Mushroom Harvesting

I have never picked a wild mushroom in the woods, taken it home, sautéed it up, and eaten it. I’m terrified to find myself experiencing a 5 day psychedelic trip, like my puppy found herself on, after a quick unthinking snap of her mouth on a mushroom early one morning a few years back, or worse, dead. So a friend, Wendy McCormack, recently invited me on a Mushroom Walk, put on by the Sandown Garden Club, and led by Ross Huntington, an experienced mushroom forager of 25 years.

We showed up on Sat., September 7th at 1pm, with the expectation of about 10 – 15 people would also be interested in learning about how to safely pick and eat wild mushrooms. We were wrong. Cars lined the parking lot and up and down the road outside of the Sandown Town Forest. There were about 60 people of all ages present for the walk.

Huntington, did his best to accomodate the large crowd. We circled around a picnic table and learned about common edible mushrooms in the area, and the ones to avoid. Afterwards, we walked thorough the woods foraging for anything that was possibly edible and a fungus.  We learned to look for mushrooms that looked like sponges versus your stereotypical Alice and Wonderland mushroom with the gills underneath.    We were warned that as novice mushroom foragers, to always avoid the mushrooms with gills. Another common and prevalent mushroom in the fall without gills, is the chicken mushroom that grows high on trees in layers.

We found two sponge like mushrooms, a little larger than the size of a pea growing off of old rotting trees on the ground.  I suppose it wasn’t bad for a start, but nothing to take home and make a meal out of.  We reconvened with the group and people were sharing their finds.  During this time, a young boy about 6 years old kicked up a bee hive in the leaves, and was stung.  Many bees started to swarm around our group.

My friend Wendy, was stung on the ankle and we decided to make our way out of the woods and back to our car.  Once we were in, what we thought, was the safe parking lot, more bees stung us, and made their way up our pants.  We hid behind a parked car, and stripped off our clothing to remove them from places the bees should not be.  I’m not sure what happened to all the other 60 people present, but we didn’t stick around to find out.

My first mushroom foraging was not the best experience, but I won’t give up.  I learned to only start looking for spongey looking mushrooms to eat and then always double and triple check with an experienced mushroom guide before actually eating what I find.   Foraging for wild edibles has a rebellious and dangerous feel to it, which sound perfect to me, but only if I learn to do it safely.