How to Become a DIY Mushroom Forager

Botanarchy Herbs & Acupuncture

I often get asked how I got into the business of traipsing through the underbrush and scavenging in the sediment. Did I get all learned up in fancy college? How do I keep from dying valiantly by the miasmal dagger of a rogue toadstool? How can one discern the Shitakes from the shinola?

Here’s a guide for the slapdash forager, those urban swashbucklers after my own heart, armed with nuthin’ but a rusty pocketknife, mud-soaked boots, and the gallant heart of a hunter.

1. Frolic in the forest.

Hone your mushroom mind. This is a sublime state of mushroom gnosis, where the detritus comes alive with crowning caps, and the lichen lean in to whisper sweet nuthin’s in your ear. Never forget that you are a hunter-gatherer. You have a second sight that comes alive when beckoned, enabling you to spot your prey in the vast sprawl of primeval morass. We have to process a staggering mess of stimuli these days, dulling our best senses and thwarting spontaneous shamanic illumination at every twist and turn. Visualize the mushroom, and let it guide you where it will. Suddenly you will slip into a state both lucid and liminal, a primal summoning of your nomadic lust. This is the quintessence of foraging. I swoon at the very thought of it.

2. Research your feculent fortune.

Because you aren’t a super-sentient forest crone living in a hollowed out toadstool conversing with the deer & the dryads, you have no idea what you just dug up. After your hunting spree in the witchwood, you’ll want to take your precious toadstools home and identify them like a bona fide mycophile. Bust out the bifocals. Make a spore print, if you wanna show pony around. Check your specimens against your guidebooks, or use the vast swamp of myco-porn on the Internet. Become CONSUMED by minutia- it’s the only thing that will keep you topside of the soil. Here’s a smattering of my favorite resources for the budding forager:

The Fifth Kingdom: The crème de la crème of mycological textbooks.

Wood Decay Fungi: Keys, photographs, and descriptions of macroscopic fungi utilizing wood as a substrate in the Northeast United States.

MushroomExpert.com: Featuring my most favorite mushrooming tool, “What’s This Thing In My Yard?”

MykoWeb: The main attraction at MykoWeb is The Fungi of California. It contains photographs over 600 species of mushrooms and other fungi found in California, with over 480 of the species with descriptions. There are currently over 5400 total photographs of the mushrooms. Included are links to other online descriptions, and photos of the species treated plus references to common field guides. Hubba hubba!

3. Nerd out and join your local Mycological Society.

Mycological Societies hold local forays, invite guest lecturers, provide cookies, and typically have a handful of resident nut job mycologists who are just chomping at the bit to help you classify your mushies. Bring in your haul! High five your brethren! Best of all, you will enjoy the company of sympathetic folk who know their way around an artfully-placed mycological pun, and swoon at the curves of a bodacious Bolete. Find your local chapter online at http://www.namyco.org/clubs/index.html or http://msafungi.org/.

4. Get learned up on your trees.

Fungi and their arboreal blood brothers are inextricably linked in labyrinths of mycorrhizal matrimony. Morels love Ash, Amanitas love Aspen, and so goes the symbiotic Saturnalia of the forest floor. Knowing which fungi are sweet on which trees can often be the key to identifying ambiguous mushroom mysterions. Mushroom Expert has a fabulous catalogue of North American trees with their frequently associated mushroom kinfolk.

http://mushroomexpert.com/trees/index.html

5. Amass your library.

You simply must invest in the following tomes, of biblical importance in my ramshackle homestead:

Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora

All that the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora

The Complete Mushroom Hunter: An Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying Wild Mushrooms by Gary Lincoff

6. Go to mushroom camp.

SOMA Wild Mushroom Camp is held every January by the Sonoma County Mycological Association in the redwood-studded wilds of Occidental, California. It’s three days of woodland reverie, featuring forays, gourmet mushroom cuisine, and workshops on mushroom identification, cooking, dyeing, paper-making, medicine-making, photography, cultivation, and more. Being a dyed-in-the-wool nerd of the highest degree, this was just about the best thing that ever happened to my natty old soul. We ate homemade mushroom chocolates, and traipsed through the fandangled forest like Hansel and Gretel, with overflowing baskets and the folksy wisdom of our fearless leader, Gary Lincoff  (he was that year’s guest speaker). Hello, wet dream! Before the foray, I chastised my boyfriend for his behemoth basket with a cool “let’s not get cocky here, kid.” Much to my surprise, we filled the whole damn thing, and were chastising ourselves for our paltry accoutrements (we are from the mushroom wasteland of Los Angeles, after all). By the end of the foray, I had of reams of Russulas and heaps of Amanitas shoved down my cleavage, and was bartering mushroom real estate with my fellow frolickers. We ate wild mushroom pizza for WEEKS. Then we went back to camp, identified our burly bounty, ate a wild boar, drank some homemade wine, met some folks changing the world with emergent mushroom technology, and listened to Lincoff wax poetic late into the eve on foraging psychotropic ‘shrooms. So yeah…best weekend ever.

