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One of the best things about mushroom hunting is that it doesn’t take much to get into it. It’s one of the few forms of hunting where you don’t need thousands of dollars worth of rifles, optics, and gear to bring home the goods. With just some basic knowledge and a few small tools, you can begin to scour the forest floor in search of tasty fungi.
From puffballs to morels, chanterelles to hen of the woods, oyster mushrooms, and much more, the spring, summer, and early fall months are an amazing time to forage for wild mushrooms that can be eaten fresh or preserved for future meals. While the cost of entry is minimal, aspiring mushroom hunters do need some basic gear to make the most of their foraging. We put together a short list of essential gear and resources to help you get started and stay safe.
Any time you’re talking about eating wild mushrooms it must be stated that safety is the number one priority. You must positively identify the mushroom you intend to eat beyond a shadow of a doubt before you ingest, sell, or gift any wild-foraged mushroom.
Mushroom Hunting Books and Media
The most important tool for mushroom hunting is education. The consequences of misidentification can be fatal, and it is your responsibility to be absolutely positive about what you harvest before eating or sharing it. Thankfully, there are countless free and paid resources in whatever format you learn best. Here are a few different options.
Mushroom Foraging Books and Field Guides
These days there are hundreds if not thousands of books on the topic, but All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms and Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora are widely considered among the best books on the subject. The Complete Mushroom Hunter: An Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying Wild Mushrooms by Gary Lincoff is another well-respected book on mushroom hunting. And the Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms: North America and National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms are solid field guides on mushroom identification.
Online Resources for Mushroom Hunters
The USDA Field Guide to Common Macrofungi in Eastern Forests and Their Ecosystem Functions is a great free online resource for mushroom identification. There are also countless blogs, websites, and Youtube channels dedicated to the topic. One thing to note is that it’s important to use reputable sources online for mushroom identification, and you should back up your research with a published mushroom hunting book or field guide.
Mushroom Hunting Apps
There are a ton of free and paid mushroom identification apps for both Android and IOS that can be helpful in the field. Some even have features that help identify a mushroom by taking a picture of it, while others help you find or record places you’ve found mushrooms using GPS. A quick search of the Google Play or Apple Store will provide many options to choose from. Apps are a useful tool if you don’t feel like lugging a book around in the field, but they should not be considered a replacement for a comprehensive guidebook.
Beyond identification, there are many mapping and weather apps that are also very useful for mushroom hunting. Weather apps such as The Weather Channel App, Weather Underground, and Dark Sky can be extremely useful for planning foraging trips and timing your search around rain and other environmental factors. Mapping apps and software can also be extremely useful for plotting your search, or recording areas where you have found mushrooms and other wild edibles previously. GIS applications such as onX Maps are phenomenal tools for remote scouting and creating detailed maps of your findings to reference in the future.
Mushroom Hunting Knife
There’s an ongoing debate whether it is best to pluck or cut a mushroom from the ground. This debate mostly revolves around the question of whether plucking damages the fungi’s underground network of mycelium. Mycelia are a system of fine white filaments similar to the root structure of a plant. These mycelia serve many purposes for both the fungi and the ecosystem, but they are the main way in which fungi absorb nutrients from the soil. Many mushroom hunters choose to cut the mushroom rather than pull it up from the ground in order to leave the mycelium structure undisturbed. While really any knife will do, special mushroom hunting knives make the job a little easier. These foraging knives are similar to a paring knife, with a short curved blade, and often featuring a small brush on the pommel for removing dirt. If you don’t want to drop the cash on a specialty blade, a simple pocket knife and a small paintbrush will do the trick.
Foraging Bag or Basket
A foraging bag or basket is a great tool to have whether you’re mushroom hunting or harvesting other wild edible plants such as ramps, mustard, and dandelions. The bag can be as simple or as complicated as you’re willing to pay for, but the most important feature is airflow. The freshness of mushrooms deteriorates rapidly when they’re packed tightly, especially in hot and moist conditions. A mesh bag or woven basket lets them breathe. There are plenty of commercially made options on the market, from simple nylon to expensive waxed cotton bags, and wicker or metal baskets. An onion bag from the grocery store is also a great DIY option that will save you a few bucks.
A food dehydrator is a useful tool in any kitchen, and it will enable you to enjoy foraged mushrooms year-round. While there are other ways to preserve mushrooms such as freezing, canning, and pickling, drying is by far the most versatile and long-lasting method that will impact the flavor and texture of the mushroom the least. Sliced thin and dehydrated, mushrooms and other wild edibles can be stored for months or even years. Once rehydrated, you can incorporate them into countless dishes and they are a great base for many sauces.