As a beginner you need to start your mushroom foraging experience by seeking a quality field guide so you get started on the right foot.
Hunting for mushrooms is a very rewarding experience. It gets you out into nature and allows you to bring home highly nutritional food in the process.
Its kinda like hiking with benefits. It is also kinda like hunting without having to kill any animals.
In the world of mushroom lovers, there are two types of people. First, there are those who prioritize availability and control so they decide to plant and farm their own mushrooms. Then there are those who want to source and consume their mushroom the old fashioned way – the foragers.
But let’s be honest. Mushroom foraging is definitely not for uneducated beginners. While it’s fun, it can also get dangerous. There are a number of poisonous mushrooms out there that you can easily mistake as edible ones.
While I don’t personally discourage mushroom foraging, it’s a good activity to do every once in a while that will allow you to connect with the ancient forager in your blood. Plus, it’s a good thing to get a rare edible mushroom when you get tired of your farmed varieties.
So I created this article to give beginners a good idea of what they need, what to expect, and what they should do when mushroom foraging.
Hopefully, by the end of the article you will be confident enough to start your own foraging adventure.
Best time and Place for Beginners to Forage for Mushrooms
In order for mushrooms to survive and proliferate, they need specific conditions. Most of the time, they need moist, damp, and humid conditions. Older mushroom foragers know that mushrooms will literally grow like wild flowers after a few bouts of heavy rain especially if there has been a dry spell lately.
Some seasons work for some mushrooms while some don’t. For example, autumn is when most beginners and hobby foragers do their foraging. This is actually great especially when the dry spell ended in summer and autumn welcomed you with the rains.
But wait, this does not mean you should go running outside right after the rain. It might take hours for some mushrooms to pin and a few days to mature. The perfect time to go foraging is a few days after the heavy rains right after the mushrooms are finished “reproducing”.
If you are not particular with what you forage, you can start your foray into foraging late September up until the end of November. You’ll have plenty of competition though as this is the busiest season for collectors and foragers.
5 Expert Tips on Where to Find Wild Mushrooms
The thing about mushrooms is that they grow just about anywhere as long as the conditions are right. If you are just a beginner with no specific mushroom to forage then you are in luck. You can start just about anywhere as well.
However, to better increase your chances of finding mushrooms you can start with “hotspots” where you are more likely to see mushrooms.
5 Common Places to Find Mushrooms
1) A lot of mushrooms like decaying matter so you might want to go and look for mushrooms on downed logs or stumps.
2) Not all mushrooms like dead matter so looking at tree trunks and around the root area of trees is wise. Some trees attract specific types of mushroom so it might be great to learn a bit more about that.
3) Burned parts of the forests or fields are one of the open secrets of mushroom hunters. Some mushrooms like to take over a burnt area.
4) Loamy soil is a good place to grow for some mushrooms as it is a great mixture of sand, clay, and organic matter.
5) Walking along streams and creeks can net you a boatload of mushrooms as these areas are high in moisture and soil content. Swampy areas (especially even in hot weather) are also great.
If you are foraging mushrooms as a hobby, there’s no need to look for a hotspot. Talking a walk at the nearby woods or fields can net you some mushrooms.
If you are having a hard time looking for a place to start, you can join mushroom hunting/foraging groups. They might have scheduled trips for beginners that can take you to places where mushrooms are common.
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6 Essential Tips to Identify an Edible or Poisonous Mushroom
Honestly, this is where the “fun” of mushroom foraging ends. There is no real way of telling if a mushroom is poisonous or not aside from positively identifying them.
A lot of mushrooms look very much alike each other. Also, while there are a lot of “rules” that you might hear from other foragers that don’t work all the time.
6 Tips in Identifying Mushrooms
1) “If you can peel the cap then it’s edible” – Death Cap mushrooms can easily be peeled.
2) “If you found it in the woods then it is safe” – Not true. A lot of woodland mushrooms like the Funeral Bell are quite deadly.
3) “If other animals eat them then they are edible” – Some toxic compounds found in some mushrooms don’t have negative effects on other animals or insects. Only humans can experience them.
If you are looking for rules that will at least ensure you don’t end up picking a poisonous mushroom then I have a couple for you:
4) Don’t ever pick mushrooms with white gills or ones that have a ring on its stem or those that have a volva (a sack like base). Worst case you missed out on a mushroom but you will live to see another day.
5) Mushrooms with very bright and loud coloring especially ones that have red on its stem or cap should be left alone.
6) Lastly, don’t pick something you are not 100% sure that is edible.
Many mushrooms have a false version and a true version. Like the False Morel for example. The True Morel is hollow on the inside while the False Morel is solid. The True Morel is good, edible and safe to eat while the False Morel is semi toxic.
Best Locations in North America to Hunt for Mushrooms
You may be wondering if there are any locations to go foraging for mushrooms near you. There are countless mushroom species however one of the most popular mushroom to hunt for is the Morels.
The Morel has many heath benefits and also taste delicious. There are countless locations in the pacific northwest, however if you go where the Morels are you will surely be able to find other mushrooms near that location.
The best site I found to find locations of Morel mushrooms is at The Great Moral Website. They have a really nice interactive map that allows you to zoom in on your specific location:
Another option is to just go to the nearest wooded area near you and start looking around. When I visit my dad in late summer we love to go to the golf course near his house and search for secret patches of the chicken of the woods mushroom.
My dad ended up throwing some left over pieces in his back yard and now he has his own persona stash that grows once a year.
Mushroom Hunting Tools
The main tools you will need other than a field guide will be the following:
1) Mushroom Foraging Knife – While any sharp knife will work they do sell knives that are specifically made for mushroom hunters. They are typically fordable with a small brush on the end for cleaning off any dirt you find on the mushroom.
2) Mushroom Carrying Bag – While you could use any bag to carry your mushroom it is recommended that you use a mesh bag so that while you are walking around you will continue to spread the spores of the mushrooms throughout your hike so that there will be more mushrooms for you next year.
Mushroom Foraging Season List
You will need to know the different seasons that the different mushrooms have because then you will know what time of year to go looking for them. The cool thing is different mushrooms grow and different times of year. So no matter the day there will always be a mushroom that you can go hunting for.
Here is a list of the different mushroom seasons:
If you want to save yourself the trouble, you can just go and get yourself a mushroom foraging guide. Even the most seasoned foragers (been doing it for 20+ years) still bring with them a mushroom field guide just in case they see something new. If you are a beginner and are foraging alone, a field guide is an indispensable tool that will save you the trouble of a trip to the ER.
How about you? Have you had the chance to forage? Let me know about your tips on when and where its best to forage for these wild edibles in your area. Also, I’d love it if you could share some tips about foraging especially for beginners.
If you decide that hunting is not for you but you still want the health benefits of many of these medicinal mushrooms you can search the grocery store or Amazon Whole Foods grocery store online with free delivery. Or you could look into growing your own, buy dried mushrooms or get them in supplement form.
After reading this beginner’s guide to mushroom foraging you should have a very good understand of all the benefits and risks of hunting for wild mushrooms. You can see how enjoyable it will be to be out in nature like a hunter but not having to kill any animals.