We had the pleasure of being lead on a mushroom forage by Norfolk Field Naturalist President, Inga Hinnerichsen. Inga has become a great friend of ours since she began visiting the brewery in our early days, always with a good story or two to share. Inga first learned about wild mushrooms in Finland, where she is from. She learned the scientific names of mushrooms and wildflowers from her father, who she endearingly calls a Nature Nut.
Our identification hike and forage took place in mid-September. Inga led our small group through the lush Carolinian forests among St Williams. We brought our collection back to the brewery to sort, clean and confirm identification. We then turned our forage over to owner and chef, Mel Doerksen, who made a delicious wild mushroom risotto and chose a wine pairing that we enjoyed together as the late summer afternoon faded into evening. What a pleasure; gathering and learning about what the Earth has to offer, and transforming it into an enriching experience to be shared among friends.
When foraging for and identifying mushrooms, it is of utmost importance to have access to an expert’s opinion and the proper tools.
Mushroom Foraging Tools:
- Basket or box lined with newspaper
- Field Guide and Identification books (with pictures)
- Notebook and pencil
It takes a keen eye to spot your first mushroom Once you catch sight of your first, you start to develop an eye for finding more, especially of the same variety. If there is one mushroom, it is likely there will be more, close by, as each variety grows in certain environmental conditions. Mushrooms are unique: they’re different from animals or plants; they are from the fungi kingdom. There are millions of varieties, and we have barely scratched the surface in learning about them and their properties. Mycology is the branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi. They don’t get their nutrients through photosynthesis or by eating and digesting food. Their microscopic roots, called mycelium, break down nutrients from the soil and other organic matter that they grow in.
Inga says “Mushrooms are notoriously finicky: they do not appear like clockwork in the same places at the same time every year,” in the article she wrote for the October installation of the Port Rowan Good News, titled “This year looks very busy for mushroom outings.”
The conditions must be just right. Springtime or late summer/early fall are the best seasons to find them. They like a moist environment that is not too hot and not too cold. Just after it rains is a great time to go foraging. Mushrooms “pop up” for just a few days; you want to get them on the first or second day ideally, in their peak ripeness. “You can pick as many as you desire,” Inga says, “it is like picking apples from a tree.” But keep your surroundings in mind: if you are on protected land, you must not take anything, and just leave everything as it is.
Inga has many years of experience in foraging, and she uses several guide books as reference. She says it’s always good to reference at least two sources when identifying mushrooms.
- “Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada” by George Barron
- “The Audubon North American Field Guide to Mushrooms” by the National Audubon Society
When in doubt, don’t eat the mushroom, because as they say, “all mushrooms are edible, some of them, only once.” It’s good practice to carry a map of the area you are exploring, as foraging can often lead you into new territory. And keep in mind, the best findings are usually off the beaten path. You can record the conditions and locations for reference in identification and for your next forage.
The edible varieties we collected on our hike were: Cinnabar Chanterelles, Old-man-of-the-Woods and Honey mushrooms. You need a knife for cutting the mushroom, and a brush for scraping off dirt or any undesirable part you wish to discard. You can buy specialty foraging tools, but a kitchen paring knife and bristly brush or a stiff paint brush will do just fine. Some mushrooms must be cut open for identification. Puff balls for instance, are only edible if completely white on the inside.
The Greater Good:
The mushroom’s mycelium connects with the greater part of the organism, the mycorrhizal network, found underground in the forest. This fungal root network is intertwined with the roots of the trees, and sustains the forest at large. It enables the sharing of nutrients and minerals through symbiotic relationships. In mycology literature, the network is commonly referred to as the “World-Wide-Wood,” working like the internet, in information and resource sharing.
Most mushrooms either have gills or pores, depending on the genus, and these are commonly found under their cap. This is where the spores are stored, until they are spread by the wind or are transferred by animals. The spores allow for the root system to spread, allowing the organism to reproduce.
This is a method to further identify mushrooms and another interesting way to learn about them and their properties. Individual spores are tiny: they can only be seen through a microscope. Spore printing allows you to see a group of spores and their colour, which is usually a shade between black and white, or a brown and cinnamon. To make your print, you cut off and discard the stem of the mushroom, and place the cap face down on paper or a microscope slide, add a couple drops of water, then leave it for a few hours. When you remove the cap, you are left with a print that is unique to that mushroom. Many guidebooks have pictures of these prints to reference in identification. These prints also just make really cool art.
Nutrition and Food Security:
As a food source, wild edible mushrooms are highly rich in protein and fiber, low in fat. A good source of vitamins (especially C, B and D) and minerals (potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, and zinc) from the rich organic matter they grow in, along with fatty and amino acids that we need for a healthy diet. They also carry healing properties and value in traditional medicine such in boosting the immune system, and the prevention and treatment of diseases such as Parkinson’s, cancer and Alzheimer’s (“Edible Mushrooms: Improving Human Health and Promoting Quality Life” National Library of Medicine).
Not only are wild mushrooms a great alternative to the processed foods we find in supermarkets, they represent a sustainable food source. You can dehydrate, freeze and/or share your forage with your neighbours. We need to move in this direction to fight the food security crisis the world is currently facing.
We will be doing more fungi foraging events next mushroom season (springtime)! So stay tuned! Drop by the brewery on our Thursday local’s night to meet the amazing Inga. You might even get a show-and-tell if it’s the right season. 😉
Interested in becoming a member of the Norfolk Field Naturalists? They have interesting speaker presentations on Zoom and various events to take part in throughout the seasons.
Nature of Norfolk on Facebook
Contact the brewery and we will put you in touch with Inga.
By: Ms E Hoey