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.