Just a year ago, we had never foraged nor found mushrooms in the wild and hardly knew how to distinguish different species from one another. After countless hours spent in our local forests and quite a few beginner’s mistakes, here’s what we learned about mushroom foraging:
- Don’t use plastic bags but baskets or paper bags to collect the mushrooms. Plastic tends to make mushrooms ferment and alters them.
- Don’t mix different species of mushrooms together (so take several paper bags). If one or several mushrooms you foraged turn out to be toxic, you won’t be able to eat any of them as the good ones will be contaminated! If you have no more paper bags left but still have space in your basket, you can simply separate the mushrooms using ferns or leaves to keep them apart.
- Always bring a small knife & brush with you to cut off the tip of the stalk & clean the mushroom caps as you go. That way, the mushrooms will be almost ready to cook when you come home! Furthermore, if you don’t clean the mushrooms as you pick them, the soil from the stalks will spread all over the basket and the clean parts of the mushrooms, which will give you a lot of extra work.
- Depending on where you live, always take your foraged mushrooms to a local pharmacy to get them checked. Usually, pharmacists established in foraging areas are very knowledgable about fungi! And don’t hesitate to get second opinions should you have any doubts.
- We find it useful to go foraging with a walking stick or a cane to move branches and leaves without having to bend over all the time. The mushrooms often hide under these. Do a favor to your back!
- Bring a handy mushroom dictionary to try to identify species as you go. Moreover, it will provide you with precious information as to the kind of environment or trees you have to look for to find specific species (some mushrooms are found under pines, others under oaks, some like shade, others prefer clearings, etc. Some even grow next to other mushroom species such as porcini and fly-agarics…). A pocket-size one is ideal.
- Dress appropriately. Put on rubber boots and wear bright colors to make sure you’re seen easily. Usually, mushroom season is also hunting season, so be careful!
- Look for mushrooms by walking “up and downhill” instead of horizontally. That is, if the spots where you like are slightly steep, take advantage of the angle of the ground to see mushrooms more easily.
- Don’t neglect spots that are close to a road. You don’t necessarily have to go deep into the woods to find mushrooms. A lot of porcini we found this year were right by the road, where a lot of foragers wouldn’t think of searching.
- Lastly, there are many different ways to preserve the mushrooms you found if you don’t eat them all. Depending on the species, you can preserve them in olive oil using mason jars, freeze them, or slice & dry them for future consumption. Dry mushrooms tend to be even tastier than fresh ones since the flavors are concentrated in the drying process.
And remember to be careful and only eat species you are absolutely certain are edible!