How to find edible mushrooms – Forager, Adrienne Long

Wild edible mushrooms can be found in Southeast Alaska
A glimpse into the wilds of Ketchikan, Alaska where edible mushrooms hide

A glimpse into the wilds of Ketchikan, Alaska, where edible mushrooms hide

 

We met on a long weekend camping trip in SE Alaska. I had no idea that Adrienne was a fungi expert until the two of us took off on a trail into the woods and she began pointing out edible mushrooms and more suspicious varieties.
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Adrienne Long works as a forager and guide based out of Mendicino County. Her biggest passion is getting out into the forest, into the wild, and being able to live off the land. Most of us don’t have a clue about where to find them, which are edible mushrooms or might be fatal.  I asked what got her interested in mushrooms?
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A – I always really enjoyed nature and something called me to the fungi. I knew I wanted to learn more and it exploded from there. First I studied in botany classes, mushroom, and natural history. So, I know a lot about what we have growing wild in the Mendocino area, where I’ve lived about 16 years.
mushrooms on trees are sometimes edible mushrooms
E -You can learn a lot about mushrooms in a book but it’s also an experiential thing. Who did you work with to learn about mushrooming?
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A – My husband taught me the basics, then I took a class at College of the Redwoods with Teresa Scholers. We had a Teacher’s Assistant, Dr. Ryan Snow, a well-known mushroom forager and internationally recognized. With Teresa, the class was half lecture and half in the woods. Every year that she taught I would T.A. so there was more opportunity to be out in the woods and learn about new mushrooms. Maybe one year you didn’t see it and the next year there’d be a bunch of them out, so with the quantity of mushrooms we have in that area, the more you go out the more you learn.
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E – The conditions along the California North West coastal region are prime for edible mushrooms because of the weather?
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A – Weather and the trees are important. A lot of mushrooms are reliant on a specific species of tree. That makes for prime mushroom habitat.
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E – I used to think that mushrooms were a sign of death; that they broke down things as parasites but you’ve said that they often work with plants. Do you see that often?
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A – Oh yeah. Mushrooms are the most important decomposers we have on this planet. If we didn’t have mushrooms we’d just have piles and piles of plant matter that would never decompose. But we also have mushrooms that work with the trees to survive. They help the trees to gather water. There are some that weaken trees and allow other pathogens to enter the system to weaken the tree. So, there are all kinds of fungi out there. When you’re out it’s important to know what kind you’re looking for; if you want a decomposer or a Mycorrhizal mushroom that’s connected to a tree.
Our SE Alaska crew, Adrienne is seated with her daugher on her lap.

Our SE Alaska crew, Adrienne is seated with her daugher on her lap.

E – I wasn’t a very good hippie but remember that some people loved to find certain kinds of mushrooms which were hallucinogens. Do you have those in your area?
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A – Not so much. They’re some of the hardest to come by. They’re little and brown. The forest is full of hundreds of species of little brown mushrooms. You could pick one that is extremely toxic or one that is Psilocybin, those are the ones that are hallucinogenic but where we are it’s not very common to find them.
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E – One of the most surprising things I learned from being in the forest with you is that the biggest part of a mushroom is not what you’re going to see.
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A – They found in Oregon the largest mycelium, the roots of the mushroom underground. The largest one is four miles wide and it grows in a circle. So if you see a fairy ring, a circle of mushrooms, that circle is the mycelium and the mushrooms are on the outside. That ring if it’s large it means that it’s really healthy and the only reason the mushrooms are there are to spread spores and reproduce. The whole fungal body is either in the ground or in a tree decomposing and eating the tree matter.
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E – It sounds like something out of a science fiction story but it’s happening all over the world. Is there anywhere you’d like to go to forage for edible mushrooms?
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A – Anywhere and everywhere I possibly can. We’ve been to Mexico and I saw Chanterelles but they don’t really forage for edible mushrooms there. I’m willing to go anywhere in the world to hunt and see what species of mushrooms different places have.
Our chariot, the Resurrection, in a SE Alaska fjiord

