Collecting & Preserving Mushrooms from the Wild

Collecting Basics

When you are collecting edible mushrooms be sure to walk over the exact same ground from different angles; walk up the hill and see the stalks first; walk downhill and see their camouflaged caps; walk east or west during mid-day sunshine and the mushrooms and their shadows stand out; walk north or south on the same slope and you may not be able to see them at all. Your timing, as well as temperature and humidity are key. Get acquainted with forest maps that let you know where there have been previous forest fires, what the elevations are, etc. Also, be aware of the limits and conditions posed by your free mushroom permit.

I probably don’t have to remind you that the most important rule when eating wild mushrooms is to be absolutely positive of their identification. Even if you are correct, a majority of mushroom poisoning cases involve edible mushrooms, not toxic ones. Unsafe collection methods, and the storage of mushrooms considered safe to eat, cause most of the illnesses. They can become contaminated with toxic micro-organisms if they aren’t stored properly or consumed soon after picking. Harvesting mushrooms at 77 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and carrying them in plastic bags for more than three hours in hot weather, contribute to their toxicity. Put in paper or wax bags and separate, especially the edibles from the others. Never use plastic bags because they limit good air flow and the fungi will not stay in their best condition. Keep the mushrooms cool and refrigerate as soon as possible. You could have an ice chest handy in the car.

Use a large, open basket with a flat bottom for collecting. Select only mushrooms in excellent condition, leaving the decaying and insect ridden ones. Do not collect mushrooms after prolonged, heavy rains. If they are water-logged they lose their flavor, as well as their color and form, sometimes making it harder to identify them.

Briefly clean the mushrooms as you pick them. You don’t want to have dirty mushrooms in your collecting basket to contaminate the others. Use a knife to trim soil from the base and use a mushroom brush (a small, soft-bristled brush available in the housewares department) to rid your mushrooms of any sand, dirt, or other forest debris. Trim off any parts that are bruised or won’t be used, such as tough stalks. Also trim away any wormy parts. You may need to slice open the mushroom to see if bugs are inside. Cantharellus species are usually free of worms and other insects, but other mushrooms such as the Cauliflower Mushroom (Sparassis radicata), Pig’s Ears (Gomphus clavatus) and members of the genus Boletus are often infested.

Once home some people wash their mushrooms to clean them, some only brush them or use a damp paper or cloth towel. It may depend on how dirty, wet, or dry they are. One reason for cleaning or washing your mushrooms, especially before drying them, is because they will end up being gritty, sandy, or dirty, especially King Boletes, Morels, and Black Trumpets. I usually like to just quickly wash the mushrooms in a bowl of water to remove any clinging debris; shake them to dislodge both debris and water; and dry on paper towels. Allow them to air dry before storing in paper bags in the refrigerator. Most mushrooms don’t need to be peeled unless they have a slimy layer on their caps, such as the Slipper Jacks.

The teeth/spine fungi have places that insects can hide so soaking them in salt water for 10-15 minutes may be needed to remove the bugs. Slice through the caps and stalks to see if there are any insects still hiding out. You can usually just cut out the affected parts and use the rest of the mushroom, unless there is just too much infestation.

Never eat morels raw, and it is best not to eat any wild mushrooms raw. Thorough cooking rids morels of toxins and makes them perfectly safe for almost everybody. BUT always use the rule to only eat a small amount the first time you taste any new mushroom, then wait at least 24 hours before eating any more, just in case you have a reaction.

Do not mix different types of mushrooms that you have not eaten before in your recipe. If you mix them and then have symptoms, you won’t know which one made you sick. It is best not to drink alcohol when consuming wild mushrooms until you know if a particular mushroom is going to cause any symptoms. It is also important to learn which mushrooms are more likely to cause symptoms when eaten in combination with alcohol. When you eat a mushroom for the first time save at least one specimen in the refrigerator just in case you misidentified it and were poisoned. Now an expert will need to identify that mushroom so you can get treatment, if needed.