How to Forage for Mushrooms Safely in the U.S.

While foraging for mushrooms can be a laborious, time-consuming activity, going home with some highly sought-after edible fungi is a priceless reward. If you are new to mushroom foraging, here’s all you need to know about hunting mushrooms in the United States.

Mushroom foraging, also called mushroom hunting or picking, is gathering mushrooms in the wild for culinary use – although some can be picked for medicinal or psychotropic use.

Many species of mushrooms grow in the wild. Some are edible, others are not, and some can even be lethally poisonous. If you are looking to get into mushroom foraging, knowing the difference between different types of mushrooms could literally be a matter of life and death.

Foraging for mushrooms is becoming more widespread as more people are aware of their health benefits. If done right, you could be going home with a cluster of gourmet mushrooms to enjoy at home; but if not careful, you could get sick.

In this post, we offer some starting tips for beginner mushroom foragers. Read on!

What Is Mushroom Foraging?

Foraging for mushrooms is the harvesting of wild mushrooms for culinary, psychotropic or medicinal use. However, this post will focus on foraging for edible mushrooms, as magic mushrooms are still illegal federally.

However, focusing only on the edibility of mushrooms when foraging means you could miss out on some cool fungi to identify and learn more about. Only a small percentage of mushrooms are actually edible, so you are more likely to find more non-edible species in the wild.

Wild mushrooms can be found in most of the United States. They grow on rocks, dead trunks, ground, river banks and even live trees. So when foraging for mushrooms, ensure you look everywhere. But before we start on how to forage for mushrooms, what risks are involved?

How to Forage for Mushrooms Safely

Foraging for wild mushrooms comes with several risks –including significant health risks, as some mushrooms are toxic if consumed. Some can be lethally poisonous, and some may even cause organ damage. 

Only pick mushrooms you can positively identify. Some edible mushrooms can have toxic look-alikes, so familiarize yourself with information on “deadly twins” in your area. For example, Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, or False Chanterelle, can look like real chanterelles.

If unsure of the identity of a mushroom, store it separately from the positively identified fungi and don’t consume it until you have identified it as edible. Get a mushroom guide with high-quality pictures, even spores to be safe. A local mushroom expert can also help you in identification as fungi differ significantly by region.

Venturing into the wild also carries some risks of its own, including attacks by wildlife, accidents, and more. It’s advisable to go mushroom foraging in groups and always be within sight of others. 

5 Tips for Foraging Safely

1. Get a Mushroom Field Guide with Species Growing in Your Area

If possible, get a field guide that shows the different types of mushrooms that grow in your region. Ensure the field guide has high-quality pictures of the mushrooms so you can have a good idea of what you are looking for in the wild.

The mushroom guide should also show the differences between edible mushrooms and their poisonous look-alikes to avoid picking toxic species. Study the mushroom parts, including the gills, caps and stems.

The more familiar you are with the mushrooms you want to find, the easier it will be to identify the ones you don’t. If possible, carry the field guide along for comparison on the field.

2. Know Where to Forage for Mushrooms

While hunting for mushrooms in the United States is legal, where you do it is another question. The best bet is to forage on public lands; however, that too isn’t as straightforward as it seems, as foraging in some places can be prohibited.

Research local laws to know what public lands you can forage in. If the lands are under the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, visit or call your local office and ask for more information on foraging.

Some national parks allow foraging, but you may need a permit for personal or commercial use.

3. Do Not Forage in Contaminated Areas

Mushrooms can readily pick up chemicals and other environmental pollutants through the biosorption process. While this means they can be instrumental in removing toxic pollutants from the environment, it also means they may contain the absorbed toxins and, therefore, shouldn’t be eaten.

Avoid foraging near landfills and dump sites. Also, never consume mushrooms foraged from land that may have pesticides and fertilizers. To be on the safer side, also avoid mushrooms growing on toxic trees, as the fungi may absorb some of the toxins.

4. Have the Right Gear

Always be prepared when going into the wilderness to forage for mushrooms. Wear good boots, and bring water, snacks, maps, a compass, a flashlight, a GPS device and a knife. It is also recommendable to wear bright-colored clothes so your team can easily spot you.

If you are going on a solo mushroom hunt, tell someone where you are going and plan the trip in advance.

5. Only Harvest As Much As You Need

Do not take more mushrooms than you need. While they may be in season, harvesting more fungi than you can use can lead to wastage and even destruction of the ecosystem. If possible, don’t focus on just one species.

Some parks have regulations on how much you can collect, while others may ask you only to collect “reasonable amounts.” To avoid problems with park and local authorities, familiarize yourself with the regulations and only gather to the established limits.

Where to Forage for Mushrooms in the U.S.

Using data from iNaturalist, a popular wildlife and observation app, moveBuddha mapped the best locations for mushroom foraging in the United States. The analysis concluded that the semi-urban Pacific Northwest, from Northern California through Washington, was the best region for foraging.

The Northeastern regions, including New England and upstate New York, are also home to a wide variety of wild mushrooms. Beginner foragers can also find a wide range of fungi species in the Midwest, Rocky Mountains and the diverse terrains of California.

When to Forage For Mushrooms

Mushroom foraging season has no beginning or end. The wide variety of species means there are mushrooms growing all year round. Different species require different conditions to thrive, so you must study the preferred mushrooms and mother nature to know when they fruit in your specific region.

Most wild mushrooms appear in spring, summer and fall, but don’t be surprised to find some species that thrive in the middle of winter. Morels are among the first to appear in spring and fruit as soon as the weather gets warm enough.

Oysters mushrooms fruit in the fall, although some start in early spring and through early summer. Chanterelles likely occur in late spring, summer and early fall, while you can spot some Lion’s Mane on your autumn hikes.

As such, always be on the lookout for some cool fungi in all seasons, but if you are after a specific mushroom, study when it fruits and keep an eye on the weather. 

Consider Spore Syringes from PNW Spore Co.

Ready to start your foraging journey? PNW Spore Co. offers over a dozen gourmet and medicinal mushroom spore syringes you can grow at home and observe before hitting the trails. Order high-quality spore syringes including shiitake, oysters, reishi, morel and more!

Remember to be a responsible forager. Only forage where it is allowed, respect the wildlife and plant life around you and show consideration to other foragers, hikers and campers. Also, don’t eat any mushrooms you are not sure of.

Happy foraging!

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