Mushroom Hunts ‘Afoot
‘Tis the season for colder weather, rainy days, and lots of wind. Trees are changing colors from bright green to warmer shades of red, brown, and orange. Leaves are falling, and the forests have an abundance of decay.
Decay sounds bad, but I promise you it’s not. The rotting leaves support fertilization for new plants, and rotting wood gives home to many species of fungi. Mushrooms and other fungi are parasites – they feel and adapt. Some are also very yummy. Others are toxic and can be deadly, but those ones are very photogenic!
The humid climate we have in western Oregon is perfect for growing a variety of mushrooms. Plenty of Oregonians go mushroom hunting, and in turn provide so much information! With a bit of research, novice hunters can figure out the best areas, the best time during the year, and how to distinguish different species of fungi.
Along with the knowledge of which trees to gravitate towards when mushroom hunting, you also need a few primal identification skills in order to avoid potentially toxic mushrooms. Several mushroom families have twins or doubles. One is delicious, the other… not so much. There are ultimately two basic ways of identifying. One is very basic, meant for someone who wouldn’t mind missing out on a few yummy ‘shrooms. The second is quite basic as well, it’s meant to help distinguish between families.
The first method I mentioned is to ID any possibly toxic mushrooms. Super general. When inspecting a possible addition to a meal, check these things off in order to determine if they could be toxic: Are there white gills? Is there any red or bright, neon yellow spots on the cap or stem? Is there a skirt or ring around the stem? Does it smell unpleasantly like chemicals? Is there a sort of sack that the stem is protruding out of (also called a volva)? If yes to any of these, the ‘shroom could be toxic!
However, if one wanted to get in on a little bit of fun, you must know the basic appearances of the different fungal families and I found a perfect guide in the NY Times! Edible agaric mushrooms have pink to brown spots on their cap, a pure white background on their cap, usually black gills, and a stout stem with a skirt. If you press the cap a bit to create a bruise, the color will change to pale yellow, pink, or pale red. Toxic agarics bruise a bright, chrome yellow and will have an extremely unpleasant chemical scent.
The bolete, sillius, and Leccinum families have short, stout stems and instead of gills, they have sponge-like pores. Any toxic doubles in these families will have red spots on the cap, stem, and pores. Another way you can test for a bolete’s toxicity is by carefully slicing it vertically. If a rapid color change happens, likely blue, it’s toxic!
The Russulaceae family is mostly all toxic! Unless you have an expert in the field to help identify it, stay away from them. They are most commonly known as milkcap mushrooms because they leak a milk-like lactate substance from their gills.
Another mostly toxic family of mushrooms is the Amanita genus. Every subspecies of this family has white gills or spores. They also all grow from a volva. Check for one before picking it!
One of my favorite families, and the last, is commonly known as the Russula. Particularly, the brittlegill mushroom. When you come across it, and you are sure it’s this type, try it! Obviously, don’t take a huge bite out of it, but put a tiny piece of the cap onto your tongue. If you taste chili or a different chemical taste, spit it out because it’s toxic! Most toxic brittlegills won’t cause death, but if fully consumed, you’ll definitely be sick.
If you live near or are able to travel towards the more western forests, do! They are particularly perfect growing places. McDonald forest, Chip Ross, Alsea Falls, and the Siuslaw National forest are top-notch places to start. I will say however because these areas are
well-known hunting spots, try finding an area less-known. Mushrooms love being near creeks or growing on hills!
If you can, find a more seasoned hunting partner, if not, be sure to use as many guides as you can. If you have a written guide, the best way to identify mushrooms is to ask yourself some questions: What time of year is it? What does the mushroom smell like? Does it have any red spots? What color does it bruise? What’s the physical description?
Enjoy the mushrooms you hunted with friends, and maybe convince them to go with you next time!