Top 5 Wild Edible Mushrooms for Wilderness Survival in the Northwest

Lorraine Olivas-Romey with Hericlum Abietis - Lion's Mane Mushrooms
Lorraine Olivas-Romey with Hericlum Abietis – Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

Guest writer Lorraine Olivas-Romey is treasurer of the Snohomish County Mycological Society through which you can join her and other members on mushroom forays and their incredible October Mushroom Show.

Wild Edible Mushroom Hunting

Foraging for mushrooms has recently become quite popular. Is it due to a “back to nature” movement, consuming food that is naturally grown, or the thrill of finding something totally organic? Whatever it is, be cautious about eating a mushroom without total identification that it is an edible. In fact, “a mushroom chooses its victim”. One can be allergic to them like being allergic to strawberries or seafood.

In the Pacific Northwest, most edible mushrooms are found under conifer trees: Douglas fir, Hemlock trees, Spruce and the Pine genus. They are said to be mycorrhizal, a mutually beneficial relationship between the trees’ roots and the fungi.

st2-HowToIdentifyMushroomsInterested in foraging for edible mushrooms? One way is to join a mushroom group. In the Seattle area, Puget Sound Mycological Society, the largest in the Pacific Northwest, and Snohomish County Mycological Society, north of Seattle are the closest. Both lead mushroom forays, or a field trip educating the public on edible, non-edible, or poisonous mushrooms. Another way would be to follow a seasoned forager who may have been a former member of a mushroom group, and hunts independently.

In these groups, the most important lesson that one will come away with is how to identify key features of a mushroom. Learning to identify different parts of a mushrooms are crucial because these characteristics determine whether it is indeed the right mushroom for the table.

The unique key features mentioned here are for a typical mushroom that most people come across. Exceptional irregular mushrooms have only some of these characteristics.

st18-CardinalWildMushroomRuleIdentification: Key Features of a Mushroom

The following key features are what to look for in identifying the genus and specie of a mushroom:

  • Size, • Shape, and • Color of the cap and stalk.
  • Underneath the caps, are there gills, a sponge layer (pores), or teeth?
  • Odor.
  • Spore color.
  • Other features like a veil or ring around the stalk, or a base with a volva.

Be aware that photographs from a mushroom text book may be unreliable.

Top 5 Northwest Mushrooms

Selected here are five CHOICE edibles which can be easily distinguished from gilled mushrooms. Each key features are unique and have no poisonous look-a-likes.

st4-BeletusEdulusKingBoleteMushroomCep, Porcini, or King Bolete

BOLETUS edulis are better known as “porcinis” by the Italians, and “cep” by the French. Foraged during the summer and fall, these prized and delicious edibles can look like a bread bun protruding through duff, the decayed organic matter on the forest floor under conifers. Features that announce this delectable mushroom are its bald cap of any of these colors: brown, yellow-brown, or red-brown, and underside it are pores, a sponge like layer, that when young it is whitish, and turns olive green as it matures; it does not turn blue when handled. Just below the stem, a net like design decorates it.

A most desirable mushroom when sliced and dried, it makes a tasty and flavorful soup.

st5-HypomycesLactifluorumLobsterMushroomLobster Mushroom, one of the Russulas

HYPOMYCES lactifluorum aka Lobster mushroom is a pretty thing. In reality the mushroom originally was a Russula brevipes, a commonly white russula found in the Pacific Northwest. Engulfed by a parasite in rich conifer humus, and the host mushroom may hold its shape or another odd shape, but it is the fresh steamed red or red orange lobster color that magnetizes a forager’s eyes.

Best sauteed in butter or pickled.

Hedgehog Mushroom instead of Chanterelles

st9-HydnumRepandumHedgehogMushroom

HYDNUM repandum called Hedgehog, a teeth fungi, competes with the Cantharellus cibarius, or popular yellow chanterelle as an edible. Some foragers prefer it because it is tastier. Hedgehogs’ caps and stalks range in color: white, pale orange, orange brown.  But its best unmistakeable feature are delicate white or pale orange spines called “teeth” hanging under its cap. Usually in large numbers on the ground under fir, hemlock, and pine.

Prepare as you would a chanterelle, a little bit of butter, salt, and pepper.

Editor’s Note: I asked Lorraine why not Chanterelles? She reminded me that I requested the Top 5 mushrooms based on safety in northwest survival situations, and she didn’t include Chanterelles (and some other popular mushrooms) because of dangerous look-alikes. – Chris Chisholm

Lion’s Mane or Bear’s Head

st13-HericlumAbietisLionsManeMushroom

HERICIUM abietes, a striking white ball growing on a dead log from afar while hiking in the woods, would be overlooked by everyone except a mushroom forager. This beauty whose other name is Bear’s head, also a “teeth fungi”; once handled, will never be forgotten. Adorned with pretty white like icicles on its branches, this mushroom is delicious when sauteed in olive oil, or add it in eggs, or to a vegetable stir fry, semi crisped.

