By Liz Glass
Welcome to the next installment of Foraging for Noobs! This time around, we will be delving deeper into the do’s and don’ts of harvesting, how to identify a poisonous mushroom, and how to spore print.
While foraging can be scary due to the fear of the unknown, it does not have to be. Thanks to previous humans’ trial and error of experimenting with various plants they ingested from the forest, we have gathered some solid knowledge on what to eat and what not to eat, what to harvest and what not to harvest. So with that said, let’s get on with the next installment of Foraging for Noobs.
Foraging 101: Friend or Foe Mushroom?
First and foremost, taking knowledge from the previous guide, if anything has a black underbelly where the gills reside it is probably poisonous and you should leave it be. This also goes hand in hand with the scent of the mushrooms that you will stumble across. They will often have a rather unpleasant or even acrid smell, in which case, well, definitely don’t harvest it. You will know when a mushroom is safe to ingest by its rather pleasant and earthy smell. While some of the smells may be new and interesting, they should never smell ‘bad,’ or in another sense have a strong smell that is hard to take in.
Another very important thing you should do when foraging is to take spore prints. Spore printing is how you determine whether the ‘shrooms you harvested are friend or foe to your insides. The act of spore printing is fairly simple. You cut off the stem of the mushroom, leaving only the cap. The gills that are under the cap are where the spores come in because that is where they reside. You will then place the gills on anywhere from paper, aluminum foil or perhaps a glass surface such as a microscope slide. You will put a drop of water on the cap to help release the spores. Afterwards, you will then cover the cap with a paper cup or a glass and leave from a range of 2 to 24 hours – depending on the range of fresh air and humidity in the room. As it sits, the spores will fall onto the surface of whatever you used, whether it be paper or aluminum, and it will reveal the spore prints of the mushroom. If you have only one specimen to study, however, you can just use a portion of the cap you have.
Another thing about spore printing is you can do it as you forage. If you take along some aluminum sheets with you and enclose what you harvest inside of them, you might have spore prints by the end of your journey!
Foraging 101: Other Types of Mushrooms and How to Spore Print
Not all mushrooms are the same. There are more porous mushrooms, such as the bolette. With these guys, the stem is rather soft and more fresh than other mushrooms you can come across. The spores in these types will be in the pores itself, underneath the cap. It is virtually the same process as we discussed above.
Other forms of mushrooms such as the puffball, morels, corals or birds nests are best met with expert advice in order to identify their spore prints and locate their spores. This is because these mushrooms are trickier to pinpoint – especially the puffball, which is essentially a giant marshmallow with seemingly no place for its spores, and no gills under a cap to be seen.
Some mushrooms are harder than others, such as polypores, making them harder to get spore prints from. This is because these types of mushrooms tend to take longer to mature, thus taking a long time to produce spores. You can identify many polypores by their appearance – they will often grow on dead trees or logs and have a shelf-like appearance, with a hard cap you can give a good thump on. Think of them as bookshelves of the forest.
With the polypores you come across, you should try wrapping them in wet newspapers or paper towels overnight before you put them down on paper, foil or glass. Remember: the direction of the spore surface is always downward. It is never up top on the cap where the sun shines. If it were, we probably wouldn’t be able to collect spores because mushrooms thrive on low light – thus making spores able to produce in the first place.
To identify spores with a microscope is fairly simple. You would just scrape some spores off the original surface you put them on and onto a microscope glass slide and put one drop of water on them, covering them up with a microslip.
Spores that are a deep, inky black will often come from mushrooms such as ink caps, otherwise known as the Coprinus species. As discussed in the previous guide, some ink caps are actually edible, but very poisonous when mixed with alcohol. These little guys are good to eat for the most part, but tricky for a noob forager – it’s best to steer clear of a drink when eating these.
Foraging 101: Harvesting Properly and Sustainably
Harvesting is fun and easy once you get the process and methods down that work for not only you, but the planet, as well, so that it may continue to provide growth needed for our distant ancestors, the fungi family. Yes, you heard that right – humans are pretty much fungi, set aside from a few DNA changes. This is a big reason why sustainably harvesting is so important. We should keep our distant brethren alive and thriving – I mean, we did kind of evolve from our fungi friends at some point in our history, so it’s the least we could do for them.
One simple thing to remember when foraging is this: don’t carry a plastic bag around with you. Not only because plastic is already the bane of nature’s existence, but it could potentially ruin your harvest as you go along foraging for more mushrooms. It is best to use something more naturally derived, like a wicker basket, or a cloth bag. Plus, that sounds more fun carrying around anyway.
Another thing is never overpick what you come across. Overpicking can lead to what some call tragedy of the commons, which is a type of economic tragedy that entails the depletion of resources over time. This is due to a person’s priority of self-interest, and picks the entirety of the resource one too many times. Eventually, this leads to the utter depletion of said resource with none left to harvest for the future. This also just harms the mushroom colony overall. It stifles their growth and disrupts the growth pattern, interrupting the future growth of the mycelium itself.
And last but not least, a simple and effective thing to not do is trample the little mushrooms with your monstrous human feet while foraging. This stunts the growth of the flourishing shrooms and this will prevent them from maturing, therefore no spores will be had from the ones that are trampled.
Foraging responsibly and carefully is the number one thing to remember while foraging. If you forage responsibly, the earth tends to give back and will continue to, so long as you are mindful when you harvest.