Foraging 1: Spring Mushroom Foray by Charis Hans-Storms
Thick fog surrounded us as my foraging classmates and I caravanned to the Frederick Municipal Forest for our mushroom expedition – a fitting wet environment for our class.
Mycologist and herbalist Jared Urchek led us in learning about fungi and lichen and the 13 mushrooms we discovered along our walk in the woods.
I was surprised at the variety of mushrooms we found in a relatively small area. Most of the mushrooms were past their prime so we did not harvest for eating, but they were still invaluable in learning identification.
Come along to see some of my favorites from our class.
Puffballs: Most Fun
The puffball is my earliest mushroom memory and I still experience child-like enjoyment at the puff of spores that erupt when the mushroom is touched. During our hike, we encountered three.
The Stalked Puffball is yellow and not edible.
When sliced open, the Pear-shaped Puffball, a wood digester, has thin skin and white flesh. It is edible; however, its sharp taste and smell can be off-putting.
The Pigskin Puffball has a thicker skin and is not edible, but has a lovely round shape and emits a very satisfying puff of spores.
Our guide, Jared, showed us a rare sight, a large grouping of Rock Tripe lichen. Like most lichen, they are very slow growing which makes it rare to see such a large number of this type of lichen growing undisturbed for so long in one spot. They have a slightly leathery or tripe-like feel. Although you can eat this lichen, in soup for example, Jared reminded us to only forage from what has already fallen off the rock and not disturb this magnificent colony.
Jelly Mushrooms: Gummy Bears of the Woods
The most texturally interesting mushrooms we encountered were two jelly mushrooms, known as Witches Butter and Wood Ear. Witch’s Butter (pictured in my out-of-focus shot) is bright yellow, edible, and can even be eaten raw. It’s not flavorful, but the texture can be like gummy bear candy. Wood Ear (not pictured) is also edible and is often dehydrated to a crisp and then rehydrated for soups. Interestingly, Wood Ear has blood-thinning properties and so is usually avoided by hemophiliacs since when eaten in quantity can cause purple bruising on the arms.
Warning in Pink
We also learned a valuable warning. Hot pink belongs many places, but it is not a good look for edible mushrooms. Lipstick Mold is neurotoxic and may appear on out-of-season mushrooms and should be avoided. A good reminder to harvest in season!
Polypores are a group of fungi with pores on the underside of their cap, instead of gills.
Turkey Tail or Friends! We found several examples of Turkey Tail look-alikes, such as Violet Toothed Polypore, as well as true Turkey Tail, and False Turkey Tail. These are the most difficult for me to differentiate, so I’m looking forward to continuing to practice.
Jared taught us that true medicinal Turkey Tail are thin. Their top is slightly fuzzy with a white lip or edge, and has colored zones of brown, orange, or blue. The underside is white with small pores. Turkey Tail is best consumed as a tea, simmered for 15 minutes or as a cold infusion. It can also be chewed as gum!
Blue Cheese mushroom, although not edible, is known by its bluish and white color on top with a polypore under surface. Jared demonstrated how much water this mushroom can absorb, especially out of season, as he squeezed out a sponge-worth of water. Our specimen was too old to have much scent, but in season this mushroom also has a distinct smell, although not a blue cheese-like odor.
Elegans (Trametes elegans) is also a close relative to Turkey Tail. However, Elegans is a newer mushroom to our area, appearing in large numbers within the last 30 years, and is titled invasive by some. It is much thicker than Turkey Tail and sports elongated pores under the cap, which explains its name. I find its long pores quite lovely; they bring to mind coral.
One of our classmates found a celebrated medicinal, Reishi. Although this example was older and discolored, we still enjoyed seeing it and learning about its identifying traits. This polypore is usually brightly colored, red with a white lip. Interestingly, if found in cities, it can have a white or yellow top from sun exposure. The top undulating zones are smooth, not furry. It is white or gray underneath but develops a dark color under the cap when scratched.
One of our classmate’s sharp eye found this tiny friend. (Tentatively identified as Eastern Newt Notophthalmus viridescens)
Another unharvested, but happy find was several Coltsfoot plants. This medicinal herb is often identified by the phrase son before the father since its flower often pops out before the leaves begin to show.
Our class saw and learned so much from our knowledgeable and patient guide, Jared. As a complete mushroom newbie, I’m also heartened to find that my local library has a plethora of mushroom identification tools available. I’m excited to continue learning in the woods this spring.
Written by Charis Han-Storms
Charis is studying herbalism, foraging, and gardening under amazing teachers at Fox Haven Farm, Retreat & Learning Center, Sacred Plant Traditions, and Wild Ginger Herbal Center.
She is thankful for all the women, from a variety of traditions, who cultivated relationships with the plant world and preserved this knowledge and path for future generations. She spends an inordinate amount of time checking on seedlings, searching for new books at the library, and exploring gardens and wild places.