02 October 2009

My First Experience in Foraging for Edible Mushrooms

Unidentified Mushrooms
Exploring the mushroom pile.

On Wednesday afternoon of September 30th 2009, it was my very first experience foraging for edible mushrooms with a friend who has experience in identifying different fungi. On the night before our mushroom hunt, my friend Potter gave me a batch of hen of the woods mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) also known as maitake to bring home and cook for dinner.

My very first question was, "How do you know if this mushroom is not poison?" Potter assured me that maitake mushrooms are not poison. He showed me the the information in the book entitled The Mushroom Book : How to Identify, Gather and Cook Wild Mushrooms and Other Fungi written by Thomas Laessoe, Anne Del Conte, and Gary Lincoff.

So, I went home and cooked maitake mushrooms.

I battered maitake mushrooms in olive oil, salt, and a lot of pepper.

I prepared food for stir fry: Cabbage, hot pepper, green pepper, onion, ginger, and fried maitake mushrooms. I wish I had some fresh garlic cloves at that time.

This is what my dinner looked like after I finished cooking it.
It was so delicious!

After I cooked and ate wild maitake mushrooms discovered by Potter, I felt the spirits of ancestors awakening within me. It was the new sense of connection with Earth that I never felt before. I looked forward to foraging for edible mushrooms.

In the next day, I picked up Potter and we went to the Forest Lawn Cemetery and Richardson Complex in the city of Buffalo. The Forest Lawn Cemetery is a famous graveyard site in Western New York. A well known singer named Ricky James is buried there. Tourists from around the world visit the Forest Lawn to see his tombstone. The Forest Lawn Cemetery is known as the "old soil" which means their ground is virtually untouched for hundreds of years. We gathered some thyme from the ground while we hunted for mushrooms. We found maitake mushrooms, the same kind that I cooked on the night before, growing next to an oak tree. Potter was delighted that it weighed about five pounds. We put it in a bag and hunted for more mushrooms. We found several more mushrooms at the Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Then we went to the Richardson Complex ground that is not too far away from the cemetery. Richardson Complex is an abandoned "asylum for the insane" located right by Buffalo Psychiatric Center and Buffalo State College. Again, the ground around the buildings is very old so mushrooms are found everywhere. We gathered a few more mushrooms there. I also saw a ginkgo tree for the first time. I was really astonished when I saw a ginkgo tree growing in Buffalo because I thought they only grow in the land of China. I was told that Ginkgo fruits can be harvested in the beginning of the winter season. We foraged for mushrooms in the total of two and a half hours. I was really amazed to see how many mushrooms we found in such a little time. Potter brought home many mushrooms that we gathered to be studied and identified in his lab.

Here is a couple pictures of different mushrooms below. Some of the mushrooms in this post are not yet identified by Potter. Once I learn the names of the unidentified mushrooms, I will come back to this post and name them.

Hen of the Woods (Maitake) Mushrooms.
Found at the Forest Lawn Cementary

Unidentitifed mushrooms
Found at the Richardson Complex site.

Disclaimers and Warnings:

If you do not have an experience in foraging for edible mushrooms, please do not attempt to eat any of it until you consult a mushroom expert. Some mushrooms are poisonous that can make you very sick, hallucinate, or die from eating it.

If you are very interested in foraging for edible mushrooms, please find a mushroom expert in your area to go on a few field trips together before going on your own. Most mushroom experts do spore testings and rely on books for references to identify their fungi before consuming them. On the other hand, if you are planning not to consume any wild mushrooms, it is fun to drift around to discover mushroom piles and take pictures of them. It is a fun hobby to get down to Earth and appreciate what the nature has to offer.

I am very interested to hear about your experience in foraging for wild mushrooms if you have a tale to share.


Written by Anthony Brucato


  1. WOW! What a very interesting pictorial journey. I enjoyed reading this post very much. THANK you!!!

    A few questions emerged as I read... Are wild mushrooms becoming extinct? Or are there plenty, and they grow as fast as bamboo? I've heard they grow slowly.

    I know in national parks and state parks, we are not to disturb or remove items (and that includes mushrooms), but I guess cemeteries and abandoned buildings are good places to seek mushrooms because the owners probably will be happy to have people remove mushrooms anyway.

    I would be concerned about the amount of pesticides or chemicals used in these areas that are absorbed by the wild mushrooms? I know some specific fruit/veggies are pretty sturdy when it comes to pesticides (e.g. avocados) and that you can buy conventional avocados and their properties are similar to organic avocados (but of course, the practice of the "farmers" are very different, one is to make money off the avocados, and the other one is to sell healthier avocados from healthier soil and lessen its impact on earth, etc. Anyway, are mushrooms naturally pesticide-resistant?