Our chariot, the Resurrection, in a SE Alaska fjiord

E – One of the most popular edible mushroom varieties are truffles. Do you ever find them in your region?
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A – Not along the coast, we don’t have the right tree situation for truffles. I think it’s more the Washington and Oregon areas that have those. But even going to Washington is a great thing to do because they have such a great foggy climate. There’s a lot of wild crafted mushrooms that come out of Washington and Oregon.
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E – We’re sitting in Ketchikan, Alaska, and spent some time in the forest. Did you find some surprising things?
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A – I found a slime mold but it’s not really fungal. That’s another whole organism.
It’s a single cell ameba that goes wandering around the forest and then when it finds something to eat it will send out a hormone. Then all the other little ameba join up and make this mass. It’s pretty amazing and comes in all different colors. The one I saw was a nice shiny black.
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E – They come together and then come apart at different times too. Does it react if you touch it?
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Here’s a cool, short video about the kind of slime mold Adrienne found in the forest:
A – This one kind of molded together when I touched it but you can watch them move if you want to sit there for a long time. Once it’s finished eating and full, then everyone re-disperses into the forest until they’re ready to procreate. Then they’ll have a big ameba orgy later.
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E – There were yellow mushrooms coming out of a tree on our SE Alaska trail and you pointed out that some are better to eat at certain times.
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A – Yes, that was called “Chicken of the Woods” and they’re better to eat as little buttons. Some species can be toxic though and you need to watch out. They’re also called “Chicken of the Woods!” if they’re growing on something that’s toxic they could be absorbing those toxins and possibly be toxic to you.
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E – That brings us back to an important aspect of mushroom hunting, “Go with someone who knows what they’re doing, who has the experience” like yourself. You work out of Mendocino and Fort Bragg with different organizations. What is the best time of year to go foraging with you?
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A – Usually first rain into February, so usually October to February is great. If you want really high mushroom count, December is the best depending on what species of mushroom you’re looking for. Google ‘Mushroom foraging in Mendocino County’ to find me or look for the Stanford Inn in Mendocino. I do nature tours and guided walks out of the inn.
Wild edible mushrooms can be found in Southeast Alaska
E – You have children, are you teaching them to forage as well?
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A – Of course, I have a four year and a ten-year-old and that’s one of their favorite things to do in the winter time. My son loves to go out with his friends and bring home mushrooms. He’ll go, “Oh, see this gelatinous mushroom?” and he’ll eat it. Audrey just loves to carry her basket around and go hiking with me. I feel it’s definitely something they need to learn.
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E – Do you have a favorite edible mushroom that you like to cook with? A lot of people are familiar with Chanterelles, but you want to find a particular kind, right?
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A – Yes, but there are false Chanterelles but those can be toxic and give you gastro-intestinal disorders, so you want to be careful. You want to know your edibles but more importantly, you want to know the toxics and toxic look-alikes so you don’t mistake those. One of the most important things when cooking mushrooms is to do a double sautee. So you cook them in a dry pan with no seasoning and no oil until the water comes out and evaporates. Then you add butter, oil, garlic, or whatever for flavor and they’ll absorb all that flavor. It makes them much tastier that way.
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E – So, when you’re cooking, all that moisture out is it also for safety reasons or just for the flavor?
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A – Just for the flavor. You want to cook out the moisture first before adding other ingredients, say for a sauce. I’ve ruined a few just by adding raw mushrooms. It cooks all that water into your sauce and can be very overwhelming. With all mushrooms, it’s better to pick a small mushroom than a larger mushroom. All mushrooms have the same number of cells, whether they’re small or large. They don’t grow by cell division. They grow by cell elongation, so when they’re really big it’s because their cells are elongated and water logged.
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E – So bigger is not better.
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A – Right, bigger is not necessarily better!
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This has been so much fun. What a world you live in! I look forward to seeing where you take all this.
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Interested in finding edible mushrooms?
Find Adrienne at mendomushroomforager@gmail.com or at the Stanford Inn in Mendocino, California.

27 comments

  • Interesting interview. We love foraging for mushrooms on Vancouver Island and in Whistler, have been lucky to find chanterelles and the coveted pine mushroom. Would love to do this in Alaska.

