A Guide to Foraging for Wild Mushrooms
If you are willing to look around, fungi are always all around us. Through the process of enzyme release, they are able to break down organic material and consume it. This is also what the definition of a parasite looks like. Anything that feeds on other living things in order to increase its lifespan is a parasite. This is why there are fungi that cause plant diseases that farmers have to try so hard to stamp out.
Mushrooms are a type of fungi and perhaps the most important one. The world of plants is infinitely intertwined with the world of fungi. One might be inclined to think that fungi are evil as they feed on organic material. This statement could not be further from the truth. The delicate balance that nature has set up needs fungi in order to function. Without fungi, we would have a big organic waste problem, think of dead leaves and trees. Fungi are able to consume that and create a new form of life. Effectively, they are the captains of the world’s biggest waste management crew and even provide the services of creating fertilizer which only encourages more and more life to come along.
Slowly but surely, the appreciation for mushrooms has only gone up. Indoor farmers all around the world grow mushrooms almost exclusively. This is the world of mushrooms, and we are only living in it. Mushrooms are able to grow where nothing else will, in conditions that are exclusively suitable for them. They produce fruit and are widely consumed in all cultures, particularly in the Americas and the Far East, where they play a very important role in local cuisines as well.
Mushroom Growing Kits
Today, mushroom grow kits are extremely popular with people who are interested in switching to a more organic lifestyle. You could get yourself a blue oyster grow kit, or a lion’s mane grow kit easily at your nearest farmer’s market.
If you are the adventurous type, there is a good chance that you might prefer foraging for your own wild mushrooms. For some, it taps into a primal instinct that humans have always possessed. Humans were a hunter-gatherer society for a long time, and it was only until the discovery of farming that humans ended up settling down. However, the instinct remains, weakened by a millennium of conditioning, yet always ready to take over. This is why it is almost therapeutic to go on the hunt for mushrooms alone in the woods. It’s a bit like trying to transcend time itself and reach out to that early human and pay homage. More than that, it gives you a chance to get away from the same old routine and the machinations of humanity and spend time in the caress of nature.
While it is the best type of activity to devote a Sunday morning to, there are some risks associated as well. A lot of mushrooms are actually not suitable for consumption and can even be poisonous. So, this is why it is great to have a bit of a guide before you start going into the woods.
Foraging is an art that can only be mastered through good old practice. At first, all mushrooms will look a little bit similar to you, but eventually, you will be able to note the differences quite easily. It is better to start with mushrooms that have an extremely distinct appearance. These include mushrooms like blue oyster, pink oyster and lion’s mane. Oyster mushrooms, as the name suggests, bear resemblance to oysters and have a larger-than-life appearance that is quite easy to spot. Lion’s mane has a striking white color that you will be able to spot the first time around. Some mushrooms will have pores, some will have gills.
The easiest way to identify a mushroom, being able to spot a mushroom visually is very important. Even when foraging for mushrooms, a lot of times, mushrooms will be in your peripheral vision and only a trained eye will be able to spot mushrooms like a radar scanner. As previously mentioned, it is all about practice.
A very important factor to observe is the touch of the mushroom. Some mushrooms will be rough, and some will have an almost leather-like feel to them. A few will even seem like they are too delicate to touch.
This is perhaps the hardest skill to master when foraging for mushrooms. One needs to have quite a sharp nose in order to be able to discern the smell. A lot of mushrooms tend to have a rosy and sweet smell that is immediately noticeable. You might even encounter a few that smell like they are burning.
Things You Need
First of all, you need a container to carry your spoils, a basket will be able to do that admirably. A knife will make you feel like a true Bear Grylls, but it will also serve a practical purpose, to cut the part of the mushroom from the part that you don’t want. Make sure that you have your phone on a full charge and that you are receiving signals at all times. If you expect to go through areas that might not have service, a compass will come in handy. If you plan to spend a decent bit of time, it is always a good idea to pack some food that you will need when you inevitably get tired from all that foraging. Lastly, you need a knowledge base that you can refer to. A PDF of a field guide on your phone would be the best way to go about this. Make sure that you can quickly do a text search in the PDF as well so you can get exactly to the page that you need.
Now, these mushrooms are the ones that you actually want. Armed with all the wonderful benefits that the fruit of nature brings along; it is a great thing to add to your diet. You need a positive ID on an edible mushroom in order to safely declare it worth eating (apologies for the detective terms). Go on studying on the internet and make a list of the most common edible and poisonous mushrooms. The edible mushrooms are the ones that you need to be looking out for and the poisonous ones are ones that you need to make sure that you avoid.
It is important that all mushrooms that you eat look young and fresh. If they are firm and standing upright, it is a good indicator that they are fresh. On top of that, the color will be quite bright and striking if the mushroom is in its best ‘years’. There’s the risk of insects inside a mushroom as well. In order to clear the mushroom of any insect population, make a wide cut and see if they are any holes that look like they have been chewed through.
There might be the motivation of cracking open a beer after victorious first-time foraging. I have to disappoint you on this as well since alcohol does not go so great with a lot of mushrooms. Mushrooms that are members of the genus Coprinus have this problem mostly. So, while there might be quite a motivation to pop open a cold one, it is advised to just hold off on the celebrations if you are planning on eating the mushrooms as well.
Now, being in nature means that the mushrooms will inevitably have a lot of dirt on them. In order to preserve the firmness of the mushrooms, you should not just run them through the water. A better way is to take a wet cloth and wipe all the dirt off the mushrooms. It might seem like a bit of effort, but it pays off. Lastly, store them in a refrigerator until you are ready to cook them. They are best eaten fresh.
Foraging for mushrooms is a bit like an addiction. It will turn from an activity that you do in order to get out of the house on a Sunday to becoming slowly your whole personality. Warn your friends that for the next few months, all they will be listening to will be names of mushrooms they have not even heard of and how the mushroom revolution is just around the corner!