Disclaimer on Wild Mushrooms
I’d like to preface this by saying this with the following: do not – I repeat – do not, eat or ingest a wild mushroom without first obtaining expert testimony. My blog is not a comprehensive guide, a scientific study, or even an expert assessment on what you could or should try to eat. I urge all individuals to do their own thorough research before delving into the world of mushroom foraging. Additionally, please be sure to consult whatever land management organization presides over the area you are hoping to forage in order to obtain proper permits for mushroom collection. If you are earnest in your foraging pursuits, please reach out to your local foraging organization to consult an expert. My pages are nothing more than personal anecdotes from my unique experience.
If you suspect poisoning, immediately contact the National Poison Control Center or call 1-800-222-1222.
My First Wild Mushroom
On the Pacific Crest Trail in May of 2016 I met Cleansweep, a hiker from Chico who raved about this Lion’s mane mushroom he had found in his local woods. Being a fungi neophyte myself, I thought the guy was kind of crazy at first… little did I know that in summer of 2017, almost a year and a half later, I’d be thru hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail with him.
On our first morning he spotted an orange blob growing from a log on the side of trail. “Hm, looks like this could be chicken of the woods. I’ve never tried it though,” he mentioned. Ten minutes later we ran into a hiker who was section hiking the PCT, who happened to be from the Carolinas and was a forager herself – sure enough, she confirmed it was indeed COTW.
A day later we came across an old fir snag on the edge of a meadow. On the shady end were multiple shelves of “chicken”, as we’d come to refer to it as. We took a fin or two from the dead tree and made camp a few hours later. While multiple sources had now confirmed it was indeed an edible mushroom, I still had my doubts – who the heck eats wild mushrooms anyway, isn’t that how folks perish? In my mind, my good friend who was an avid forager had verified it as safe to eat and was cooking his – if I wasn’t going to try it now, when would I? Besides, out of all the choice fungi edibles, it was my understanding that this mushroom had no deadly look-alikes. With that rationale, I took the plunge.
Identifying and finding the chicken was one thing… learning how to properly prepare it, was something else entirely. With only my backpacking stove available, I attempted to simmer it in a few inches of water, as I didn’t have any fat available, and the stove burned too hot to dry sauté. I ate only a few inches of the mushroom before moving onto my proper dinner, and wow – it really did taste like chicken! Having been vegetarian for about a year at that point, I hadn’t had anything that could replicate the general texture or flavor of white chicken meat up until that moment. I could immediately understand why people were mushroom crazy.
Despite my anxieties through the night that I could’ve been poisoned (the fungiphobic western background I was raised in got the better of me), all went well… until about noon the next day. I felt a cold sweat break upon my brow, and a rumble in my lower GI – bubblegut, if you will. I bounded for the nearest shrouded section of trees to relieve my pained digestive system. After about 20 minutes of discomfort, things resolved themselves, we continued to hike another 20 miles that day, and all ended well. It wasn’t until after the fact that I learned that chicken, or Sulphur shelf, was known to produce mild gastrointestinal distress when not cooked thoroughly. My lesson was learned the hard way, and luckily with no harm.
Since then I have enjoyed chicken of the woods with no ill side-effects numerous times all across the country.
Do not replicate my experience.
My next wild mushrooms
Fast forward a few months to the end of November in 2017: I had just completed the Arizona Trail and was heading back to the San Francisco Bay Area. I had mushrooms on my brain since the chicken in the summer, and was eager to learn if I had any delectable morsels growing in my own yard. The East Bay a dry, Mediterranean-like climate, so I set off with a friend (a self proclaimed flower-fiend) who was interested in learning more. We hit one of our local parks and searched the most dank, dark, wet gullies we could find. Lo and behold, on our first foray, we found the infamous lion’s mane Cleansweep had originally talked about!
It was growing on a log that had fallen over an ephemeral stream. We had done thorough research before heading out, and knew it was Lion’s mane from the undeniable “icicles” it had growing, as well as texture, color, smell, and habitat. Setting out to find something so incredibly particular, which I had never noticed in all my years outdoors, granted me an endorphin rush that was out of this world!
With a flavor and texture reminiscent of seafood (think scallops, or if prepared correctly, crab), I couldn’t wait to bring it home. After a dry sauté, some butter, and a bit of garlic, I was not disappointed: must like the chicken, this was one of the best meat substitutes that had ever graced my mortal lips.
As they say with wild mushrooms, if you find one, keep your eyes pealed – you’re in the right habitat, and more fruiting bodies likely aren’t far away. So my friend and I meandered upstream, keeping aware of each dead tree or old log that crossed our paths. It wasn’t long before we found another mushroom that shares the lion’s mane habitat: the oyster mushroom. While less flavorful, beautiful, coveted, etc., oyster mushrooms are among the most widely distributed and easily identifiable in the land.
Beyond the Hunt
Yes, identifying and successfully foraging wild mushrooms can be a major thrill. Preparing a meal, however decadent or paltry, with your harvest is also an incredibly rewarding experience. Mushroom hunting can be an incredibly challenging and frustrating endeavor, and once a forager finds an area where their favorite mushrooms fruit perennially, they will defend it with every sneaky, secret, or otherwise espionage-like tactic they have in their arsenal, so as to prevent it from being poached by other foragers.
In my experience, however, there is one thing I’d like you to be aware of: the hunt isn’t half so fun, and the meal isn’t half as delicious, without the ability to share it with loved ones. To me, the bond and community of finding wild food and enjoying it with friends and family adds tremendous value to the experience, and at the end of the day, is really what it’s all about.
Please do your own research. Joining a formal mycology club is the best possible way to increase your fungi knowledge and for forage safely.
- Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast – by Noah Siegel and Christian Schwarz
- Mushrooms Demystified – by David Arora
- All That the Rain Promises and More – by David Arora