How to properly harvest wild mushrooms: A forager’s guide
February 21, 2018
There are a handful of measures that a mushroom picker can take in order to ensure that they'll have enough mushrooms to harvest from flush to flush. Here are some basic guidelines for harvesting medicinal and gourmet mushroom sustainably using low-impact techniques and practices.
FOREST FLOOR FUNGI
Only pick mature mushrooms
If you don't want to be known in the mushroom picking community as a "baby killer", resist from picking every single mushroom you see in a mushroom patch. Okay a little dramatic but this term did come about for a reason to prevent foragers from picking fruiting bodies that are not of maturity. How can you tell if a mushroom is mature? Well it's different for every species.
For most boletes, chanterelles, and your gilled varieties it can simply mean that the cap of the mushroom should be larger than water bottle cap. The smaller "babies" can be left until after the next rain when they'll reach maturity and be ready for the picking. Leaving these smaller mushrooms will allow the fruiting body extra time to release their spores giving rise to additional mushrooms as the foraging season progresses. Win win!
This being said, many species, if left to grow too large, are at greater risk of becoming eaten or infested with fungi loving insects. Therefore, becoming familiar with the with the life-cycle of a fungi is a skill worth learning and will come with time and practice in the field. For example, cauliflower mushrooms if found at the beginning of a mushroom season can be left until the very end so that they can have a chance to grow to their largest form before they start to decompose. It's not uncommon to meet people in the bush that claim to have let the baby cauliflower mushrooms to grow to around 30-50 lbs!
Mycelial networks are vast and extensive throughout the forest floor. Kicking over decomposing logs and pulling up mossy ground and not covering it up afterwards exposes the soil to sudden unnatural light that is sure to kill off mycelial growth underneath.
So tread softly. Also, careful not to crush all those little mushroom babies while hiking.
Pick soft mushrooms using a sharp knife
Do not pull mushrooms out of the ground!
Slice them with a knife so that the base of the mushroom is left within the ground. Picking mushrooms with a knife is a harvesting technique that is widely practiced. Whether your belief is that this will or will not effect the growth of the next flush it is still an effective and clean technique to practice out in the forest. In doing this the earth and the moss from where the fungi is picked is left undisturbed while leaving the mycelia underneath undisturbed as well.
Not to mention that practicing this harvesting technique is also a great way to keep a mushroom patch secret to other mushroom pickers around. Leaving cuts and stems lying around on the forest floor is a tell-tale sign of a good patch!
Cover the earth from which you harvest from
Considering the rule stated above (always use a knife) there are some fungi that need to be picked whole out of the ground if selling to a mushroom buyer. Matsutake (Pine Mushroom), porcini mushrooms, etc., when picked commercially, are picked whole from the ground and are only cut at the buying station to insure that they are not filled with hungry mushroom loving worms.
If this is something that is to be practiced, it is wise to cover up the earth from which the mushroom came from with the same moss or log that was removed during the picking. This gives the mycelial network a chance to regenerate and hopefully be able to produce mushrooms in the same location in the future.
WILD MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS
Sustainable chaga harvesting practices have been debated all over this great big internet for a while now. Here's what we know.
Only picking fungal matter larger than an orange and on a living birch tree is the best way to ensure a more sustainable and ethical forage. Smaller fruiting bodies will be a bigger and better harvest in the following years and the wait will allow the mushroom time to spread spores during the growth period bringing new babies to life.
Harvesting tools matter as well. Cutting the chaga conk just right by leaving a layer of gold underneath will allow the mushroom to grow back within 4 years time. Chaga is a hard tree conk that is difficult to remove accurately. Since chaga is foraged during cold winter seasons the fungal body will also be frozen to the tree. The best bet is a sharp hatchet with a hammer or a sharp knife to break off small pieces at a time before the host tree's sap begins to run. Digging into the tree will cause it die prematurely doing more damage than good.
These are practices that we believe in and practice and we know that there are foragers out there that practice differently. To each they're own, just take only what ya need.
Ganoderma applanatum, commonly known as artist's conk, can grow to become large shelves on long-living trees. Each ring represents a year of growth and therefore it is quite simple to determine how old your fungi is in the forest. Artist's will take the entire fungi for carving purposes and have been for many generations past. For us we purely harvest this fungi for its medicinal properties to make teas and tinctures out of for the year ahead. For medicinal purpose only harvesting a few outer ring layers of the fungi should be sufficient enough for personal use. The base of the harvested fungi will continue to produce when left intact to the decaying tree.
Picking mushrooms using sustainable methods can prove effective both economically as well as spiritually. Recognizing why, when, and how a mushroom grows and what causes it's ability to produce again allows foragers to form unique connections and understandings with nature. These techniques are ones we have been putting to use for the last few years or so and are what we lean on when we think of future harvests.