You already bake your own banana bread from scratch and berry-pick with the best of them. You can also whip up a batch of homemade jams and jellies like it’s nobody’s business and come fall, you can make bone broth like the freaking pioneer woman that you are. (Oh, you so fancy!) If you are ready to conquer your next culinary adventure, consider mushroom foraging. Ready to take on your first foraging adventure? Here’s how to forage for mushrooms.
How to forage for mushrooms and mushroom foraging tips
Do your research
If you are wondering “How to forage for mushrooms,” start with the basics—read up and do your research. Get your hands on a foraging book or a region-specific mushroom guide or key and study it. There are also an array of apps that can help you identify different flowers, plants, and mushrooms.
Know which mushroom varieties are available in your region of the country. For example, parts of the American Midwest, Canada, the Pacific Northwest, the Northwest, and the Rockies all have access to chanterelle mushrooms, morel mushrooms, porcini mushrooms, and at times, the elusive matsutake mushrooms. Morel mushrooms and oyster mushrooms even grace the presence of the deep South.
When I first shared this article topic with my 80-year-old grandmother, who is basically my best friend, her first reaction was this, “Pick the wrong mushroom and you will die.” Thank you, Grandma.
All jokes aside, please have fun with foraging for mushrooms, but take this topic very seriously too. I would not want anyone eating something that could make them really sick or even worse. Though mushroom-related deaths are relatively rare, roughly 7,500 people in the United States experience negative side effects each year from consuming the wrong types of wild mushrooms or failing to prepare them properly. The old adage rings true, when in doubt, throw it out! Well maybe don’t throw it out, but just don’t pick it okay?
When foraging for mushrooms, you will want to know how to identify the good from the bad. The best way to avoid picking a mushroom you may later regret is to familiarize yourself with the characteristics of the mushroom species you want to find and to know which mushrooms to avoid. They say you can eat any mushroom… once, so please make sure it is the right one. After all, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
For example, if you are contemplating how to pick morel mushrooms, learn when they are available and focus on other identifying characteristics and habits like their growing season, look, smell, and edibility or toxicity.
Unfortunately, there are not many general traits across different types of mushrooms that indicate whether they are poisonous or safe. In order to know if a wild mushroom is truly safe to eat, you need to properly identify the mushroom you have found. Many poisonous mushrooms resemble edible mushrooms (yikes!), so it is best to do some thorough research on each and every mushroom you forage. You would rather be safe than sorry!
Find a local group
We believe everything is better with friends, so why forage for mushrooms alone when you can forage with friends? Search your city or town’s calendar of events and see if you can find a local foraging group to join on their next excursion. The best way to figure out how to forage for mushrooms is with a group who have done it before.
Whether you are foraging for morel mushrooms or another mushroom species, you will need supplies. Luckily, foraging for mushrooms requires basic items including:
- Basket or mesh bag. There is a reason you always see foragers with baskets. Part of being a good forager is ensuring there are more mushrooms to gather next year. Using a basket or mesh bag allows mushroom spores to fall back to the forest floor and repopulate for next year.
- Brush. Anything that can clean dirt from the gills, pores, and tops of the mushrooms will suffice, like a paintbrush or a soft-bristled toothbrush.
- Bug spray
- Permits (If applicable)
- Pocket knife
- Topographic map
Always remember to proceed with care and caution when exploring the abundance of Mother Nature and gather with gratitude, leaving everything as you found it (besides the shrooms, of course).
Eat, enjoy or preserve
After foraging for mushrooms, it is time to enjoy the bounty of your harvest by eating and enjoying your haul. You can wash foraged mushrooms, but they will absorb water, so it is best to use a damp cloth or vegetable brush. If you do wash them, a quick rinse will do.
Add cooked mushrooms to salads, pasta, or soups. You can also fry, grill, or preserve them. It bears repeating, but always cook mushrooms thoroughly before eating and never eat them raw. Consult your trusty guidebooks for cooking tips specific to each type of mushroom species.
If you need more ideas on how to use your foraged mushrooms, Katie Cavuto MS, RD, Executive Chef for Saladworks, has some. “Blend them together into a bean and veggie burger patty, grill or roast them. They can be enjoyed as is or added to a salad or as a topping for other recipes. Sautee them with dark leafy greens or stuff them with a mixture of beans, grains, and other vegetables.”
If you do not like the texture of mushrooms whole, Cavuto recommends chopping them finely and blending them into a mixture of beans, grains, and vegetables to enjoy on its own or used as a filling for a stuffed pepper or zucchini.
Additional resources when foraging for mushrooms
If you are still wondering how to forage for mushrooms, pick up one of these classic books to guide you on your next mushroom foraging adventure.
- All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms
- The Complete Mushroom Hunter: An Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying Wild Mushrooms
You can also refer to some mushroom foraging resources online using good old Instagram. Some of our favorite mushroom foraging finds include:
Happy foraging everyone!