This article was originally published by Catherine Winter on www.morningchores.com
Mycophiles worldwide share an intrinsic love of mushrooms and with good cause! There are so many tasty and medicinal species out there, and it’s always a delight to find these elusive beauties. If you’re an avid mushroom hunter—or you want to be—know that some locations will yield far more than others.
In this article, we will look at some popular edible and healing mushrooms, as well as where you’re most likely to find them.
The mushrooms listed here are some of the most common (and tastiest) wild fungi species you’ll find on your nature hikes. Please ensure that you identify these species correctly before tasting a single bite.
Additionally, determine whether what you’ve found needs to be cooked to a specific temperature to render it safely edible. Some mushrooms can be eaten raw, while others have to be cooked thoroughly.
I’ve witnessed people get into physical altercations while morel hunting, as these tasty, elusive mushrooms are just that treasured. They’re found worldwide, with over 70 species in the Morchella genus growing on five continents.
Depending on your location, the morels that grow in your area may appear anywhere from early spring to mid-autumn. In temperate North America, they often show up between March and June after heavy rains.
These velvety yellow-orange mushrooms (Cantharellus spp.) grow in mixed coniferous and deciduous forest areas throughout North America and Europe.
Here in Quebec, I commonly find them in areas where pine and spruce trees are interspersed with maples and oaks. They never grow on trees: only in the soil near these tree species.
These meaty, flavorful mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.) can be found on dead and dying trees worldwide. You’ll never find them growing out of the ground: they bloom outwards horizontally from various hardwood species, especially beech, birch, and oak trees.
They’re late autumn fruiters and can usually be found in chilly weather, even after a frost.
Indigo Milk Caps
There are very few species out there that are naturally vibrantly blue, but indigo milk caps (Lactarius indigo) are high on the list.
You’ll find these in mixed coniferous and deciduous forests throughout eastern North and Central America, parts of Europe (namely France), and East Asia. They’re particularly prevalent in the Appalachians, as well as in parts of Honduras and Malaysia.
Look for them at soil level in damp floodplains throughout the summer months.
Wine Cap Stropharia
These luscious-looking mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata) are indigenous to Europe, North, and South America, but have been introduced to Australia, NZ, and South Africa.
They grow in nutrient-rich soil, as well as in areas that have been disturbed (e.g., old homesteads or regions damaged by fire). Interestingly, they can also be found growing in piles of rotting straw, wood, bark, and compost.
They don’t like intense heat, so they only grow in springtime and autumn.
You’ll find these delicious, shaggy mushies (Hericium erinaceus) growing on dead and dying logs from late summer through late autumn. Although it’s primarily found on hardwood deciduous species in North America, you’ll occasionally find it on conifers.
Some say that these fungi have a seafood-like flavor and texture, though others report that they take on the flavor of whatever ingredients they’re cooked alongside.
You may have seen these (Calvatia gigantea) growing in yours or your neighbors’ yards and either fought (or indulged in) the desire to yeet them into the stratosphere. Please don’t!
Instead, harvest them and transform them into tasty snacks. You’ll find these delicious mushrooms in fields, meadows, and primarily deciduous forests worldwide throughout the summer and early autumn.
These are only edible while they’re still pale and smooth: once they get discolored or have a spongy interior instead of a solid white one, their toxicity increases.
Although there are many edible species worldwide, king boletes (Boletus edulis) are among the most desirable. They’re indigenous to North America, Europe, and Asia, but have been introduced to parts of South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
If you’re in the PNW, you may be lucky enough to find the California king bolete (Boletus edulis var. grandedulis), which is enormous and dark-hued. You’ll find these throughout the summer and autumn, growing on soil near pines, spruces, firs, and oaks.
These are also referred to as American matsutake mushrooms (Tricholoma magnivelare, T. murrillianum) and grow throughout North America. They’re found in predominantly coniferous woodlands, often growing on the soil in amongst pine trees (hence their monikers).
You’ll find these throughout the autumn after the warm summer weather has waned. Furthermore, since these mushrooms grow around pine trees, you may need to brush deep needles aside to reveal them.
Note that poisonous white and pale yellow Amanita species are often mistaken for matsutake, resulting in hundreds of poisonings annually. Please be cautious when foraging.
