Mushroom hunting (also known as foraging) can be a fun and rewarding outdoor activity for people of all ages. Once regarded as a strange and eccentric hobby, it has slowly grown in popularity over the years and attracts people for different reasons. Most wild mushrooms are considered nontoxic, but some cause serious adverse health effects, including death. Always follow proper precautions when mushroom hunting to protect your health.
The most important rule for all mushroom hunters whether they’re beginners or experts is: Never eat a mushroom until you are absolutely certain that it is edible.
Staying “better safe than sorry” is absolutely necessary when mushroom hunting. Being “almost certain” is not enough, and can lead to an emergency room visit – or worse. There is also no single test that can accurately determine whether or not a mushroom is poisonous. Ignore advice that you may have heard about poisonous mushrooms tarnishing silver spoons or turning blue when bruised – certain poisonous mushrooms might do this but there is no scientific evidence that it’s always the case. A mushroom’s scent is not a reliable indicator of safety, nor is taste. Witnessing a wild animal eating a mushroom is not a guarantee that it will be safe for you to ingest. If you have ANY doubts about the safety of a wild mushroom, do not eat it.
There is an incredibly diverse variety of wild mushrooms, and some deadly mushrooms can look remarkably similar to edible ones. The best way to safely start mushroom hunting is to hunt with and learn from experts who are knowledgeable about wild mushrooms specific to your area. Fortunately, there are numerous resources in our region, including the South Sound Mushroom Club, which is located right here in Thurston County. In this region there is also the Puget Sound Mycological Society and the Olympic Peninsula Mycological Society. There are many field guides with photographs and detailed written descriptions of wild mushrooms that are important tools in mushroom hunting. Careful study of all aspects of a mushroom (size, color, cap shape, gill spacing, texture, smell, where it grows, etc) can help you determine whether or not it is safe to eat.
Another important aspect of mushroom hunting is to stay safe while out foraging. Always wear visibly bright clothing (a neon orange vest and hat is best) and carry an emergency whistle. Be aware what other activities may be going on in the wooded area, especially any kind of animal hunting. Use the buddy system and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Make sure to have layers of clothing for sudden changes in weather, sturdy footwear, and to be on the safe side, pack more water and food (especially protein) than you think you need.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when mushroom hunting in order to make it a safe, fun, and rewarding experience:
· When collecting wild mushrooms, be sure to keep different types separate during collection and storage. Edible mushrooms can easily be contaminated by poisonous ones.
· Use cloth or paper bags, a basket, or a box to collect mushrooms in. Plastic bags trap heat and moisture that can cause mushrooms to deteriorate quickly.
· Immediately store freshly-collected mushrooms in a refrigerator in a paper or cloth bag. Be sure not to rinse or wash collected mushrooms until you are ready to cook them. Storing mushrooms while wet will cause them to deteriorate quickly.
· Don’t collect mushrooms from roadsides, golf courses, public parks, private lawns, or near railroad tracks. Mushrooms that would otherwise be considered safe and edible could be compromised by exposure to exhaust fumes, pet waste, or chemical pesticides that might be present in these kinds of areas. Undeveloped lands are the best place to collect mushrooms, but look up rules and regulations that govern mushroom collecting and foraging on public lands and always request permission before attempting to forage on private land.
· Be considerate to other mushroom hunters. If you find mushrooms you want to collect, be sure not to take them all so that future foragers can enjoy them too.
Like many outdoor activities, mushroom hunting does have some risks. However, if you’re interested and want to try it out, go for it! By following basic precautions and taking the time to learn from experienced mushroom hunters and field guides, you can keep yourself safe and have a great time too! Happy hunting!