• Ken Perrotte

Mushroom Foraging Makes for Fascinating Forays into Forests - But Caution is the Edible Watchword

This article also ran in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star newspaper.

A couple nice hedgehogs!

I spent much of early autumn hunting. Instead of a gun, I carried game shears, a pocketknife and a bag. The fungi bug bit me – as in foraging for wild, edible mushrooms.

My newfound interest was inspired by two things: first, the ongoing covid-19 limitations, which made me feel a bit mushroom-y anyway and, second, as part of coordinating an awards program for the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, I read a first-place entry by Minnesotan Roy Heilman (neveragoosechase.com) about foraging. Seeing his stories and photos had me realizing I likely walk past countless edibles during my spring and autumn forest forays.


Before you munch wild shrooms, please know one important thing. Many will make you incredibly ill. A few can kill you. These have sinister names such as “Destroying Angel” or Death Cap.” I have seen them around Virginia. Some edible mushrooms have dangerous lookalikes.


Heilman is self-taught, using books and reputable internet sources to identify mushrooms.

“There's a lot of chatter out there by people who don't know what they're talking about…they'll steer you wrong,” Heilman said. He also pointed to the plethora of phone apps some people are using to identify mushrooms, calling them a “terrible idea,” and noting grave reliability concerns.


Caution is his watchword with any wild edible. “My wife, who is in health care, wouldn't have it any other way. Eating mushrooms is no joke, and that also goes for every time a person tries a new-to-them mushroom,” Heilman said. Heilman and many guidebooks recommend eating a small piece of cooked mushroom at first and then waiting a day or two to see if you had any ill effects. Even then, you don’t want to sit down and eat a bowlful of cooked wild mushrooms. And some varieties react unfavorably with alcohol.


I quickly found three, maybe four, suspected edible varieties in mid-September. The first was a large, meaty mushroom called a “hedgehog,” hydnum repandum in Latin taxonomy. Hedgehogs don’t have gills. Instead, they have dense, small spines or teeth growing straight down from the cap. I shared photos with expert friends via email and on Facebook, inviting identification. I also scoured the internet for images and cross-reference information.

Satisfied they were safe to try, I sauteed some with butter, salt, pepper and a little thyme. They were excellent and later added to egg dishes, soups and stir fry. Heilman said hedgehogs are near the top of his list of favorites. “They have a great flavor, a nice firm texture that makes them versatile in the kitchen. This summer, I put them in scrambled eggs, quesadillas and a pasta dish,” he said.

I also found a couple patches of what looked like, after crosschecking multiple references, golden chanterelles, another choice edible. Yet, when one person expressed doubt after I posted photos on a Mushroom Identification & Mycology Myths Facebook page, I tossed the whole lot without so much as a nibble. I wish I could have had an in-person, professional second opinion. The photos are below if anyone wants to reach out with second opinions.

Next came lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus), which resembles a shaggy, white growth hanging on a tree or log. It has reputed medicinal properties. Caroline County realtor Tom Smith got the mushroom bug right around the time I did. He also found some lion’s mane, noting it tastes like lobster. Jason Nelson of Fairfax, a longtime mushroom hunter, compares the taste to crab meat. There are many recipes for making mock crab cakes out of lion’s mane. We made some, but I got a curious, slightly worrisome tingling in my lip after eating one full “crab cake.”

Other favorites, largely because they taste good and don’t have any dangerous lookalikes are hen of the woods (often called maitake) and chicken of the woods, both of the “polypore family.” A neighbor used to have a prime hen grow at an oak tree’s base every year. I found both varieties this year: a small, new hen and three chickens, two well past their prime. The chickens are distinctive and easy to spot with their bright orange and white layered lobes growing on or at the base of a tree. We sliced and cooked chicken lobes in a squirrel recipe.

While several edible varieties exist, Heilman advises not sampling the whole buffet.

“I see a lot of people on Facebook groups who are going about it the hard way. They're going out in the woods, collecting everything, then trying to identify it all. That's a total mess - and a good way to get poisoned. Instead, I recommend learning about what grows in your area, when it grows, and how to identify it,” he said. He also cautions about the need to learn about each edible mushroom's poisonous lookalikes and how to tell them apart. Once you are comfortable with a couple varieties, then look just for those you can positively identify. Add to your repertoire as you gain more experience.