Chicken of the Woods
If you ever come across these golden, frilled bracket fungi, you’re in for a treat. They taste like chicken when cooked and are treasured ingredients in vegan cuisine. In fact, famed TikTok forager Alexis Nikole (aka “The Black Forager“) offers a great recipe for chicken of the woods nuggets here:
Although it’s most commonly found on oak trees across North America and Europe, it also grows well on other hardwoods such as cherry, chestnut, poplar, willow, and beech. Avoid harvesting any that grow on yew, however, because of that tree’s intense toxicity.
Speaking of vegan meat substitutes, you can find beefsteak polypores (Fistulina hepatica) throughout Europe and middle to eastern North America. Although rarer elsewhere, they occasionally appear in Oceania and South America, as well.
They pop up between late summer and late autumn, primarily on hardwoods like oak trees. In Australia and NZ, you can also find them growing on eucalyptus. As their name suggests, they look like slabs of red meat protruding from their host trees.
Hen of the Woods
These pop up in late summer and early autumn, in clusters at the base of hardwood trees such as oaks and maples. They’re known as “maitake” in Japanese, and can be found throughout North America, Europe, and parts of Asia.
Clusters of these mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) can grow to enormous sizes, weighing up to 100 lbs. In the USA, they’re primarily found in the northeastern states from late summer to mid-autumn.
While the other fungi on this list are various edible species, lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) are different life forms altogether.
This is because they aren’t actual mushrooms but parasitic ascomycete fungi that grow on milk caps and Russula species. They got their name because the fungi turn their host species the same intense red hue as cooked lobsters.
These are found in old-growth forests throughout North America from mid-summer to mid-autumn, with known concentrations in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, if you’re very lucky, you may find them at farmer’s markets in WA and OR.
Apparently, they have a rich, seafood-like flavor when cooked.
Although one of the fungi listed below is also edible, these are mostly harvested for their healing properties.
The chaga fungi (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungus that’s only found on birch (Betula) species in the northern hemisphere. It grows primarily on yellow and paper birch trees, in temperate and Arctic regions.
In North America, these trees can be found from the Carolinian forest up to the Alaskan taiga (northern Boreal).
Known as the “mushroom of immortality” in Chinese and Japanese traditional medicine, these mushrooms (Ganoderma spp.) are highly medicinal and prized by herbalists worldwide.
Different species will be found on different trees, but they only grow on dying and dead trees. Ganoderma tsugae grows primarily on dead conifers such as hemlock, spruce, and pine, whereas G. lucidum prefers deciduous hardwoods like chestnut and oak trees.
Highly medicinal turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) grow on many different tree species worldwide.
Although they seem to thrive on the stumps of dead hardwood trees, they can also grow in the wounds of said deciduous species and on fallen and decaying coniferous species. You can find them between May and December in the Northern hemisphere and between September and April in the Southern hemisphere.
Note that there are no poisonous Trametes species anywhere. Although these are inedible due to their leathery, unchewable texture, they have many medicinal properties that are worth looking into.
We mentioned these mushrooms (Calvatia gigantea) in the edible section above, but it’s important to mention them here, as well.
Giant puffballs are natural styptics, meaning that they can slow or stop blood flow. In fact, they used to be harvested before battles to use as wound dressings.
A Note on Mushroom Safety
As you probably already know, there are many lookalike mushrooms that can cause a great deal of harm if consumed. In the words of the ever-brilliant Terry Pratchett: “All mushrooms are edible, but some mushrooms can only be consumed once.”
If you aren’t absolutely certain about the species you’re harvesting, you could end up either violently ill, or in the Elysian Fields, so to speak.
For example, although the aforementioned morels are both easily identifiable and delicious, the false morel (Gyromitra esculenta) is lethal if consumed.
Furthermore, I’ve omitted several edible species on this list simply because they look too similar to deadly destroying angel or death cap mushrooms (Amanita spp.).
It’s always a good idea to join a local mycology club if there’s one nearby. They host nature walks and ID workshops so you can learn more about your local species (including potentially deadly lookalikes).
It’s always best to err on the side of caution. Unless you’re 100 percent certain that you’ve identified the mushrooms you’ve found, don’t eat them or take them medicinally, and definitely don’t serve them to other people.
Hundreds of people die from accidental mushroom poisoning annually—please don’t become another statistic.
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