We may all see mushrooms when we’re out and about, in the garden or on grassy verges and even sometimes in the bathroom (I’ve seen it happen)! But if you’re really interested in getting out there to start foraging for mushrooms you may have a few questions, so here’s a few things you may like to know.
When should I go mushroom hunting?
I’m often asked ‘when’ is the best time to go mushroom hunting, or when is the mushroom season etc? Very valid questions to which most people often guess correctly as autumn being the best time. This again is true as this is the height of the season with many different species enjoying the conditions. Generally from September to November are the best times to find a large variety of wild mushrooms.
However, mushrooms and fungi grow all year round (some are persistent for many years). Your pursuit will become all the more challenging throughout these months, but there are some interesting and choice mushrooms to be found. To mention a few, the edible Velvet Shank and Wood Blewits fruit through winter and early spring. The excellent St.Georges Mushroom grows in spring around the time of (you’ve guessed it) April 23rd and into May.
See the seasonal mushroom calendar for a list of the most common species you can find throughout the year.
No matter what the season, dry conditions (especially after many days) are generally not good times for the fruiting fungus. Many mushrooms will appear soon after rain. The moist conditions quickly trigger the fruiting process, hence why so many seem to ‘pop up’ overnight. In these conditions you’ll have a better chance of finding more.
Where do I go to find mushrooms and fungi?
Mushrooms and fungi of all types are, quite simply, everywhere. Once you begin looking and start to develop your ‘foragers eye’, you’ll be seeing them all over the place, and not just in the typical woodland or field scenarios. You will discover all different types of species in gardens, grassy verges, hedgerows – even on thatched roofs or breaking through pavements!
The best place to start would be taking a look to see what’s close to home. Look for local woods, fields, meadows and pasture, especially nature trails etc. Some fungi and mushrooms grow specifically in certain environments, such as coniferous or broadleaf woodland only, or mixed woodland etc. Some fungi only grow in grassy habitats away from trees or in moss etc. Over time you will become accustomed to where different species will appear.
If you’re not sure where to go or would like to go on a guided walk, contact your local mushroom foraging group. Visit this site to find out where’s closest to you: www.abfg.org
What do I need on a mushroom forage?
There’s very little you need in the way of equipment while out and about, you can just take yourself really. But there are several useful things you will come to rely on which can be very useful while out and about.
Good boots are essential. It can get messy out there, so choose a comfortable walking boot with good grip.
The rest is up to you. For the colder/wetter occasions, I find a warm jacket with plenty of pockets for your other bits and bobs is really helpful. Also, use your least favourite trousers as you’ll be kneeling down a lot (sometimes into things you didn’t really mean to. It can happen!)
- A wicker basket is essential for collecting and are nature friendly, allowing the spores to fall through the gaps as you walk about (Also useful for carrying your other bits too).
- Tackle box/ multiple compartment box or spare tins are good for collecting specimens for examination to take back home, and too keep them separate from other fungi, especially the edible ones.
- Try not to use plastic bags as this makes the mushrooms ‘sweat’ and become mashed up.
Knife/ Mushroom Knife
- A reliable knife for harvesting. There are specifically designed knives available too. See below.
For further information on the legal aspects for carrying a knife view this article on UK knife law here.
Other Bits & Bobs
- Pocket guide is always handy to have to cross check while out in the field. (I’m naturally plugging my own guide, but there are many more choices out there).
- Pocket 10x Lens: For examining special micro characteristics while out in the field.
- Camera: To capture the mushroom at all angles and the surrounding environment (type of tree etc).
- Mosquito spray: If the conditions are so, you can bitten numerously (There’s even an app!)
- Wipes: After handling unknown species it’s wise to wash your hands
I’ve included some shopping links to help you track down those other extra bits you may want to buy:
How do I identify this mushroom?
The most important part comes when you need to identify exactly what you have found. Depending on what you find, this will be the most challenging part of mushroom hunting. If you would like eat your bounty, getting it wrong can cause serious poisoning – or worse! But cheer up, all it takes is some patience, deduction and common sense.
Got to the ‘Mushroom Identification‘ section of this site. Here it covers what features to look out for and a guide to show you parts of the mushroom and so on. Armed with this new knowledge, you can start to make notes with regard to your finds. From there you can start searching through this site (use sidebar search) and cross referencing through books, the internet and any other sources you may have.
What about Foraging, Conservation and the Law?
This subject is always an issue a lot of people are unclear on and can get quite confusing as to what’s OK and what’s not. Most foragers are sensible, smart people who hold high respect for nature and the land. But I’ll cover some main factors to help explain the do’s and don’ts
The Theft Act 1968 states:
A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose. For purposes of this subsection “mushroom” includes any fungus, and “plant” includes any shrub or tree.
However, there are sometimes laws in certain areas. These may be in place where local bye-laws prohibit foraging or special locations forbid it, such as a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ (SSSI), National Trust land, public parks and nature reserves. You should respect this and restrain from foraging.
Here are some useful links to articles covering foraging and the law:
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) (naturalengland.org.uk)
- Legal aspects of picking wild mushrooms (foragingguide.com)
- Foraging law and common sense (dartmoor-nationaltrust.blogspot.co.uk)
- Foraging and the law (vegetarianliving.co.uk)
- British Mycological Society – Mushroom Picking Code of Conduct (bms.ac.uk)
- Is foraging fruit (incl. mushrooms) legal? (bbc.co.uk)
- The Countryside Code (gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code)
- Foraging (Woodland Trust)
Most of us are pretty smart and have good common sense. Nevertheless, make sure of the following:
- Try not to ‘over’ forage, especially when you have found a number of the same species together. Leave some, especially younger species to mature and drop their spores.
- Be more aware of your surroundings. For example, try not to trample or damage any fungi underfoot or for that matter, any surrounding foliage or animal habitats (ie. Badger sets, Rabbit holes etc.). Damage like this happens all to easily and we’ve all made the odd mistake. It’s just wise to be more aware of what’s about.
Other aspects such as drugs misuse and poisonous/hallucinagenic mushrooms are taken very seriously. Whether you agree with these laws or not, it’s wise to know that the Magic Mushroom (Psilocybe semilanceata) is a Class A drug in the UK and an offence to even be in possession of them, let alone consuming any.
More about mushrooms and fungi
If you want to delve deeper into the world of mushrooms, I’ve compiled a small list of useful links covering Mycology and fungi related subjects. Enjoy: