Mushroom Foraging: Not Just for Fun Guys
"Every mushroom is edible, but some just for once."
As hobbies go, mushroom hunting is relatively inexpensive - all you need are some paper bags, a pocketknife, a soft brush, and an identification guide. And, in spite of our dry climate, Colorado is right behind the Pacific Northwest in concentration of mushrooms, and has 2,000 to 3,000 varieties.
Why hunt wild mushrooms? According to Denverite and mycophile Bethany Reece, "Some people care primarily about edibles. It's nice to find edibles. Many mushroom hunters care more about carefully tracking weather-patterns, taking long hikes off trail, and slowly meandering through the woods for hours, staring at the ground just to find cool mushrooms that they haven't seen before, and then taking those mushrooms home to identify." Others are interested in the role of the mushroom for medicinal purposes, eco-friendly products or in rehabilitating Colorado's various ecosystems.
For those who do plan to cook up a tasty mushroom risotto, though, it's best to err on the side of caution. Bethany notes, "The casual or new hunter should not try to identify safe edibles from books alone (though a good field guide is essential if you're interested in learning to identify mushrooms). The best way to learn is to go on forays with experienced and competent mycophagists. Most mycological societies host regular forays where experienced members are available to help identify what the group finds, and who can teach the physiognomic traits of edible and poisonous mushrooms better than a book can. If you're guessing, don't eat it."
Part of the fun of mushroom foraging is the mystery and suspense of finding new varieties, and the best way to learn about them is through books and mycological groups. "Make friends with other mushroom lovers," Bethany explains. "Go to mushroom festivals. When you're out on a walk with your dog and you see a mushroom, take a sample home, pull out your books and see if you can identify it. Take photos. Make spore prints. Experiment with mushrooms you've never tried from the grocery store (Asian markets often have an amazing selection). Touch them, smell them, look at what they're growing on. Whatever feeds your curiosity is your gateway."
Mushroom hunters have unwritten rules about respect for the environment and etiquette: "As tempting as it may be, don't pick everything in sight. Aim to pick only one third of what's there. If there's only one, leave it alone. If it's a rare mushroom, leave it alone. Consider taking a photo instead. Carpool. It's illegal to hunt on private lands without permission and some public lands have mushroom hunting restrictions: investigate what the restrictions are. If you're going to go into someone's yard, ask first."
And the best part of mushroom hunting? "Ooh, that's tough," Bethany says. "For me, it's the time I get to spend with the other mushroom hunters."