5 Best Mushrooms For First Time Foragers, According To An Expert

Unplug in nature and, if you’re lucky, get some tasty snacks straight from the earth, too.

<p>The Spruce Eats / Sabrina Tan, Peter Barrett</p>

The Spruce Eats / Sabrina Tan, Peter Barrett

In North America, mushrooms can be found from early spring all the way into winter, depending on your location. But it’s a complex subject, and potentially dangerous, which is why many people, despite being curious about foraging, are too intimidated to give it a try. How do you know which kinds are safe?

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If you’re eager to avoid fungal FOMO, the good news is that many of the tastiest edible fungi are among the easiest to identify, and can often be found near civilization (even in your own yard). I’ve been foraging mushrooms avidly since I moved to the Hudson Valley 15 years ago, and I consider it to be an essential part of my culinary practice.

Why Forage?

Foraging is an excellent way to spend more time outside, in nature, and connect with your food in a profound way. In Japan, forest bathing—spending time in the woods, being mindful and attentive—has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and even lower blood pressure. When foraging, respect the woods. Slow down, put your phone away, pay attention, and let your inner hunter-gatherer come out.

Foraging Basics

  • Use a mesh bag as you forage, so you scatter spores as you walk.

  • Always leave a few mushrooms in place to complete their life cycle.

  • Once you’re certain what they are, be sure to cook all wild mushrooms thoroughly before eating them.

Safety Note

This is not a comprehensive guide! Eating wild mushrooms safely requires 100% accurate identification. There are many regional variations and subspecies (especially for chanterelles and morels) that you should be aware of depending on where you live. Get some reputable books and a couple of apps for your phone, join some Facebook mushroom groups, and take walks with experts to learn your area before you head out on your own to find any kind of wild food. There are mycological clubs in most areas and they’re a great way to meet people and educate yourself. Above all, follow the tried-and-true safety rule: “When in doubt, throw it out.” It can take a while to train your eyes to spot some of these species.

1. Chicken-of-the-woods

<p>The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett</p>

The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett

Laetiporus sulphureus) aka sulfur shelf

  • Visual Description: Shelf fungus growing on living or dead trees, roots, or stumps. Polypore (no gills). Creamy white underside and lip, changing to yellow and often bright orange on top.

  • Where To Find: Across Europe and North America mostly east of the Rockies, from spring into fall

  • Taste: Mild and pleasant, and yes, a bit chickeny (or shrimp/crab/lobstery) when young and fresh. As they get older and larger, they become tough and woody and are not worth eating.

  • How To Enjoy: Great in adobo, stewed, or sautéed in butter with garlic and the herbs of your choice. They should be thoroughly cooked before eating.

*Note: Only eat these if they’re growing on hardwood. The type that grows on hemlock can cause gastric distress in some people.

2. Chanterelle

<p>The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett</p>

The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett

(Cantharellus spp.)

  • Visual Description: Shaped like plump funnels with no separation between cap and stalk, pale to medium orange exterior, creamy white interior, forked false gills (really ridges, not true gills) that run down the stalk. Grows out of the ground, individually, never out of wood or in connected clusters.

  • Where To Find: Widespread around much of the temperate world, usually during the summer in mixed conifer/hardwood forests and in open or grassy areas like paths or lawns bordering woods.

  • Taste: Wonderfully satisfying and complex, ranging from fruity to earthy. Some chanterelles contain a flavor compound also found in apricots; their Japanese name (anzutake) means “apricot mushroom.”

  • How To Enjoy: Sautéed with butter, garlic, and white wine and served on toast or tossed with pasta; brushed with oil and grilled on skewers. They don’t keep their flavor when dried, so sauté and then freeze them in bags if you want to preserve the harvest.

*Note: Learn to distinguish chanterelles from jack-o-lanterns, which will make you sick. It’s easy to tell them apart once you learn the key differences.

3. Black Trumpet

<p>The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett</p>

The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett

(Craterellus cornucopioides)

  • Visual Description: Thin-walled and conical (no separation between stalk and cap), they really look like little brown or black trumpets sticking out of the ground. As they produce spores, they turn a grayish-brown (similar looking to bloomed chocolate).

  • Where To Find: North America, Europe, and Asia, at the base of hardwood trees especially in mossy areas at the edge of paths or disturbed areas.

  • Taste: Earthy—very mushroomy, even with hints of truffle—with lots of umami and a fondness for cream-based sauces.

  • How To Enjoy: Sautéed with butter or cream and garlic, in soups and stews, on pizza. Trumpets dry particularly well and their flavor can become even more truffle-like.

*Note: Trumpets are a great beginner shroom since there really aren’t many species you could confuse them with. They are tricky to spot, though, so prepare to slow down and focus on the forest floor!

4. Maitake

<p>The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett</p>

The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett

(Grifola frondosa) aka hen-of-the-woods

  • Visual Description: Greyish-brown polypore (no gills) with white interior/underside that grows many curly, undulating lobes resembling coral. The heads can range from soccer ball-sized to over a yard across.

  • Where To Find: North America, Europe, East Asia at the base of older oak and other hardwood trees from late summer through early fall. Multiple heads often fruit around the same tree.

  • Taste: Savory, almost meaty, with an appealingly plump and juicy texture.

  • How To Enjoy: Sautéed, stewed, oiled and oven-roasted whole like a cauliflower, or salted and slow-cooked in olive oil like duck confit.

*Note: The only thing that really resembles maitake is the black-staining polypore (which helpfully does just that if you bruise it, making it easy to identify). These look-alikes are also safe and edible, but tough, so use them for making stock rather than eating if you find them instead of maitake.

5. Morel

<p>The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett</p>

The Spruce Eats / Peter Barrett

(Morchella esculenta and many others)

  • Visual Description: Coral, brains, aliens—choose your simile. Fascinatingly convoluted, roughly conical surfaces ranging from black to gray to pale yellow, with a hollow interior and stalk.

  • Where To Find: North America and Eurasia, in early spring, growing under different species of trees depending on the region and variety of morel.

  • Taste: Morels are related to truffles, and their flavor is appropriately sublime: they epitomize savory mushroominess, with umami for days.

  • How To Enjoy: Sauté them with garlic, cream, white wine, and a handful of field garlic (which likely grows where you found the morels). Spoon the mixture over slices of grilled sourdough. Eat. You’re welcome. Because they’re hollow, they’re also great for stuffing with anything from ground lamb to polenta.

*Note: There are a ton of different morels, including several kinds that mycologists are still arguing about whether to include in the family. Learn what kinds grow near you, and what conditions they prefer. And acquaint yourself with false morels so you can be sure that what you bring home is good to eat.

Read the original article on The Spruce Eats.