With fall fully upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, most of our gardening is finished for the year. The beds are tucked away under a layer of mulch, the cucumbers have been pickled, the tomatoes have been preserved as sauces and salsas. This doesn’t mean that the earth is done providing us with it’s bounty, and in this particular season we can find some unexpected, and entirely delicious, edible goodies.
While most plants are beginning to go dormant, the cooler air and damp earth provide a perfect stage for fall mushrooms to surface. There are thousands of types of mushrooms in an unbelievable variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. Mushroom foraging is a popular tradition in large parts of Europe, Australia, Korea, Japan, the Middle East, South Asia, Canada, and the United States. It is gaining popularity once more in North America as we embrace slow living, mindfulness, and care for the planet. Foraging is an excellent way to connect with the earth, to learn more about where our food comes from, and to honour the seasons.
The simplest and safest way to begin foraging for mushrooms is to educate yourself as much as possible. Proper identification of edible species of mushrooms is critical to enjoying a safe experience. Going into mushroom foraging with little to no knowledge of the various local species is not advised, and can quickly become harmful if unknown or poisonous species are eaten. Many seasoned foragers will offer tours with foraging guides. They teach you what to look for, what to avoid, how to harvest from the plants without damaging the spores or mycological systems, and to ensure that nothing is disrupted within the environment.
Once you gain confidence in your ability to properly identify the species you are seeking to forage, another important step to successful foraging is patience and attention to detail. It can be difficult to find a flush of mushrooms at exactly the right time, as the exposed fruit of the mushroom has a short lifespan. The season for morels, for example, can come and go in as quickly as one day. Walking trails, adventuring into the woods and near streams (safely!) on a daily basis is your best bet in finding what you’re looking for. Think of it as a forest-wide Where’s Waldo (but be wary of a red & white striped mushroom).
Once you’ve identified your desired mushroom, take care to only harvest what you can reasonably use within 12 hours. Most mushrooms will not last beyond that window, with some having an even shorter time period in which to consume them. It’s also important to consider leaving behind lots of plant matter for others to forage, including the various animals that rely on mushrooms as a source of food leading into winter. Mushrooms are the supplier of the second most important element for deer, phosphorus, and are high in protein. Preserving the plant you are going to harvest from is critical in allowing the species to continue to thrive, meaning you can continue to return each year to the same general area in hopes of finding the same mushroom species. By only taking a small amount from each plant without damaging the structure underground, you can ensure that the plant remains in good health.
Some of the most common species of mushrooms in North America to forage are shaggy mane, chanterelle, Ontario oyster, black trumpet, morel, puffball, and turkey tail. Each of these are relatively easily identified, making them excellent beginner mushrooms to forage. In order to be successful in your foraging, you’ll need a few basic items: paper bag (or two); a clean, sharp knife; a soft-bristled brush, or a microfiber cloth; a journal or notepad to take notes on your findings; and a mushroom foraging guidebook .
The primary purpose of mushroom foraging in most cases is to prepare them for eating. Packed with antioxidants, B vitamins, copper, and potassium, they provide essential nutrients and wonderful, complex flavours. We love this Vegan Mushroom Risotto recipe. Mushrooms can also be dehydrated and blended down into flour, perfect for making vegan gravy or for adding incredible flavours to soups and stews. Beyond the kitchen, they have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties, known to help heal ailments, promote healthy cell regeneration, and increase cognitive function.
No matter what you end up doing with your foraged mushrooms, you’ll have the joy of knowing that you are able to partake in the abundance that the earth offers, and of knowing where your food comes from. Staying rooted to nature, being in tune with the changes in temperature, and highlighting seasonal foods are ways we can honour the earth.
Until next time,
Stray & Wander