James R. Freed, Washington State University Natural Resources Extension Professor
With the cool mornings and a touch of frost in the air, you can be sure that winter isn’t far away. But while it’s still fall, take a look at the mushrooms on your property and document where you can find some edible, tasty treats. Since most mushrooms only fruit for short periods of time, you’ll need to make frequent visits to the forest, but that shouldn’t be much of a hardship!
Before you start your survey, you’ll need:
- A good book or App with color photos and clear descriptions of the types of mushrooms that grow in your area. The Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Mushrooms is a good starter, as is Daniel Winkler’s Field Guide to Edible Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest. Online sites like Northern Bush Craft also have great photos and descriptions, as well as recommendations on how to harvest and care for wild mushrooms.
- A map to draw in the locations of the different mushrooms you find. The journal can also be used to establish photo points and inventory plots so you can track how different mushrooms are doing year to year.
- A journal to record your observations about the area. Make note of the kind of trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants
present as well as things like the type of ground cover (rocky, mossy covered, duff); whether the forest canopy is open or closed; the aspect (north, south) of hills with mushrooms on them; soil moisture and temperature. The time and date you first and last saw them, along with the weather conditions before and during fruiting, are also important.
- A good camera to record what you’re seeing. Photos can be as useful as written notes. They can be sent to mushroom societies, researchers and other mushroom harvesters who can help you with the identification, harvest methods and use of your fungi.
Once you’ve made a positive identification, it’s time to harvest. The gear you’ll need is fairly simple:
- A knife and brush combination – This little tool makes it possible to use one hand to hold the mushroom and the other to cut it off cleanly at the soil line and brush off all the dirt and leaves. I connected an inexpensive 1” wide bristle paint brush by its handle to a small kitchen steak knife handle with duct tape, but these can also be purchased online. It’s important to remember to cut the mushroom off at the soil line rather than taking the whole fungi. Doing so will ensure that you don’t disturb the mycelium that will produce the next crop. It also helps to ensure that you have cleaner fungi to work with.
- A container – Woven baskets, mesh bags and 5 gallon plastic buckets are easy to carry and can hold all your treasures with ease. If you use a plastic bucket, take a small plastic grocery bag and pull it over the open end of the bucket to keep out the rain, dirt and leaves. I position the bag so one of the handle holes gives me access to the bucket.
When you get the mushrooms in the house, they should be cleaned with a brush and stored in a paper bag so they can breathe. Do not wash them off by soaking them in water – they’ll get waterlogged and soften and turn brown. If they are already wet from the rain a quick spritz with a garden hose can remove extra dirt. I use compressed air to clean my mushrooms. Any missed dirt and leaves are just organic.
How you use them is up to you. Most mushroom hunters like to eat a few right away. A sautéed batch of wild fungi with olive oil and garlic over pasta, a side dish of sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, cream of mushroom soup—the possibilities are endlessly tasty!
If you have too many mushroom to eat at one time and don’t want to store them in bags in the refrigerator, try dehydrating them. They’ll rehydrate easily in soups and stew or in wine sauce. It takes about 11 pounds of fresh mushrooms to make 1 pound of dried mushroom.
Gift packs of wild dried mushrooms make a great gift for the cook on your Christmas list as well, but it’s helpful if you label the package with some basic information about the mushroom and the fact that it was wild harvested, dried and packed by you. I often include a simple recipe in the package.
Taking the time to mark and record your mushroom sites will ensure that you will find them again and protect them when you are doing your forest management activities in the future.