I see mushrooms. I see them everywhere. I have a supernatural ability to see what is hidden to most people. Okay…well, really not, but now that I’m actually deliberately looking for mushrooms on the forest floor, I’m actually noticing them. I used to just walk on by without seeing them. Except for puffballs. I always notice those loveable little puffballs.
Around here, in Slocan Valley, BC, fall is the best time for collecting mushrooms. And not having any supernatural mushroom finding powers, I signed up for an outing with a local expert. Known as “The Mushroom Guy”, Robert teaches courses at the local college and he really knows his fungi. He has not only studied mushrooms around the world but he’s also worked at mushroom farms. His big mushroom buying tip: commercially-grown, store-bought organic mushrooms are the same as non-organic store-bought commercially-grown mushrooms. Commercial button mushrooms are not sprayed with pesticides. Save your money.
Back to the magical mushroom tour….the high level of moisture in the Slocan Valley creates a perfect habitat for many species of shrooms, magic and otherwise. We saw so many dozens of species, I decided I wanted to come away from this tour remembering 3 that are edible and easily identifiable.
Mushrooms can be identified by their many features including color, cap, stem, gills, and spores. Location and growing conditions also help with identification, e.g. our local edible oyster mushrooms only grow on poplar trees, not to be confused with a similar looking but inedible species that grows on birch trees. When choosing mushrooms in the forest, you need to observe growing location as well as multiple features to ensure correct identification. Many mushrooms are poisonous and correct identification is critical.
Here are the 3 I can now confidently identify for eating (you may know them by different names):
1) Suillus species
These became my dinner – see below. Some mushrooms hide well on the forest floor because they look like dried leaves.
Suillus have pores instead of gills under the caps. Robert suggested scraping off the pores because some people find them slimy.
Some species of Suillus mushrooms can also have hollow stems.
The Suillus mushroom tops pictured below look slightly different from the others but still have the Suillus characteristic of spongy looking pores on the underside. These Suillus have a yellow ring on the outside of the top of the cap and look like they have been glazed.
2) Lobster mushrooms
The reddish-orange color is caused by a parasite (not harmful to humans). Lobster mushrooms grow on the forest floor where there are cedar and hemlock trees, mostly hemlocks.
Their appearance can be somewhat unsettling and even sinister. My neighbor collected some for his wife and she asked if he was trying to poison her. No. No. They are edible and tasty and highly valued by locals in this area.
3) Oyster Mushrooms
Alas, we found no oyster mushrooms on our quest that day. But there are plenty of photos on the internet. They grow on the sides of poplar trees, aka cottonwoods. They are a shelf-type mushroom and literally look like oysters in color, shape, and texture.
Some unidentified mushrooms
Can you name this mushroom?
What about this one?
We weren’t able to find any of the famous Chicken of the Woods. Have you ever tried them?
I came home and found some Suillus in my own yard and feeling like a happy hobbit, I fried them up with some spinach and red pepper. Delicious!
Robert advised that with most mushrooms, its best to eat them cooked. Some are only considered edible if they are boiled three times in fresh water. Be sure you know what you’re getting before you eat or touch any wild mushrooms. You will notice from the photos here that our guide wore gloves when he was handling the mushrooms, just in case he picked up something that he couldn’t identify.
This afternoon’s course made me feel very confident about collecting three edible species. I hope this inspires you to do some research on your own local mushrooms. Collecting mushrooms is a nice way to spend an afternoon outdoors strolling through the moss.