The joys of foraging for mushrooms


You don’t have to look far these day to see the evidence of the resurgence in popularity of foraging, especially for wild mushrooms. Celebrity chefs wax lyrical, identification books sell well, and mushroom identification courses such as the one happening at CAT this weekend attract many interested in learning about fungi.

The attraction is easily understood; there’s so much about the pursuit that is intrinsically likeable. It’s nice finding food for free. It’s nice finding food in the wild. It’s nice traipsing through the great outdoors and appreciating what can be found there.

Still, it’s not without its risks. The popularity surge that mushroom hunting has undergone has left some quarters concerned that novices will endanger themselves by consuming incorrectly identified fungi. Is foraging something that should be left to experienced professionals?

Jamie, one of CAT’s current Biology volunteers and a mushroom enthusiast, doesn’t think so. The fundamental thing – which is common sense, really – is that if you don’t know what it is, or if you’re not sure, don’t eat it. Keeping in mind that obvious edict, foraging for mushrooms is an accessible pastime.

In order to make a good start, Jamie recommends investing in a larger mushroom identification book, as many mushrooms foragers come across don’t feature in the the smaller guides. It’s also advisable to head out after a few days of dry weather, as the damp changes the colouration of fungi and makes them harder to spot.

Considering a little etiquette is also important. For obvious reasons, it’s not a good idea to leave an ecosystem bereft of its fungi. Some forums encourage mushroom hunters to photograph, rather than remove, a specimen they’re unsure about, while others remind foragers to tap the mushroom after picking so it releases its spores.

The mushroom season, which runs from late Summer to early Autumn, is rapidly coming to a close. This year’s mushrooms came quite early, and it’s getting harder to predict when they’ll be at their most plentiful.

Around CAT, there are still some mushrooms nestled in the hills. We’re lucky to be in such a biodiverse region, and though by no means an experienced forager myself, I spent an enjoyable morning this week spotting dewy mushrooms peeking out from clumps of grass.

As Jamie says, the appeal is similar to that of an Easter egg hunt.

  • A few weeks ago I saw some young (and not so young) mycophiles foraging for fungi in a large deer park in Leicestershire. They were searching for some quite small ones looking a bit like the one at the top of this page. It struck me one would need quite a few to make a decent omelette. They seemed quite happy though and didn’t have an identification book between them. 

    • Sig

      Yes, that sounds familiar Stephen 🙂

  • Andrew Macdonald

    Two weeks ago, I spent a week with BTCV mycologist Ali Murfitt surveying grassland species in the Scottish highlands on NTS land. Primarily we were hunting waxcaps (hygrocybes), entolomas (Entolomataceae),  earth tongues (ascomycetes) and coral (clavarioid) fungi. Identifying was a detailed process, looking at colour, shape, gill shape, texture (lip test), tasting and smell. GPS referenced specimens where carefully removed, (in order to retain a healthy underground mycelium network) for further investigation in the lab. Also we recorded the moss and grass species where the mushrooms grew, because there is debate about mycorrhizal associations with plants. In the lab spore prints were taken and gills investigated under microscope. We used a book called the fungi nordica, because it is apparently the best one, very detailed keys. In this location Ali found a new species for Scotland last year and we found some again on our trip.
    In the evening we ate wild hedgehog fungus and Chanterelle varieties Ali had picked earlier.
    What struck me most was the delicate nasal pallet required. It reminded me of whisky tasting were getting past the alcohol smell is key. At first most fungi smelled clean, earthy, perhaps like latex…after 2 days smelling, subtle flavours began to emerge. mealy, honey, burnt rubber, cabbage. As a fungi enthusiast and countryside manager this experience was invaluable and truly fascinating…..sadly no faerie folk but us, however the landscape was magical….misty hill lochens…red deer rutting…mountains (some with snow) as far as the eye could see.

    Eating fungi is a bit like eating skipped food..if your not sure…DONT!

    Jamie my man, you would be in your element! Hope ur enjoying no 5!

    Check out what else Ali Murfitt has discovered by searching for her on google.

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