By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
It’s been a long summer here on Turtle Ridge, but we are more than thankful for the bounty of the garden and of the wild plants and trees in our forest and meadows. And with the recent rain and cool fall temperatures signaling the arrival of fall, wild foragers like myself can’t wait to hit the woods in search of delectable wild fungi. After posting a few pictures of my own ‘ground scores’ last year, many readers wanted to know more about how to identify and use the fabulous fungi in the Ozarks. This is for all you budding mycologists out there!
Here on Turtle Ridge, the first harvest of the year was a new mushroom to my palate. I’ve read about them and seen pictures of them, but this was the first time I found oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus pulmonarius ) in the wild. Was I ever excited!
These tasty morsels popped out of a dead standing tree in the yard not thirty feet from the front door. They were so white against the rain-soaked bark that they couldn’t have hidden themselves if they wanted to.
After conferring with the folks over at the Missouri Mycological Society, I picked them and sautéed them in a little butter. Oh, my! What a treat!
You can find more information on positively identifying oyster mushrooms at the Mycological Society of San Francisco (MSSF) website, where they have excellent resources for everything shroomy, including an entire book, entitled: Wild About Mushrooms: The Cookbook of the Mycological Society of San Francisco, by Louise Freedman.
Still on my list of shrooms to watch for this fall are the Honeys (Armillaria species). I found a plethora of these little beauties last year – both ringed and ringless – but failed to identify them properly before they deteriorated.
If you like wild edible and medicinal plants, you might like my book:
A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozark High Country
The reason I didn’t just pick them straightaway is that they had gills and could possibly be confused with the deadly poisonous Jack O Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) I’d been warned repeatedly to avoid. For the novice mushroom hunter, a positive ID is crucial for all gilled mushrooms.
But thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable folks populating the Missouri Mycological Society’s Facebook page, I was able to post pictures of my find and get a proper identification.
Of course, my favorite wild edible fungi is just gearing up for the season and I’ve heard many reports of them being spotted in my area already.
Though they come in colors ranging from pink, yellow, gold, and cream – coral mushrooms (Clavaria and Ramaria species) are really easy to identify. If they look like dense ocean coral, they’re edible corals.
Corals are best harvested by using a sharp knife to cut the ‘stem’ at the very base at soil level. This helps keep the fungi from crumbling into a thousand fragile pieces.
The only caveat to the ‘edible’ label is that some people experience nausea after consuming corals. I’ve been told that this unfortunate side-effect can be dealt with by not keeping any coral that has a slimy base.
With that in mind, be sure and check each and every coral you pick for any sign of slime and return those that have it to the earth.
For lots of great photos of corals and other mushrooms, check out David Fischer’s website, American Mushrooms. And if you are really into to fungal botany – or you want to be – The Mushroom Expert is a must!
Of course, if you are setting out on your own mushroom foray for the first time, be prepared to properly identify all specimens before consuming.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has many excellent resources, including field guides, online images and descriptions. Just type the word “mushroom” into the sites search box and a wealth of related articles are at your disposal. For those a little nervous about wild mushrooms, check out the FAQ entitled Basic Mushrooming. This well-written fact-sheet answers many of the questions first-timers have about foraging for wild fungi.
Also available from MDC online is Edible Mushrooms, an excellent resource for anyone interested in wild, edible fungi that includes interesting factoids such as Description, Habitat and Conservation, Distribution, Status, Life Cycle, Human and Ecosystem Connections. The MDC also has a free, full-color pamphlet by the same name, available at any MDC office.
Set in the rugged heart of the Ozark mountains, A Journey of Seasons is memoir, back-to-the-land handbook and nature guide rolled into one. Henderson’s 20-years of living off the land and foraging in the wilderness shines in this cyclopedic work filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor. This is one journey you don’t want to miss.
Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.