Once the snow melts, anticipation of spring ephemerals grows, and the yearning of finding that first edible mushroom of the year intensifies.
Every year, more and more people become increasingly interested in learning how to forage for mushrooms. Often, enthusiasm overrides logic when heading into the woods and it can never be stated enough, many mushrooms can take your life. Some tips to help the novice forager:
- Find a wild food educator in your area to help you with in-person teaching.
- If you choose to use an app, use it as a guide. Some mushrooms are very difficult to id and an app is not enough. Many can be used to help steer you in the right direction of getting a positive id.
- Build your own library of mushroom identification books. Regardless of your budget, check out used bookstores. Not only are the books more affordable, but you are supporting local. If you do not have a used bookstore near you, check out Thriftbooks. (Based in the U.S., they ship to Canada and their prices (even with postage) are affordable.)
- Be 100 percent certain of what you’re picking. If you are unsure of identification, take one to do a spore print.
- Take several close-up photos of the cap, under the cap, the stipe (stem), and the area in which you found it. Knowing what trees or plants it grows close to may be critical to a positive id.
- To minimize the risk of allergic reactions, it is imperative that all edible wild mushrooms be cooked before consuming. Eat a very small portion whenever eating a species you’ve never eaten before. Never consume more than one new species of mushroom at the same time.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Wildlife may be in the forest with you. Chances are they will never bother you; however, it is critical to be tick-savvy. Depending on the area you are in, ticks are out there and protecting yourself is so important. Be sure to always do a tick check!
Will you be 100 percent successful every time? No, but that is part of the enjoyment of getting out there, getting fresh air, and experiencing the thrill of finding a new type of mushroom (edible or not). Chances are you may never find what you hope to the first time, or for a long time. For example, morels have fooled many a seasoned forager unless they know of a specific honey hole.
Although the following is not a complete listing of edible springtime mushrooms, it is a brief guide to help you find what may be out there in the spring (in most areas of the U.S. and Canada). Not all of these may taste that great, but they are safe to consume once cooked. If you think you have found one or more of these, always cross reference with other sources to confirm identification.
Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus)
Dryad’s saddle, also known as pheasant back, is a saprobe on fallen logs and tree stumps, yet it is also found growing parasitically on hardwood trees such as maple, elm, box elder and other deciduous trees. The smaller the better for texture and taste. The best time to go looking for these is a day or two after a long hard rain.
Jelly Ear (Auricularia polytricha-judae)
Jelly ear is a saprobic fungi, and is found on dead and decaying elder wood; also on the branches of elder trees that are dying. On the rare occasion, they can grow as a weak parasite on the trunks of living elders. It is rare but not unknown to find this fungus on other kinds of deciduous trees such as the sycamore, beech and ash.
Mica Cap (Coprinellus micaceus)
Mica caps are relatively easy to identify. These medium-sized mushrooms appear in dense clusters on dead wood and feature brown caps coated with a distinctive dusting of salt-like or mica-like granules. They spoil quickly and should be cooked the same day they are picked.
Morels (Morchella Spp.)
Yellow and black morels are common throughout most of the continent. They are found in moist areas, around dying or dead sycamore, elm trees and ash trees, and in burn sites under conifers. They blend in with the leaf litter making it hard to spot them. Many European foragers claim to have luck finding morels in areas in which cowslip (Primula veris) plants grow. This plant grows in only some areas throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Oysters (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Oysters grow on dead deciduous logs but more often on dead alders. If it rains enough and it’s not too hot or cold, depending on your geographical location, you can find them almost any month of the year. Although you can find these in spring, they tend to be most common in late summer and autumn.
Scarlet Elf Cups (Sarcoscypha austriaca)
Scarlet elf cup fungus is fairly widespread. It favors wet or damp areas and can be seen on decaying sticks and branches, especially those buried in leaf litter on the woodland floor. Flipping up the leaf litter to find decaying sticks is recommended if you want to find these.
Sidewalk Mushroom (Agaricus bitorquis)
This common spring mushroom is also known as the Spring Agaricus or the Pavement Mushroom because it often appears on the edges of paved areas and sometimes even breaks through asphalt. Usually in groups, they are quite sturdy and relatively easy to identify. Be sure that it does not turn yellow when bruised or when cut, if it does then it is the poisonous Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus) which is in the same family.
Wine Caps (Stropharia rugosoannulata)
Wine caps are robust fungi, growing quickly on woody debris. Although they grow in spring, they can persist into summer depending on conditions. Wine caps grow individually, or in large clusters arising from wood chips, wood chip laden soil, or soil surrounding wood chips. They can be common in urban areas; in fact, many people find these in their gardens.