    Finally, what do you think of the argument that since mushrooms are fungi - they are not compatible with a vegan diet?

  2. 1. Are wild mushrooms becoming extinct? Or are there plenty, and they grow as fast as bamboo? I've heard they grow slowly.

    I would not be surprised if certain mushroom species are becoming extinct as we speak. There is an article that explains how mushrooms sensitive to nitrogen are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Soil disturbances can cause mushrooms to disappear. Mushroom foragers are likely to find variety of mushroom piles thriving in the "old soil" more so with the "new soil." The article also states that there are over 200 mushrooms on the red list. Read this interesting article here: No Recovery for Wild Mushrooms.

    Some mushrooms can grow overnight. I was told that the best time to go for a mushroom hunt is on the day after the rainy day. This article provides a good explanation on how mushrooms grow in the wild How Do Mushrooms Grow?

    2. Anyway, are mushrooms naturally pesticide-resistant?

    I am not exactly sure if it is naturally pesticide resistant like with avocados in the term of eating it. I wasn't concerned about that when I ate maitake mushrooms because that was my first time eating wild mushrooms. If I eat wild mushrooms frequently, I would be concerned about the pesticide issue. In the meantime, I am curious and I will ask that question to a friend in Ireland who is going for his Ph.D in ecology. He might know the answer. When I find out, I'll leave another comment here.

    While I was researching about that on the internet, I discovered there are scientific proposals that certain mushrooms can eat up pesticides and toxic substances. Some scientists believe mushrooms can help save Earth by cleaning up pollutants. This article is also interesting to read: Can Mushrooms Save the World?

    3. Finally, what do you think of the argument that since mushrooms are fungi - they are not compatible with a vegan diet?

    That is a good question. I didn't think about that before you brought it up. I thought of all vegans that I personally know and I noticed all of them include mushrooms in their diet, however some vegans decide not to eat mushrooms because some mushrooms eat plants, animals, and insects. It makes me wonder if my vegan friends thought about or researched on mushrooms before eating them. It is easy to say they're fungi just like any other plants but they are not plants.

    In summary, I think it is really important to save and preserve the old soils. We are depleting trees and lands very quickly due to urban sprawls. When I was foraging for mushrooms on the "old soil," I realized how enriching the environment was. There were variety of plants, herbs, mushrooms, animals, and birds in the area. In essence, wild mushrooms cannot thrive alone. I think we should stop chopping down trees and turning old soils into "suburban" lawns. One of the greatest solution is to legalize industrial hemp plants so we can save the trees. Hemp plants are naturally pesticide-resistant and we can make tons of things out of it and save lands at the same time.

    Thank you for the challenging questions. I am no expert in mushrooms and those were fun questions to do research and find answers. I sure did learn a lot of new interesting things about mushrooms! :D

  3. I received the permission to post Shawn McCourt's answers about mushrooms. I asked the Question #2 to him. Here it is:

    "To answer your questions: Sounds like you've caught the mushroom-hunter's bug! I know a few people who are passionate about collecting and eating wild mushrooms, which are plentiful in Europe. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies (reproductive parts bearing spores) of saprophytic fungi which live underground, in trees, or in rotting wood. The fungi may be affected by pollution, toxins, pesticides, land use, climate change, and the lack of suitable habitat. If sprayed with pesticides, it's more likely the mushroom and the associated fungus will absorb the toxins, as their cell walls are made of chitin (like the bodies of insects). Chitin is more permeable than the cellulose walls that plants are made up of. I would avoid eating mushrooms that have been sprayed.

    As for mushrooms cleaning up pollutants, I know that some types of fungi are recruited for bioremediation purposes, but none of these would be edible fungi. Almost all fungi are saprophytes (that is they feed on dead material). A few are opportunists which will invade living bodies (such as animals, people or trees) especially if the body is weakened by something else, such as an wound. In spite of their plant-like appearance, fungi are closer kin to animals than they are to plants, which is why they are classified in a kingdom of their own. Here's an interesting Wiki page about fungi: Fungus

    Just be careful, and get an expert opinion on all wild mushrooms collected, as many fungi contain some of the most potent toxins known to man. Hope this helps! Great pictures by the way!"

    Thank you, Shawn.

  4. very, very interesting. thank you so much, anthony for all this information! much eco-appreciated! :D

  5. I really appreciate your efforts to made this video and the detail you've given here..its very helpful!

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