The Must Haves For Mushroom Harvesting

What to bring along for a successful and fun mushroom harvest

One of our favorite activities is mushroom hunting. We started to get passionate about fungi when we lived on the coast of California for a time. From our little home in the redwoods we could walk right out our door and into the forest, where we had endless access to public land and all the mushrooms we could ever want. The variety of coastal mushrooms is hard to beat, but we have lived in the mountains on and off for a long time, and always manage to hunt down some prized mushrooms in the hills we call home.

Whether we’re down in the moderate coastal zone foraging in the fall, or up in the mountains looking for morels in the spring soil, there are a few items we always bring along.

A good ID book – Even if you consider yourself a seasoned mycologist, we highly recommend bringing a reputable ID book with you on any mushroom hunt. We almost always run into a species we are unfamiliar with. When that happens, we usually don’t pick it, but it’s always fun to try and ID it. Our favorite book is definitely All That the Rain Promises and More by David Arora. It is easy to use, has some tasty recipes thrown in, and is quite entertaining.

A basket or mesh bag – We prefer a basket, or a few, as they do a better job preserving the mushrooms and preventing them from getting crushed under their own weight. Mesh bags work fine, but they tend to smash up the fungus a bit. On a particularly large expedition we purchased a cheap mesh laundry hamper with handles. It was wider than it was tall, and it worked very well for one of the most fruitful mushroom hunts we have ever been on. Most importantly, you want something that breathes. Mushrooms are damp, and they often come with some hitchhiking critters that have a chance to fall out as you walk through the woods. We have also been told by expert mushroom hunters that a breathable container allows the mushrooms to spread their spores as you move around, ensuring more growth for future expeditions.

A small knife – Most species can easily be sliced off at their base where they meet the soil or whatever substrate they’re growing out of. A little knife that can quickly open and close is essential. Trying to rip the stalk often leads to either losing some of the delicious fruiting body, or pulling up clumps of soil that gets tangled in the underground web of hyphae. It’s a pain when all your beautiful mushrooms get covered in dirt.

A small, stiff brush or toothbrush – While this isn’t an absolute necessity, it is nice to have. Lots of mushrooms grow in the soil, under leaves, and out of decomposing organic matter. It is their job after all, to decompose, and it can be a dirty one. Being able to brush off the messier mushrooms will pay off later when you don’t have to sit, hunched over in your kitchen, brushing off what would have been a fairly clean batch of mushrooms, just because a few dirty ones spoiled the bunch.

A plan and safety equipment – If you’re like us, a mushroom hunt can extend for many hours and many miles. Whether you’re walking out your back door or planning an extended trip, make sure someone knows where you’re headed, and when to expect you back. Bring your phone, a compass, a map, and/or a GPS, and be sure you’re not wandering onto private land. Living in Mendocino County, CA we often heard of people getting extremely lost in the expansive forest while on the quest for mushrooms. Don’t forget to check the rules for where you plan to pick. Is it state park land? National Forest? Is a permit required? Take care of all the particulars before you go so you don’t end up getting into trouble.

Most importantly, know before you go! Mushrooms are delicious and many are quite healthy, but only if you’re picking the right ones. Read the books, ask the experts, and double, triple, quadruple check before you go popping a yummy looking fungus into your mouth. There are plenty of look-alike species out there, and getting your ID wrong could land you in a very uncomfortable situation. There are many online communities that are extremely passionate about mushroom hunting. We suggest joining one, and maybe even finding a group in your area that is headed out for a hunt. It’s an excellent activity for all ages, and it feels like an easter egg hunt (but better)!

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