October and November are generally the best months for finding different mushroom species, especially after a rain shower. Some of the local mushrooms that can be observed and eaten are: “the chanterelle, boletes, oysters mushrooms, shaggy manes and puffballs”. More questionable mushrooms ones are: “the brightly colored mushrooms such as the photogenic fly amanita and many of the white mushrooms (other than the meadow and horse mushrooms), because they resemble toxic species. Joe Brown Park and Watershed Park are great for finding boletes, the occasional chanterelles, russulas and oyster mushrooms!
Since mushrooms are sometimes not easy to spot, it is fun to search for them with young children. Young children are naturally lower to the ground and their eyes are like eagles’, they get so excited when they find them. It is a good idea, to inform them not to touch any mushrooms with their hands, because children are naturally curious and cannot always resist temptation, therefore they can be encouraged to touch the mushrooms with a leaf or small stick and this works great to gently tap mature puffballs in releasing their clouds of brown spores in the air. An interesting science experiment with young children is to bring some non-poisonous samples of abundantly growing species, home to study and take spore prints (leave the mushroom on a white paper , cover with bowl and let the spores make a print…)
Mushrooms are a part of the much larger family of: “Fungi”. Fungi have been around for millions of years and are parasites that grow on plants, animals, humans and dead and decaying organic matter, mainly in a warm and damp environment. From mildewed shoes and towels to the fungi on our bodies (e.g. athlete’s foot and yeast infections), fungi has also been the cause of diseases that destroyed millions of trees i.e. the Dutch Elm Disease in the late 1960’s and the Irish potato harvests were destroyed for many years in the 1800’s, caused by a rust fungus with the result of widespread starvation.
Not all fungi are bad though. Yeast is among some of the fungi that we would have difficulty to live without…since it is necessary to make bread, wine and beer. Some cheeses are injected with live fungi to give them their unique flavours, i.e. Danish Blue and Roquefort. A particular fungi that is used to prolong human life is “penicillin” in antibiotics to kill bacteria that invade our bodies and treat diseases like tuberculosis (TB) and leprosy. If it wasn’t for fungi the dead bodies of animals and all plants would not decompose as fast as with bacteria and bugs alone and the nutrients would not return back to the ground. Other plants and animals that rely on those nutrients from the dead material would perish and the delicate balance of the ecosystem would be lost! Fungi are nature’s best recyclers!
Fresh mushrooms, store bought or wild, have long been celebrated as a source of powerful nutrients and minerals. They are low in calories and fat free. They contain vitamins B and D, riboflavin, niacin and minerals like selenium, copper and potassium.
For some of you interested in foraging for edible mushrooms, here is some important mushroom picking etiquette:
- Do not take all of the same species in a cluster or group, always leave some or break a few and “throw against a tree”, to release spores and to ensure a new generation the following year.
- Do not pull them out and destroy the sensitive mycelium (roots) from which they grow, please use a sharp knife or scissors and cut close to ground! To help identify species that look alike, taste: chew a tiny portion of the mushroom, (is it bitter or spicy?) then always spit it out!! Use your sense of smell, they can smell sweet or like almond or smell like fish or phenol! Look at the underside, sponge or gills, ring or no ring. Find, young, mature and old samples of the same mushrooms in a group, a young specimen could look a lot like another type of mature mushroom which maybe inedible or poisonous!! Bring a friend who has experience or someone who is an expert in mycology! Don’t forget a pocket size mushroom field guide! Last but not least, bring a camera, you will be glad you did! When you are outside, look up (on tree trunks) down and around, mushrooms are everywhere and great to photograph, especially in clusters on dead tree stumps, as well as singular ones. Try to take a photo from the ground and take one or two mushrooms and position them for a side view or from underneath, this makes identifying them easier. This can be a rewarding experience, you will benefit from fresh air, get exercise and a chance to find some of fall’s treasures!!