Safely Foraging for Mushrooms is a Perfect Fall and Winter Activity!
Have Fungi. But Be Careful! That was the title of a Forest Service mushroom identification poster from the early 1990s, and these words of wisdom have never been truer than today. Foraging for edible mushrooms has become more popular in recent years than ever before, and although it’s an amazing experience, we need to always put safety first when inviting locals and visitors to search for these culinary delicacies. Oregon offers a large variety of naturally occurring edible mushrooms in the wild, and Newport is right in the heart of some of the best mushroom foraging in the state.
When you talk with folks who regularly search for mushrooms, they’ll more than likely tell you that mushroom hunting is just one part of a greater connection to nature that they are constantly seeking. Many regular mushroom foragers around Newport are also actively harvesting fish, crab, clams, and mussels from the ocean and coastal waterways as well as herbs and plants from local forests. They’ll tell you things that put this into a larger perspective, like the importance of identifying the kinds of trees in a forest where certain kinds of mushrooms grow, how to apply specific field tests to mushrooms to make sure they’re the ones you want and not a variety or poisonous look-alikes, and how the most valuable takeaway from the experience is a sustainable harvest that practices stewardship above anything else.
Stewardship basically translates into respect for the land and all of the nature that is found there; it’s taking only what you need and leaving the area better than you found it if possible. It’s best to keep that in mind when you’re gathering anything from nature. Like harvesting only mushrooms that have matured and are not buttons, or fresh out of the ground. Don’t collect a whole patch of mushrooms when you find one, just take a few because it’s important to leave some for animals and to allow others to release their spores to reproduce future generations. Cut holes in your collection basket or use mesh containers so that spores can fall back into the forest as you walk through it. Don’t pick the mushrooms you harvest, always cut their stipes (or stems) just above the ground. The mushroom is just the fruiting body of the entire organism, while the fine white fibers under the soil called mycelium are the vegetative portion of the fungus.
We recommend that you take a mushroom-identifying walk, class, or workshop before you forage for mushrooms the first time. Organizations like the Oregon Mycological Society, the Cascade Mycological Society, and the Lincoln County Mycological Society are great resources for mushroom identification and education. They often organize foraging expeditions and provide updated information where you can find classes, workshops, talks, and events that focus on everything mushroom. Regional Forest Service offices and websites are also great places to find information about mushrooms, and groups like the Pacific Northwest Mushroom Identification Forum share information and images of recent findings throughout the region.
When you first head into the forest to hunt for mushrooms, there are a few things to keep in mind. You might want to become familiar with the mushrooms first before you harvest them by taking only pictures to identify them. It is recommended that you take the time to get to know specific mushrooms by searching for only one kind during early foraging expeditions. If you choose to collect mushrooms, it’s important to know what the regulations are for the specific areas that you will be gathering mushrooms from. Check Oregon mushroom picking permit information available from the Cascade Mycological Society or other trustworthy sources. Always bring a good field guide to help identify the edible mushrooms that you want so you won’t mistakenly bring home the wrong kinds. The Oregon Mycological Society has a comprehensive list of great field guides, but there are many others available elsewhere.
Always make absolutely certain that the kinds of mushrooms you’re taking home are edible, as some poisonous varietals look identical to the untrained eye and are toxic or even deadly. Train yourself to look for ridges and reject gills; mushrooms with gills are not always toxic, but many are. Gills can Kill! is a common adage among foragers. Always cook mushrooms to remove the toxins that are even present in edible mushrooms; clean off any soil or dirt, chop them up, and heat them in a pan until all of the liquid evaporates, when they are fully cooked, add them to your culinary creations or freeze them in plastic bags for later. Only eat a small amount of mushrooms any time you try new varietals, as mushrooms affect individual people’s digestive systems differently.
The best times to forage for coastal mushrooms are from late August through November and some years even into early December. Fall is when many of the edible kinds of mushrooms are out, although some species, like morels, oyster mushrooms, and spring kings (boletes), are found in the spring between March and May. The weather is the biggest factor when deciding on a time to look for mushrooms; it’s best to go out after a few days of rain when the ground is wet and soft. Here are a few common mushroom varietals that are found in the forests around Newport and throughout the Oregon Coastal Range:
Chanterelles are Oregon’s official state mushroom. These bright orange- or salmon-colored fungi are flute-shaped and easy to identify; they should break like chalk, have solid white insides, and peel like string cheese. The distinctive thick texture and fruity apricot flavor of chanterelles make them a popular culinary find. Be extra careful when harvesting chanterelles because there are look-alikes that are very toxic.
Matsutake are also called pine mushrooms. They are large, snowy-white mushrooms with a long stipe, and are well-known for their interesting flavor which has been described as a combination of dirty socks and cinnamon. Matsutake’s are a favorite of Japanese consumers and are sought after by commercial pickers for export, so there are special rules and regulations to know before you harvest them.
Lobster mushrooms are bright orange-red and are easy to spot sprouting out of the forest floor. They are large in size, and strangely, they are a parasitized version of another kind of mushroom that is completely white but is forced to turn color when infected. In addition to having the color of a lobster, these mushrooms also smell a bit like cooked seafood.
Boletes or “king boletes” are massive mushrooms with hamburger-bun-shaped caps that can exceed 9 inches wide atop a short, squat stipe. They are also found in Italy where they are called porcini which means “little pig” or “piglet” and are excellent when grilled or added to soups.
In addition to these varietals, you can also forage for shaggy mane (or inky caps), chicken of the woods, cauliflower mushrooms, shrimp russula, candy caps, and honey mushrooms. The temperate forests around Newport are perfect for both beginning and skilled mushroom foragers. We hope you use this basic guide as a starting point when heading into the woods with a camera and field guide in search of mushrooms, and hopefully, you will develop not only a new hobby but also a more meaningful bond with the natural world around you.