“Start with easy mushrooms, like chicken of the woods, that don't have poisonous lookalikes,” he advises. “Honestly, there are some people out there who are not cut out for it. I don't know if they don't have the patience to do it right, or if they have no aptitude for differentiating between species. It's better to find another hobby than to be in the position where you have to find a new liver.”


Smith agrees. “Right now, I only stick to the obvious edible groups,” he said. And, still lion’s mane and hen of the woods upset his stomach when he ate too much as side dishes to steak.


Nelson first learned about foraging in Montana, taught by an uncle before beginning his own research. “I wouldn't eat a mushroom I couldn't 100% identify,” he declared.

The North American Mycological Association's website is a good resource for understanding the most dangerous mushrooms, as well as what poisoning is all about. There are also several excellent, well-illustrated books that can guide you. Of course, multiple Facebook groups exist, but as Heilman notes, be cautious since you really don’t know who is giving you advice. You can also search online for classes and field trips in your area. There is also the Mycological Association of Washington, D.C.


Mushroom foraging is fun and can give you another excuse to get outdoors. Learn all you can and never eat any mushroom unless you are completely certain it is safe.


Subscribe for new stories, reviews, and more. 
(Don't worry, we won't spam you)

  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Instagram Icon

© 2017-2020 Kmunicate Worldwide LLC, All Rights Reserved. Outdoors adventures, hunting, fishing, travel, innovative wild game and fish recipes, gear reviews and coverage of outdoors issues. Except as noted, all text and images are by Ken Perrotte (Outdoors Rambler (SM). Some items, written by Ken Perrotte and previously published elsewhere, are revised or excerpted under provisions of the Fair Use Doctrine

 

Privacy Policy:

What type of information do you collect? We receive, collect and store any information you enter on our website. In addition, we collect the Internet protocol (IP) address used to connect your computer to the Internet; login; e-mail address; password; computer and connection information and purchase history. We may use software tools to measure and collect session information, including page response times, length of visits to certain pages, page interaction information, and methods used to browse away from the page. We also collect personally identifiable information (including name, email, password, communications); payment details (including credit card information – although the site does not currently engage in any type of e-commerce), comments, feedback, product reviews, recommendations, and personal profile.

How do you collect information? When a visitor to the site sends you a message through a contact form or subscribes to receive updates and other communications about new stuff on the site, we collect that subscriber’s email address. That address is used only for marketing campaigns or other information we send regarding site updates or changes. Site usage data may be collected by our hosting platform Wix.com or by third-party services, such as Google Analytics or other applications offered through the Wix App Market, placing cookies or utilizing other tracking technologies through Wix´s services, may have their own policies regarding how they collect and store information. As these are external services, such practices are not covered by the Wix Privacy Policy. These services may create aggregated statistical data and other aggregated and/or inferred Non-personal Information, which we or our business partners may use to provide and improve our respective services. Data may also be collected to comply with any applicable laws and regulations.

How do you store, use, share and disclose your site visitors' personal information? Our company is hosted on the Wix.com platform. Wix.com provides us with the online platform that allows us to share information or sell products and services to you. Your data may be stored through Wix.com’s data storage, databases and the general Wix.com applications. They store your data on secure servers behind a firewall.

How do you communicate with your site visitors? The primary means of communicating with site users is via email for the purposes of marketing campaigns, promotions, and update. We may contact you to notify you regarding your subscription, to troubleshoot problems, resolve a dispute, collect fees or monies owed, to poll your opinions through surveys or questionnaires, to send updates about our company, or as otherwise necessary to contact you to enforce our User Agreement, applicable national laws, and any agreement we may have with you. For these purposes we may contact you via email, telephone, text messages, and postal mail.

How do you use cookies and other tracking tools? Our hosting platform Wix.com and our analytical services providers such as Google Analytics may place cookies that facilitate their services. To be perfectly honest, Kmunicate Worldwide LLC, the owner of outdoorsrambler.com, never looks at cookies or any other tracking/data collection tools, only the aggregated reports provided by the hosting service or analytical services providers.

How can your site visitors withdraw their consent? If you don’t want us to process your data anymore, please contact us using the “Contact Us” form on the site.

Privacy policy updates: We reserve the right to modify this privacy policy at any time, so please review it frequently. Changes and clarifications will take effect immediately upon their posting on the website. If we make material changes to this policy, we will notify you here that it has been updated, so that you are aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we use and/or disclose it.