  • I don’t think I would ever take the risk. From time to time people die in Australia because they ate the wrong sort of mushrooms. The problem seems to be that we have poisonous varieties which look very much like the edible kinds many immigrants have safely eaten in their home countries.

  • I think I learnt a whole lot of things about the good old mushroom. It is interesting to note that all mushrooms have the same number of cells, small or big! We don’t cook lot of mushrooms. What we do eat , it is generally in restaurants with a hope that they get the best edible stuff out there.

  • This is so cool! I’ve actually seen tours to learn how to forage for mushrooms. It’s always been an interesting topic to me, though I’ve never taken one of these tours….I think I should!

  • This is super interesting! Love the idea of foraging for your food. Think it’s so important that more people understand where their food actually comes from. Also love mushrooms! Thanks for sharing!

  • Hey Elaine,
    Do you know of any reads or tour guides for finding mushrooms in Washington? This all sounds so interesting. I’m sure this is a quick google answer but thought I’d ask here. The facts of mushrooms are incredible like them being decomposers.

    I’d also be interesting in how to cultivate my own mushrooms. More google. Thanks for the post!

    Cheers,
    Mark

  • I’ve often fancied picking wild mushrooms but I’ve always been nervous about eating the wrong type! It must have been wonderful to go out with someone who knew what they were doing.

  • That is a very interesting interview, I didn’t know all those things about mushrooms. All I knew is that it’s dangerous to eat them if you pick them on your own These tours the girl offers sound really interesting.

  • Don’t think I’ve ever read so much about mushrooms. This I interview was quite informational. Maybe one day I’ll be able to go out and look for mushrooms, but definitely would check if they’re edible.

  • Interesting interview. I don’t eat mushrooms so this was of more academic rather than culinary interest to me. (And bonus! I don’t have to worry about consuming a toxic specimen by mistake!) Regarding some of the things that Adrienne said, I didn’t know that most of a mushroom is located underground, for example, or about the important role that mushrooms play in the ecosystem. I also didn’t think of Alaska as a place where you could find shrooms.

  • Really interesting. Great to find a post in such a detail about mushrooms. I love them a lot and I always wonder which of them are edible and which are not! Thanks for sharing this knowledgable post.

  • Very interesting to read about Mushrooms. Frankly had never given much thought to the subject. But was fascinated by this post and the sheer variety of mushrooms available. Getting to know which are edible and which are poisonous is a very valuable skill, especially if one is traveling in the wild.

  • Very interesting! I would be worried I’d eat the wrong ones, lol! It would be great to learn more about foraging sometime though, and I love that she is teaching her kids to forage, too!

  • This is very interesting. I once read an article about foraging mushrooms in Oregon (not sure if they have a festival too) but learned a lot by reading this Q & A. It is incredible how mushrooms are an entire topic and world. To me, they are so delicious. Would love to try more varieties. #WeekendWanderlust

  • Our family is big into foraging here in Washington. Nice to read a pro’s take on the goodness of our forests. PS: our favs to find in our woods on our property are morels… So good.

  • Great insight on how to find the best edible mushrooms. I have to admit I hate mushrooms so much, but my partner loves them, and she has also checked this post out and says its a great post to read. 🙂 Some great information here also.

  • Interesting post about mushrooms. I love mushrooms but there are so many different kinds in the wild it’s hard to work out which ones are safe to consume!

  • Wow that’s quite an interesting article you have posted. I would have never thought about this topic till I bumped into your post. Its pretty informative and next time I go into the bushes I will look for some of the mushrooms and remember your post. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Really interesting interview! I love hearing about peoples different passions and how they incorporate them into their travels – I agree that to go mushroom foraging I would want to go with an expert who has experience – I’m always wondering if I accidentally pick one which isn’t edible! I know that truffle hunting is taking off as a huge tourist attraction throughout the world right now – recently heard about a truffle foraging tour in France.

    Super cool, thanks for the insight Adrienne!

  • Interesting. I hope that I am never in the position where I need to find bush mushrooms to survive but at least I know how to if the need arises.

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