Words of Advice for the Budding Mycologist

Mushrooms in the field.

Mushrooms in the wild. Wily suckers.

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

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Mushroom hunting can become rapidly addictive, even if you don’t find anything but an occasional rabid bat and a possum in a trash can. I can tell you this about foraging for mushrooms: If your natural environment includes possums in a trash can, then you are probably not going to find many mushrooms, at least not the edible, good for you versions. You may find the slightly edible, hallucinogenic cousin of the edible wild mushroom, but don’t let that deter you too much. Tripping on mushrooms is probably (I wouldn’t know, honestly, but I’ve witnessed it) rather enjoyable with few side effects other than not realizing you are cold, wet, or hungry. If you find yourself in a Nazi prison camp, which is very unlikely, unless some of the new trippy scientific theories mean anything whatsoever, (http://motherboard.vice.com/read/why-government-researchers-think-we-may-be-living-in-a-2d-hologram).

Superior race and alternate history theories aside (I never understood the math behind either one of those concepts anyway) mushrooms are good. Excellent, even. After decades of being in the dark, mushrooms are exploding in popularity as never before in the United States. Chef’s will pay extortion level prices for them and not even blink, as they are in turn selling them to their customers and clients for even more outrageous prices.

When I was young, when the concept of a superior race and a flat earth wasn’t really all that new, but still feared in the aftermath of WWII and its associated horrors, foraging for mushrooms was something that the “hill folk” did. More specifically, the act was usually associated with witchcraft, magic, spells, lights of the moon and craziness. Mushroom tea was very popular, as it is now, and believed to cure most anything, much as research is showing now. Mushrooms in supermarkets such as Whole Foods and more discreet specialty shops and Asian markets have become not only popular, but very expensive.

It’s no surprise. Foraging for mushrooms isn’t really all that easy, but it’s not that hard, either. You have to accept before you attempt the endeavor that you may or may not be successful. We are talking about harvesting a very small portion of a giant living organism that never really dies, mates with itself, has the ability to generate alternate states of reality and can kill you on the spot if you make a mistake.

It’s a little overwhelming to sell them, barter with them or give them to anyone you may or may not know. After all, it would be terribly embarrassing to have one of your guy friends hallucinating while sporting the effects of other, ahem, “benefits” of the fabled mushroom.

Some of them are indeed slightly phosphorescent, much like phytoplankton at low tide on unpolluted beaches. Or the sand itself on polluted ones. This probably furthered the myth of witches and ‘shrooms, as it is a little unsettling to find an old lady mumbling to herself on a remote rocky outcrop in the dark of the moon with shiny teeth. Not that I would know, of course. Such a sight would be so rare now that I would have to at least talk to her and probably share her mushrooms. God help me the next thirty hours or so.

My Great Grandmother was famous for her molasses stack cake, her foraging abilities (she grew up in WV, so that was no joke back then), her ability to put up with my Great Grandfather and her uncanny ability to navigate and care for a house after she went completely blind. By all accounts, she was loved by everyone, even though, kidlike, I was a bit afraid of her as a young child watching black and white Tarzan movies on her monstrous T.V. Grandpa White was famous for a whole other set of reasons, one of which is rumored to be the best moonshine in the mountains, often laced with the mushrooms that Grandma would never eat, no matter how blind she was. I can’t imagine what a pint of that kind of ‘shine would go for these days, or what it would do to you. I would no likely live through the experience, but I can’t imagine a better way to skate into death if an asteroid was about to hit earth in an hour or so, or in one of the Nazi Prison camps.

Some hints for foraging:

  1. It’s more fun at night, in the dark of the moon.
  2. A cat, preferably a black Manx cat, is the perfect companion. They can see in the dark and are afraid of witches and hippies.
  3. If you fall in the forest in the dark of the moon, does it make any noise?
  4. Baloo is cool at night. Very scary though.
  5. Tree stumps are fun to sit on and contemplate two-dimensional, black matter inspired, computerized existence.
  6. Keanu Reeves starts to make a little sense, especially with the right mushrooms. Preferably red with white spots.
  7. Mushrooms are more active at night, holding mushroom séances, usually in reverence to the cat.
  8. If you have a sudden urge to go swimming, just close your eyes and hold your breath. The mushrooms will take over.
  9. If you happen to have happy ‘shine, only trust the shrooms the shine recommends.
  10. You will nap very well the next day.

All of this is just for fun, of course. Foraging for any wild plant has the potential to be a deadly experience. It also has the potential to be the most rewarding experience of your life, as you proudly return home bearing the fruits of your wandering about in the woods. It’s great exercise, puts you more in tune with nature and all that most people miss, and being glued to the ground makes you more aware of your surrounds than ever.

There is also the added benefit of trading mushrooms for produce, eggs, pie, and nearly anything else you can think of. Dress strangely during these days, don’t get much sleep and keep dirt under your fingernails. It gives you more credibility.

Happy Foraging!

-RM

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Thanks to Georgia Pellegrini, author of “Food Heroes” and specifically her chapter “Seeing the Forest for the Fungus.”

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