Shroom Hunting

Image: Gem-studded puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum).

With the start of the fall rains, mushrooms are popping up everywhere.  It’s time to go shroom hunting.

No rifles, slings, or bows and arrows are required.  All you need is a camera, an ice cream pail, and a sharp eye.  I’m a conservative shroom hunter, so I often return home with an empty pail, but lots of pics of really neat, probably poisonous, mushrooms.  It’s lots of fun, and a great way to spend a sunny fall day.

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Image: Pear-shaped puffballs (Morganella pyriformis).

Shroom hunting began this year when I stumbled over a patch of puffballs as we were out hiking on our property.  I recognized them as an edible species, and several patches later, we had enough for a decent feed.  Our puffballs come in two varieties – the gem-studded puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) and the pear-shaped puffball (Morganella pyriformis).  Both are highly regarded edibles.  Puffballs need to be picked when they are in their “button” stage, before they start to produce spores.  Scrape the rough, warty outer layer off with a sharp knife, rinse them, and cut each one open longitudinally.  If the flesh inside is brown, discard that puffball.  Also check for the presence of gills.  If you see gills, then you have collected the button stage of some other mushroom, possibly a poisonous Amanita, and therefore must not eat it.  Good puffballs will be a homogeneous creamy white inside, with no internal structures.  Slice, fry in butter, and enjoy!  Their flavor is delicate, but delicious.

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Image: Gem-studded puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum) after they have “puffed”.  Once they have begun to sporulate, they are no longer good to eat.

Interestingly, Lycoperdon means “wolf fart” in Latin.  Go figure, eh?

Having had one good feed of puffballs, the next time we went shroom hunting, I brought an ice cream pail.  This was quickly filled, and not only did we have puffballs for supper, but I had enough to dry a bunch over the wood stove.  Sliced thinly, they dried quickly into little mushroom crisps (we spent the entire night drooling in bed as the smell of drying mushrooms wafted up into the loft).  These crisps re-hydrate easily, and make a great addition to soups, stews, and stir fries.

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Image: Inky caps (Coprinopsis atramentaria) in button, mature, and sporulating stages.

We also located a couple of other potentially edible mushrooms.  Our logging road was covered with patches of inky caps (Coprinopsis atramentaria).  Inky caps are a fairly good edible, but should not be consumed within 48 hours of drinking alcoholic beverages due to the presence of coprine, which interferes with the metabolism of alcohol. In the body, alcohol is first converted to acetaldehyde and then to acetate and carbon dioxide. A breakdown product of coprine blocks the action of the enzyme that catalyzes the aldehyde-to-acetate reaction, and the consequent buildup of aldehyde causes the symptoms of coprine poisoning – sensations of warmth, elevated blood pressure, flushing, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea and vomiting, a metallic taste, rapid heartbeat, pounding headache, sweating, anxiety, weakness, dizziness, confusion, and, occasionally, fainting.  Fortunately, coprine poisoning has not been found to have a lasting effect.  However, one must choose which is more important—the fungus or the wine!  So this mushroom may be delegated to my “survival food” category.

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Image: Angel wings (Pleurocybella porrigens) on a decaying hemlock log.

Another potentially “edible” species that we found on our site was the angel wing (Pleurocybella porrigens).   It is related to the highly sought-after oyster mushroom, and although it has generally been regarded as edible, as of 2011, it has been implicated in two documented outbreaks involving fatal encephalopathy.  Both incidents were in Japan, and most victims had pre-existing kidney disorders. Currently mycologists (people who study mushrooms) recommend not consuming them, as they are not a good enough edible to risk problems.  We passed this one up too.

Other mushrooms we found were simply too interesting or too beautiful to resist photographing, even though they were not “foraging” candidates.

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Image: Orange peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia) found growing on a gravel logging road.  It is edible, but brittle and hard to collect intact, and has little taste.

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Image: Clitocybe connata is found commonly along roadsides and edges of woods in areas of bare soil or low vegetation.  It has been thought to contain muscarine and other bioactive compounds, but also has been reported as a good edible in western Montana, with a flavor like asparagus.  Given this uncertainty, it is not a recommended edible.

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Image: Clitocybe squamulosa occurs on needles under conifers and in mixed woods with alder, but can be found along roads in open areas as well.

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Image: White saddle, elfin saddle, or fluted white helvella (Helvella crispa) can be found along the sides of roads and paths.  Research has established this species contains monomethylhydrazine, which can cause severe sporadic intoxications, and may be carcinogenic. It has been reported to cause gastrointestinal symptoms when eaten raw.

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Image: Lyophyllum loricatum can be found in dense clusters beneath red alder (Alnus rubra) and Douglas fir in riparian areas.  It is edible and considered quite good by some mycophagists (people who eat mushrooms), but only mediocre by others.  Because many possibly poisonous entolomas can be quite similar in shape and coloration, you must be very certain of your identification before consuming this mushroom (I wasn’t).

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Image: The golden bootleg or golden cap mushroom (Phaeolepiota aurea) is distinctive due to its large size, golden color, powdery surface, skirt-like ring, brown spores, and tendency to grow in large groups.   It is not common, usually being found in disturbed areas of forests, such as along roadsides.  It is said to be edible for most people but to cause digestive upset in some. Recent studies have shown that this mushroom contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, which is known to be toxic to humans. Therefore, it is no longer considered edible. Heat treatment, like cooking, reduces the concentration of hydrogen cyanide, which might be the reason Phaeolepiota aurea was considered edible in the past.

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Image: Ground pholiota (Pholiota terrestris) is common in the Pacific Northwest, often occurring among grasses at the edges of roads or parking areas in hard-packed soil.  It is considered edible, but of poor quality.

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