A novice forager, may mistaken a HERICIUM erinaceus for a Hericium abietes. Don’t be fooled. The difference is how the “teeth” are set. Aka “Lion’s Mane”, depending on age, is a medium or large white clump-like ball of spines hanging all over it. Find these on both living trees and dead logs in a forest. If foraging is out of the question, it can be cultivated or purchased from mushroom growers. Culinary delight depends on the consumer. One believes it tastes like seafood, another says it tastes bland.

st14-SparassisCrispaCauliflowerMushroomCauliflower Mushroom

SPARASSIS crispa, looks more like a cluster of egg noodles rather than a cauliflower, but Cauliflower mushroom is its accepted common name. Growing on stumps or Douglas fir tree roots and other conifers, it can easily be identified; look closely to find firm flat curly edges. Young white or slightly tan specimens weighing less than 5 pounds are better sought out, though difficult to clean with fir needles caught between its branches. Cook thoroughly to tender it. Delicious in casseroles or in a frittata.

Cardinal Rules for Mushrooming

st16-WildMushroomEatingRules
Before consuming any edible mushroom, be sure to follow these FIVE RULES:

  • Always be 100% sure of its identification.
  • Always cook mushrooms thoroughly.
  • Eat no more than one tablespoon when trying out a new mushroom; save a fresh sample in the refrigerator.
  • Eat only one mushroom at a time – wait 24 hours for any reaction.
  • Only eat mushrooms in good condition.

Finally, when unsure about any of a mushrooms’ key features, a CARDINAL RULE exists and that is:

  • WHEN IN DOUBT….THROW IT OUT!

MushroomsOfThePNWbyTrudellLonePineLorraine’s Recommended Northwest Mushroom Books

1.  All that the Rain Promises and More by David Arora

2.  Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest by Steve Trudell and Joe Ammirati

3.  The New Savory Wild Mushroom by Margaret McKenny and Daniel E. Stuntz

Learn how to confidently identify plants using their unique family patterns in this in-depth video by author of Botany in a Day, Thomas Elpel!

*** For educational purposes only.  This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  We recommend that you consult with a qualified health care practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing or on any medications. ***

*** Please read our Honorable Harvesting Guidelines before harvesting any plant material.  The final guideline is of utmost importance:  “Never put anything in your mouth unless you are 100% sure it is safe to ingest.” ***

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    We would like to encourage the reader to comment with suggestions on which mushroom(s) you think are the best to know in survival situations, considering safety, nutritional value, and utilitarian value such as for fire tinder. For instance, last night, I attended a Tacoma Permaculture Ecohouse presentation by Daniel “Deej” Heath, Ph.D. on wild edible mushrooms of the region near Pacific Lutheran University.

    Dr. Deej suggested that survivalists learn the BOLETUS genus since pretty much everything in that genus is edible as long as we ensure that the porous surface is a color besides reddish/orangish. Most BOLETUS may taste undesirable but most are full of protein, so good for survival.

    I also asked Dr. Deej why Lorraine might have worded her introductory sentence of this article by juxtaposing “choice” versus “gilled” mushrooms. Dr. Deej explained that most mushrooms that are not gilled are not severely poisonous (not dangerous than a stomach ache), whereas pretty much all mushrooms that can kill you are gilled.

    Dr. Deej also explained that mycorrhizal mushrooms are nutrient traders, not decomposers, taking minerals out of the soil to give to trees, which in turn, give them back glucose (sugars). Oaks, for instance, are bad at mineral uptake, so make partnerships with mycelia more than with any other tree genus. He said Douglas Fir comes in second on that account.

    Dr. Deej also recommended that for the most successful home-cultivated mushrooms, to order plugs of Oyster and Shitake, since local conditions are right several times per spring and fall, whereas other popular species often require “shocking” or soaking or other tricks to make sure they produce.

    He also says that he tried leading mushroom forays a couple of times, but that he doesn’t feel he can properly teach people correct understanding of caretaking wild mushrooms, and that participants sometimes return to harvest unsustainably. For instance, learning to cut chantrelles, instead of picking, is important because you can leave a second chantrelle to reproduce from its paired bud.

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  2. Avatar

    I suspect that Lorraine worded her introductory sentence in that way because it is especially easy to get confused with gilled mushrooms. Most (but not all) of the mushrooms that can kill you are gilled, and some look quite similar to edible species. Most non-gilled mushrooms are not deadly poisonous, but again there are exceptions. In particular the false morels (gyromitra) can be deadly, and podostroma cornu-damae (in Japan and Korea) can cause severe reactions to people who so much as -touch- it, much less eat it.

    I also don’t want to put words in Lorraine’s mouth. I am only guessing at why she chose that wording, and I may be mistaken.

    I like her list, though I have known people who have confused hericium abietus and ramaria formosa, a mildly toxic clustered coral mushroom. Frankly, I don’t think it is possible to make an “idiot proof” mushroom list…there always seems to be some idiot who isn’t careful enough.

    Last comment: Mushrooms have many and varied uses, and eating edible mushrooms is only one such use. Most edible mushrooms have very few calories, so they aren’t really good for wilderness survival, where the main difficulty is obtaining enough calories. (They aren’t very good for dieting, either, since most non-survivalists sautee them in butter…) But mushrooms also make up a large portion of humanity’s historical medicine, and many different colored dyes, some types of fabrics, and raw material for artistry come from mushrooms. So it makes sense for the survivalist to familiarize themselves with these amazing organisms.

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