The thrill of the hunt: Wild, edible mushrooms in San Diego
The San Diego canyon was moist and the only way means descending a steep slope. It may lead to a mean slide on dusty gravel but recent rains have muddied the hillside, making it a different kind of dangerous. Those rains have led to perfect growing conditions for wild, edible mushrooms.
Be careful when hunting for wild, edible mushrooms.
They’re tempting but be very careful when hunting. Every year someone makes the wrong choice. It can lead to a painful death or an evil stomach ache. Recently several Asian immigrants died from eating mushrooms that looked exactly like those they knew well back home.
Go with an experienced, local guide. I’m fortunate to have one in the family. Dave Rudie has been hunting local, edible mushrooms for over 25 years. He’s obsessive, doesn’t take chances and tests. He never eats a mushroom when he’s even the slightest bit uncertain. He also knows several prime locations where edible mushrooms sprout, given the right conditions.
San Diego is built along a series of mesas. Its corrugated hillsides are topped with buildings. Suburban neighborhoods tower over shallow, narrow valleys. Most roads are not straight and drivers must learn routes that twist and turn. Major roads line the wider canyons and narrower ravines are peppered with hiking trails, some private and wild. Given the right conditions, a few of those hide small patches of mushrooms.
There are signs at trail heads detailing what may and may not be done on public trails. The city tells you not to pick plants. Local, Steve Nau, grew up in San Diego and bemoans cactus-less canyons. “Most of the best ended up in people’s yards.”
I fudge and think, “Fungi aren’t plants!” We give back and always bring several plastic bags. Most of the time they end up full of garbage. If we’re lucky a bag might carry a few wild, edible mushrooms home too.
If you go:
- It’s safest is to only harvest pictures and leave the fungus to whither, furthering natural forest cycles.
- Mushrooms are good mimics. The most poisonous look innocuous. Some you shouldn’t even touch. Know what to avoid.
- Join a club like the San Diego Mycological Society. Attend meetings and their annual festival. Find out what grows in your area. Only go hunting with experts.
- Read up on wild, edible mushrooms and study pictures well (see link below.)Learn testing techniques. Get a second opinion and don’t eat anything unless you are certain. ‘Maybe’ can be life-threatening.
- Pick safe, mature edible mushrooms and leave the smallest to grow.
- Only take what you need.
- Most safe, wild, edible mushrooms need to be eaten within a day or two, if not hours.
- Here’s the Mushroom Hunter’s bible: Mushrooms Demystified
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Read more: My post about a surprise, Thanksgiving mushroom harvest.
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