A forager trudges through a thick patch of western sword ferns before emerging through onto a flat, pine-needle-covered forest floor on a damp Sunday afternoon. A ribbon of sunshine flashing through the lodgepole pines reveals forest gold: chanterelle mushrooms.
Pacific golden chanterelles are just one of many prized edible mushrooms found in Lewis County, and though the height of mushroom season is coming to a close, there are still several delectable species mushroom hunters can find right now.
The best way for newcomers to get started in mushroom foraging is to join a local club, said Steve Ness, vice president of the South Sound Mushroom Club in Olympia. Lewis County has a local mushroom club, the Southwest Washington Mycological Society, located at 156 N.W. Chehalis Ave. in Chehalis. The club could not be reached for comment and its upcoming meetings list on its website were all listed as canceled.
The South Sound Mushroom Club typically has monthly in-person meetings for members, but is now relegated to doing these meetings through Zoom with the pandemic going on. The club has a mushroom of the month, which dives into the intricacies of each mushroom, and offers guest speakers on the Zoom video calls. It also has four-hour identification clinics held periodically at Millersylvania State Park, though Ness figures they may be done for the year with Gov. Jay Inslee’s new restrictions on gatherings.
The most recent identification clinic held on Nov. 8 brought in a bounty of species, including a large king bolete, a meaty mushroom known for its distinct appearance and delicious flavor. Also found were ramaria araiospora, a reddish-pink mushroom that resembles a coral reef; and the highly-sought-after lions’ mane, also known as hericium erinaceus, which often grows on the sides of maple trees and is made up of distinct, dangly-white spines that almost looks like a wig. Not only is lion’s mane delicious, it also promotes brain and nerve health and pre-clinical studies show it slows the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Ness recently found a lion’s mane that weighed 3.6 pounds. It was so large that he was able to share his bounty with multiple friends.
“You can feed a lot of people with that,” Ness said. “And it’s delicious. They’re a beautiful mushroom.”
For those who don’t have the time, knowledge or wherewithal to go looking for the rare lion’s mane in the wild, growing kits are available online for those who want to grow their own at home.
Now the mushroom season is shifting from fall to winter, which means many commonly known types such as chanterelles, king boletes and lobsters (hypomyces lactifluorum) are nearing the end of their yearly cycle. But that doesn’t mean foraging is coming to an end, as some tasty edible species are in full height.
Oyster mushrooms, also known as pleurotus ostreatus, are white and grow on alder logs in shelf-like clusters and can be found around Lewis County and in surrounding areas. Enokitake, (velvet shank) which are small, white mushrooms that often grow in tight clumps and are commonly found in Japanese cuisine, also grow in the county and can be found now.
“It’s a winter mushroom and has a chemical in it that allows it to grow just fine in harsh, freezing weather,” Ness said. “There aren’t a lot of those. When you find them, you usually find them in pretty good bunches.”
Another tasty edible that can be found right now is the hedgehog, which is the perfect beginner mushroom and perhaps the most foolproof to identify. It has a pale, yellow-white cap and has small “teeth” under the cap. There are two species, hydnum repandum and hydnum umbilicatum, both of which look similar and are equally edible.
“Right now is the best time to find those,” Ness said. “They’re just one of the best mushrooms in the world.”
Black trumpets (craterellus cornucopioides), which look like small chanterelles, only black, are funnel-shaped, extremely delicious and can also be found right now.
“If you can find a patch of them, there can be a hundred of them,” Ness said. “They’re really tricky to find because they blend into the ground. But people are finding those right now and they dry really good.”
There are a lot of other edibles growing right now that aren’t very well-known and Ness cautions people to know what they are looking for when foraging, and to make sure one has a positive identification before eating. That includes asking a mycological expert, a knowledgeable friend or checking with field manuals and doing spore prints.
The best field guide, Ness said, that the South Sound Mushroom Club members all use, is “Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fungi of Coastal Northern California.
“That seems like it wouldn’t apply to us here, but it’s a fabulous book,” Ness said. “The redwood coast habitat is similar to what we have down here. Almost all the mushrooms we have here, you’ll find in that book.”
Other books he recommends that were written specifically for the Pacific Northwest are “Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest” by Joe Ammirati and Steve Trudell; and David Arora’s “All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms,” which is smaller and can be brought out in the field.
Each public land agency has its own rules for mushroom picking. State and county parks are typically OK to go mushroom picking in for personal use, Ness said. In general, the U.S. Forest Service does not require a permit for harvesting mushrooms for personal use. If you have any doubts about the rules for an area, contact the relevant agency and district. More information on all public land areas can be found at agr.wa.gov.
For anyone interested in learning more about mushrooms and joining the South Sound Mushroom Club, there is an initial $30 fee, then a $10 annual fee. Ness said now is a great time to get into mushroom picking, especially with the pandemic going on.
“Picking mushrooms is not impacted by COVID-19,” Ness said. “This is a good thing people can do to stay active and involved, rather than staying home and being frustrated at not being able to do anything.”