciniec

Sarcodon imbricatus is a lesser known edible. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erica Marciniec

If you know every hunter in your area will be looking for a choice mushroom, it’s nice to know some less obvious edibles in case an area has already been picked over, or isn’t flushing. In the Rockies, a mushroom that looks like a hawk’s wing, Sarcodon imbricatus, grows in the same habitat as porcini. Some don’t know it is edible, others find its flavor too strong, so it isn’t often harvested. However, it’s a wonderful mushroom to dry for the pantry because that beefy mushroom flavor gives muscle to deep-winter dishes such as stew.

Field dress your foraging finds

Field dressing a porcini. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Field dressing a porcini. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Mushroom knives almost always come with a brush attached to aid in cleaning at the time of harvest. Gilled, pored, and toothed undersides of caps grab onto dirt and won’t let go when dirty mushrooms are jumbled together for the ride home. Field dressing saves time in the long run.

Be prepared for bugs

A worm in a porcini. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erica Marciniec

A worm in a porcini. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erica Marciniec

Mushroom hunting can be a dirty affair in the obvious way. Stalking through the forest, plucking mushrooms and kneeling on the ground can leave you filthy. What may not be known to the novice is that many species of mushrooms are as loved by bugs as they are by humans. You may think you’ve found a beautiful specimen, only to discover that it’s riddled with squirmy larvae.

Factor in cleaning time

Be sure to factor in cleaning time. Linda Marciniec works to clean freshly foraged mushrooms. Copyright 2015 Erica Marciniec

Be sure to factor in cleaning time. Linda Marciniec works to clean freshly foraged mushrooms. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erica Marciniec

You’ve have had a glorious day on the trail, joyfully picking pounds and pounds of your favorite mushroom. When you get home, all you want to do is take a shower and kick up your feet. Not so fast! Mushrooms are perishable, and some, particularly ones that may have bugs inside, should be cleaned and cooked or prepared for storage immediately. Depending upon the species and how many you have collected, this can take quite a bit of time and tends to feel tedious compared to the high of finding wild edible mushrooms. The task of cleaning mushrooms is undoubtedly made more pleasant by good company and a nice drink.

Learn how to store each species of mushroom

Mushrooms drying in jars. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

Mushrooms drying in jars. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty

There is no one method that is fit for preserving all mushrooms. Porcini excel as dried mushrooms. Their flavor actually concentrates and improves. Chanterelles, on the other hand, lose their magical aroma and silky texture when dried, and are better frozen. Knowing how each species is best preserved saves the frustration of discovering too late that the mushrooms you put up are no longer as tasty as they could be.

Main photo: Each species of mushroom grows in a very specific habitat. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty



Zester Daily contributor Wendy Petty is a wild foods enthusiast dedicated to showing people how to transform abundant, "weedy" plants into free and nutritious kitchen staples. She is the foraging instructor at the Laughing Coyote Project, and shares her favorite wild foods from the Rocky Mountain region at Hunger and Thirst.

6 COMMENTS
  • Simona 9·4·15

    I will share this article with the mushroom hunters I know. The hawk’s wing I ate was nice and it certainly has an interesting shape. I also find it interesting how keeping a journal is a good practice in many activities besides writing (bread baking and cheese making come to mind). A paper journal allows you to draw little sketches, besides writing notes.

  • Mary-Claire Barton 9·8·15

    We had orange “layered” mushrooms in our side unsunny lawn. There were three plants, looking like orange flowers, with petals growing up and on top of each other. Beautiful….but didn’t dare eat them. Thanks for this post. I will now be prepared for next summer. Hope they return!

  • David Rust 9·8·15

    Hi Wendy,

    For folks to find a local mushroom club, the North American Mycological Association is a terrific resource: http://www.namyco.org/clubs.php.

    People should definitely purchase a good field guide, preferably one that covers local mushrooms. NAMA also has a good list of those on our website.

    There are a few very dangerous mushrooms, seductive because of their beauty, which should NEVER be eaten by a novice mushroom hunter. We recommend people go on organized mushroom hunts with an expert, learn local mushrooms, and always verify edibility before ingesting any mushroom. If in doubt, throw it out.

    David Rust

  • Ferdinand Tessadri 9·8·15

    In a restaurant, here in my town , the owner asked, when taking the order for a mushroom dish: “Could you please pay in advance”!

  • erica 9·15·15

    I feel like you really hit the nail on the head with this post, from the tip on knowing your trees, which can really narrow down a search, to mining blogs as a way to scout trails in advance, to taking advantage of forums and other online resources from mushroom blogs. It’s not been the best mushroom season where I live, but I’m happy for the lesser-known or less popular mushrooms. Cheers!

  • Dee 11·3·15

    Last Sat. I saw a line of beautiful Oysters on a huge Maple across the street from my mother-in-laws house. We were on our way to a birthday party and I decided I had time to wait until after the party to cut a few. You guessed it, they were gone by the time I got back but I still scrounged a few that were a little tough but still worth taking.
    While it is good there are a lot of people out there enjoying wild mushrooms, it means the easy to harvest mushrooms will probably be gone so be ready to get deeper in to the woods.

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