Mushrooms are one of the most highly sought after wild foods. Some of the world’s tastiest gourmet mushrooms are only found in the wild, and we haven’t figured out how to cultivate them yet! People all over the globe spend hours and hours “hunting” for wild gourmet mushrooms. Many people even make a decent wage collecting different varieties and selling them to local restaurants or grocery stores. Whatever the purpose, mushroom hunting can be an excellent and rewarding hobby. Before you embark on your next foraging trip, here are some tips on how to look for gourmet mushrooms in the wild.
Mushroom Identification is Important
Being able to identify the mushroom you’re looking for is probably the most important rule of mushroom hunting. There are some types of mushrooms, such as morels, that have only one or two convincing lookalikes but others have many nearly identical clones. Sometimes, the lookalikes can be deadly toxic. When you’re identifying mushrooms, know exactly what features to look for, like gills, hollow stems, etc. The general rule of mushroom hunting is: When in doubt, go without! You need to be 100% sure you know which type of mushroom you have before eating it. 110% is even better!
Here are some common types of wild gourmet mushrooms to get started:
- Chanterelles (Cantharellus)
- Morels (Morchella)
- Boletus (Boletus)
- Lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces)
- Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Check out this article for more edible wild mushrooms, and how to identify them! Plantsnap is another great tool to use for mushroom identification, but it’s always good to get an expert’s opinion if you’re not sure.
Look for One Type of Mushroom at a Time
Mushroom hunters usually stick to only one type of mushroom per trip. This makes identification easier and helps you learn each type separately. Depending on which type of mushroom you’re looking for, you may have to look in a specific place at a certain time of year.
When Should You Look?
Most mushrooms are incredibly seasonal by nature. The organisms live year-round, but they only grow their fruiting body (called a sporocarp) when they’re ready to reproduce. The fruiting body is what contains spores, and is the part we eat. The rest of the mushroom is in the form of mycelium, which are strands of tissue that are underground or in dead wood. Now that our little mycology lesson is over, what time of year should you look for gourmet mushrooms in the wild?
Most mushrooms grow their fruiting bodies in the fall or spring. The changing of seasons, with rising or lowering temperature, triggers the mushrooms to sprout from the ground and give us the tasty part. Certain types of mushrooms have very predictable seasons. Morels, for example, usually come out of the ground from anywhere between late April to late May. Chantrelles, on the other hand, thrive in the Fall.
Sometimes, mushrooms seem to pop up overnight and don’t stick around for very long. So, it’s important to know exactly what time of year the mushrooms you’re looking for are going to be available!
Where to Look?
Although many types of edible mushrooms aren’t very picky about where they grow, some are associated with specific habitats. It’s important to know where to look for your mushrooms, so you aren’t going on a wild goose chase! Many seasoned mushroom hunters know of specific areas of the forest where a certain mushroom thrives. Maybe you’ll never uncover one of these closely guarded secrets, but there are certainly habitat types to consider.
Many mushrooms get their energy from dead and decaying wood. Some happen to thrive in a place where there have been fires in the past year or two. If a forest fire destroys lots of trees, there should be plenty of food later for mushrooms like morels. So, recently burned forests are a good place to hunt for gourmet mushrooms!
Other mushrooms are associated with a specific type of tree. These have evolved to live off only one type of tree – sometimes a single species. One example of this is the pine cap mushroom, also called saffron milk cap. This particular type thrives in pine forests, as its name implies. Others love to grow near the roots of certain fruit plants, like apple trees. Make your way to an old abandoned orchard and try your luck there.
Finally, one of the most important keys to mushroom hunting is patience. There are some days when you’ll walk miles and find only a handful of mushrooms – or none at all. Part of the excitement of mushroom hunting is when you stumble upon a treasure trove of morels or chanterelles in a secluded part of the forest. Perhaps you’ll be the only one who knows about that particular patch!
Hopefully, now you know a little bit more about how to look for gourmet mushrooms in the wild. Happy hunting!