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Last month I covered gathering and eating fiddlehead ferns (click here to see the article), this month I want to touch on a different wild edible.
Make collecting wild mushrooms a part of your self-reliance skill set. Sound dangerous? It’s not, if you can learn how to do it safely. While not a high calorie food (this can be a bonus for some people) mushrooms are still a good source of B vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid, and the essential minerals, selenium, copper and potassium. Learning to gather wild mushrooms, in your area not only provides you with a tasty and highly prized addition to your meals, it expands your ever growing toolbox of food gathering skills. This toolbox can be opened and used to enhance everyday life right now and during times of need to provide for your family.
Wild mushrooms grow everywhere, they are part of mother nature’s grocery store – you don’t always have to journey out into the middle of the woods to find them. One only needs to know where to look for them and how to identify the safe ones. Some edible wild mushrooms grow right in your yard (although if you put chemicals on your yard I would advise against eating any of the mushrooms growing in it) and in big cities so access to a great expanse of public forest is not completely necessary. Sure you could grow your own mushrooms, even a few wild kinds (click here to see a Morel mushroom growing kit) – that would be a safe way to do it, but then you’d miss out on the wonderful variety of wild mushrooms and the truly marvelous experience of mushrooming! The adventure is not just in finding mushrooms it’s in everything else you learn and discover along the way.
I wish I could write an all inclusive article on how to safely identify and collect, clean and eat the wild mushrooms in your area but that would be impossible considering each area of our country sports it’s own unique variety of wild mushrooms and “look alike” mushrooms (mushrooms that closely resemble each other, but one of the two varieties can often be poisonous, these are often called “false” mushrooms). What grows in my area may or may not grow in your area. Instead, in this article and in future articles coming soon, I will show you what mushrooms we look for, how we collect them, how we clean them, and how we incorporate some of the wild varieties in our area into our food. See below for some pointers on how you can start learning this handy skill.
Knowing how to find and identify wild mushrooms comes with practice – it is not something that can be learned from a computer or even a book (although some books are helpful). Going out mushroom hunting with an experienced mushroomer is really the BEST way to learn and be confident. Here are some tips on how to start the learning process:
Find a friend who is an experienced mushroom hunter.
Start asking around in your local circle of friends about mushrooms. Chances are you have at least one closet mushroom hunter in your group, either that or
someone in your group of may know of a relative or acquaintance who does. Make that person your new best friend and express your desire to go mushrooming with them to learn.
Find a local mushrooming club (yes they have such things) and join it. Clubs are great because they are usually founded by a couple of very knowledgable individuals who supervise the hunting and learning process to make sure no one is poisoned. They usually go on monthly outings and they will know where all the good mushroom spots are (and that’s half the battle). Even big cities have mushrooming clubs (and these are usually very interesting because you lean how to find mushrooms in the city).
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Take a local mushrooming class (yes they have these too).
Contact your local Parks and Recreation Department to see if they are offering any mushrooming classes, if not, ask if they know of any that are held locally. Other places to contact for mushrooming classes and information is your local extension office, your local National Forest Service office, and your local Department of Natural Resources Office.
Purchase a Mushroom Field Guide for your area.
It is really important that you find a pocket book guide to take with you while looking for mushrooms that is specifically targeted to your local area. This will help you identify safe mushrooms, look alikes, and not be confused by varieties that don’t even grow where you live. Field guides will be there to help you with the details when your mushrooming mentor is busy doing other things.
Visit Mushroom Groups on Facebook or Mushrooming Websites.
While not the ideal resource, it is better than nothing. If you go out mushroom hunting and have a few questions on what you found, thanks to modern technology you can now upload pictures and let experts from hundreds of miles away take a crack at identifying them (but remember if you are not sure, don’t eat it). Online groups are also another way to meet other mushroomers who may be in your area and may be willing to teach you how to hunt for them, but don’t be disappointed if they are not real active, mushroomers tend to be out hunting for mushrooms and not online.
Here are a few facebook groups and websites that I like – remember to focus your searches for sites and groups in your local area. If you have any sites or groups that you would like to mention – add them to the comment section below to help others!
The Mushroom Identification Forum on Facebook
The Wild Edible Foods Group on Facebook
I was fortunate to have grow up in an area where the skill of collecting wild mushrooms is still passed down from parents to children. Some of my most vivid childhood memories come from mushroom hunts we used to go on as a family. By going mushrooming as a family I learned what to look for, where to look, and (just as important) WHEN to look. Certain varieties of mushrooms only grow during certain times of the year. There may only be a brief window of opportunity therefore, knowing when to start hunting for a particular mushroom can make the difference between going home loaded or empty handed.
With the exception of one brother, my siblings and I have continued this practice into adulthood where even now I head out each spring and fall in search of these tasty wild edibles (if you follow me on facebook you are already well aware of my mushrooming adventures). While searching for mushrooms I also keep an eye out for other food sources that I could bring home, like newly sprouted soft nettle tips or fiddlehead ferns – you never know what you are going to find.
There is almost always one edible type of wild mushroom or another growing (unless it’s winter) you just have to know what to look for. I love hiking through the woods and stopping here and there to grab a hand full to add to my dinner and I can guarantee you that if I were in a “bug out” situation I would be doing the same never passing up an opportunity to gather some food.
In my area mushrooms can be found commonly on private property, in yards, up in the National Forest, and on Department of Natural Resources owned land – before you venture out on to “public land” make sure that as a free American citizen, you have all the parking passes, permits, licenses, and have paid any applicable fees to do so….
Remember! If you are unsure of the mushroom – DON’T EAT IT. Take a picture of it with your phone and post it online for others to identify and research. This is far safer than trying it yourself and almost just as fun. Stay tuned to APN for my next article on cleaning, preserving and cooking wild mushrooms! There are many articles on the internet about collecting wild mushrooms, any similarities are merely coincidence.
By Stephanie Dayle
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