http://www.somamushrooms.org/camp/

7. Become fabulously wealthy, and Mushroam around the world with Daniel Winkler.

This is what I wish for on dandelion tendrils and falling stars. The Indiana Jones of wild Cordyceps, Daniel Winkler leads medicinal mushroom forays into Tibet and the Bolivian Amazon, as well as the glamorous hinterlands of the Pacific Northwest. Altogether badass, his field guides to edible mushrooms are also top-notch, and he’s doing wonders for rural communities whose economies are based on mushroom-medicine.

http://www.mushroaming.com/

8. Don’t be a hero.

The mushroom spirit is a capricious mistress who eats chumps like us for breakfast. Mushrooms, by their very nature, are destroyers. Therein lies their mystery and moxie. There are plentiful reasons they have the nom de guerres ‘Destroying Angel’ and ‘Death Cap’…they allow us to walk between worlds, yet they often slam the door behind them. There is nothing glamorous about sacrificing children whilst being ravaged by Satan in a robust bout of Amanita psychosis (well, maybe there is…but it ain’t worth the gamble when ya get right down to it), or having your liver decompose in mere hours in a necromantic tango with the Deadly Galerina. Every year she claims new souls, and even the most reverent and skilled are not above her diabolical law. Experts die at the behest of these sorcerous specters every year- do be a dearheart, and DON’T BECOME ONE OF THEM.

http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/news-5-truly-toxic-mushrooms

9. Semper Fi, buttercups!

I have a knife and a field guide on me at all times (an Opinel and The Field Guide to Edible Mushrooms of California, should you ask). You never know what sort of illuminated treasures lie in wait within the cracks and crevasses of urban decay. You have promised your heart to the wildwood now, and must always be prepared for her succulent surprises.

Urban Forage: Bottlebrush Tea

Bottlebrush Tea

There’s a general rule of thumb whilst perusing the patches of our plastic pasture, hot on the trail of frolicsome foraged foliage…if the bees are sweet on it, you can bet your boots that it’ll sweeten your pot as well. The bees have been all up on the grill of my local Bottlebrush trees, prompting me to get all pensive and wonder “can I put ya in me?!” 

The answer is a resounding yes, and I reckon she’s sweeter than a July ham. Folks in the know have been sippin’ on Callistemon Citrinus for ages, and a tea of its leaves is perfectly sweetened by a smattering of its flowers. It’s like Gypsy tears sipped from cups of Tuberose during a tea party with imaginary friends on a decrepit wrap-around porch in the ether. For a genteel pot, throw in a generous handful of leaves and 3-4 red boughs of blossoms. Steep for longish spell to coerce all the sweet brouhaha from the boughs, and enjoy with a homemade pickle plate or a Rose-Geranium poundcake (recipe pending). Oh, and like pretty much everything that’s stuck in the ground, Bottlebrush tea has been found to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant activity. Pinkies up, brah!

Forest Fête

Botanarchy

Whilst wading waist-high in the Tule River this past weekend, knee deep in a pilgrimage of ancient longings and primitive passions, I lost myself in an accidental ritual to the Hamadryads. 

Trudging upstream with my best gal by my side and a heart full of oakmoss & pine resin, we clamored up rocks on paths that winter shut down months ago. Hiking with wild visions of my love & I exploding in arboreal awesomeness, the forest suddenly spasmed alive into a hallucinatory vortex of beating wings.  Lickety-split, I was ensconced in orgies of ladybugs, consecrating every inch of the forest floor whilst making a boudoir of my face. They dripped from every branch and clung to every leaf in concupiscent splendor, copulating, humming, in a resplendent chorus of  “Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes!”, consummating every prayer ever invoked to panoplies of Gods both alive and dead.

With an indolent salute to lackadaisical repose, Ladybugs engage in Diapause- the insect version of hibernation- for up to nine months at a time. Like Victorian ladies-in-wait, they dream away the wintry months, conserving their resources to boost reproduction once the temperature warms to a sultry 55 degrees. The insect equivalent of the ‘disco nap’, this intrepid bout of Qi cultivation serves to facilitate epic balling. Cause once Ladybug sexytime commences, it’s a full dance card of four-hour tantric orgies and major STD’s. Seriously though. If both the male and the female have not mated recently, they will sex it up for about 275 minutes. If their libidinous desires have recently been quenched, they’ll have a paltry 176-minute rendezvous. The male grips the female from behind and holds on tight, conjoined in ecstatic confluence for their entire tete-a-tete. Ladybugs are uber promiscuous, and have ponderous amounts of exotic STD’s infecting 90% of some populations (more STD’s than any other insect BY FAR). Epically, enviously, licentious, they have no shame…they will mate on your hands, your face, discarded boughs of White Pine, ashen logs of lichen and rot, piles of fecund dead foliage, graves of dirt and fruiting fungal bodies (lucky them). Female Ladybugs can store a male’s sperm for 2-3 months, swathing the heavenly elixir in their loins until Aphids blow in on the breeze, and egg-laying time is nigh. It’s enough to make me collapse in a swoon, and be left for dead on the forest floor for the remainder of my days.

Foraged: Black Cat Lobster Mushroom Bisque

Botanarchy

My favorite activity in the whole woebegone world is to show-pony around the morning after a rainstorm! SO many critters & creatures to behold. I can hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of all the new mushies! Spotted these lookers on the corner of Whitworth and Ogden in Miracle Mile.