Going out into the wild to uncover local edibles is a great way to enjoy nature, find healthy food, and ultimately pay tribute to your local environment. One increasingly popular autumn delicacy to forage is the mushroom.
While we don’t know the exact number of mushroom species, we know there are millions. Some researchers cite 5.1 million species in the wild and others as many as 6 million. Some species you can safely pick and eat, but others you should carefully avoid because of their harmful or toxic properties.
If you’re new to mushroom hunting, the multitude of species and the chance of running into toxic mushrooms can be intimidating. However, if you are observant, careful, and interested in learning, this outdoor activity can be a great way to expand your understanding of nature — and you may come home with some delicious finds.
What To Know Before You Forage for Mushrooms
Fortunately, you don’t have to memorize every single variety before you hunt for mushrooms. But if you plan on picking mushrooms, it’s imperative to familiarize yourself with the species that are prevalent where you will be foraging. Make sure you know the difference between local species that are edible, inedible, and toxic.
A number of edible species look very similar to highly toxic mushrooms. For example, the popular Morel mushroom has a toxic twin aptly named False morel. And Chanterelles should never be confused with their toxic look-alike, often called a Jack-o’-lantern.
One great tool to use as a beginner forager is iNaturalist. You can simply take photos of mushrooms you find and submit them for review by community experts for identification. Plus, you can join up with local foraging or mushroom groups using meetup.com and check out the North American Mycological Association to find the nearest local club. These groups will likely have organized mushroom foraging events so that you can venture out with experts who can help you learn to identify local mushrooms.
Another resource to help you prepare for mushroom hunting is Learn Your Land, a YouTube channel dedicated to responsible local foraging. You can read up on tips for identifying mushrooms and study a mushroom map that can help you better determine which mushrooms grow in your region and how they grow.
Mushroom Foraging Counties for Newbies
Once you’ve done your research, where should you look for mushrooms? A report from moveBuddha analyzed data from iNaturalist and uncovered the regions in the United States best for mushroom foraging.
For people who are just starting out with foraging, moveBuddha has compiled a list of areas that have lots of mushrooms, a community of mushroom-interested folks, or a healthy combo of the two. Counties are ranked using data from iNaturalist fungi observations relative to the population, as well as the prevalence of mycophile Meetup groups, local NAMA clubs, and community events such as mushroom festivals.
According to the report, the best overall region in the U.S. for those interested in mushroom foraging is the West Coast. It identifies 12 counties from Southern California up to Northern Washington.
The best place offering an abundance of mushroom observations is Alpine County in California, according to the moveBuddha report.
Other popular locations include:
- Lane, Oregon (Host to the Mount Pisgah Mushroom Festival)
- Lake, Minnesota (Mushrooms abound!)
- Lincoln, Oregon (Mycophile Community)
- San Miguel, Colorado (Mycophile Community)
- Curry, Oregon (Mycophile Community)
- Sitka, Alaska (Mushrooms abound!)
- Charlevoix, Minnesota (Mycophile Community)
- King, Washington (Mycophile Community)
- Grant, Wisconsin (Mycophile Community)
Some of these locations are better for foraging opportunities (marked with “Mushrooms abound!”), while others offer a strong community of people interested in mushrooms (marked with “Mycophile Community”).
Counties With the Most Mushroom Observations
Once you’ve been foraging for a bit and have built up a good wealth of knowledge, there are some specific areas in the U.S. where you might find particularly rewarding mushroom foraging. The team at moveBuddha ranked counties with the most mushroom observations by measuring the rate of observations relative to the local populations.
California’s Alpine County again tops the list with a rate of 344 mushroom sightings per 1,000 residents. Another popular region is the rugged and remote Alaskan wilderness. Three boroughs made the list of the top 25 counties: Sitka, Skagway-Yaukutat-Angoon, and Denali. In the lower 48, these states also offer great mushroom hunting: Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
The report also uncovers which U.S. counties have the highest concentration of psilocybin mushrooms. Oregon counties dominate the top-10 list with four counties featured: Clatsop, Tillamook, Benton, and Lincoln. Oregon is the only state that has in any way legalized psychedelic mushroom consumption (but only in therapeutic settings).
Be a Careful Forager
Do not pick (or eat) any mushroom unless you can positively identify it
If you are just starting your foray into foraging, learning about mushroom species is essential. Simply spending time examining different species is time well spent. Never pick or eat a mushroom until you can positively identify the species. Mushrooms can be beautiful but also dangerous. If you’re in doubt, leave the mushroom alone.
Once you are confident identifying several species, proceed carefully and forage sustainably. When harvesting a mushroom, never completely uproot it and try not to disturb the soil. Instead, cut the mushroom at the stem, leaving everything else untouched. Don’t take more than you need and be sure to leave plenty for everyone else. This includes animals that eat those mushrooms in order to survive, like bears and deer!
Also, be careful of how you store your mushrooms. If you find that you accidentally picked some mushrooms that you’re not sure are edible, don’t keep them with other mushrooms that you’re sure are safe. You may contaminate the safe mushrooms by placing the poisonous ones in the same bag.
Be a Responsible Forager
- Respect the wildlife and plant life around you. Don’t disturb any creatures living in these areas. Also, show consideration to hikers, campers, and other foragers. In other words, be kind, respectful, and quiet so you don’t disturb those seeking the safety and solitude provided by nature.
- Be mindful that you only forage where it is allowed and stick to established trails. It may be tempting to stray off the trail, but this can damage plants, cause erosion, and harm the delicate ecosystem. Be sure you don’t wander off onto private property unless the owner has given you permission.
If you’re looking for an activity that can provide you with hours of interesting research, mushroom foraging may be right up your alley. Foraging excursions often result in tasty and sometimes trippy rewards. And even when you don’t find any mushrooms to pick, you’ll enjoy the benefits of spending time in nature.
About the Author
Kristen Klepac is a content marketing specialist with Green Flag Digital who often creates data-focused content that reveals unexpected trends on everything from crypto to city-based demographic reports. In her free time, she enjoys reading, trying to speak la langue française, and venturing out into nature for long hikes.