Foraging for honey mushrooms

Okay, time for a break from all the chicken talk. This post is going to be about our experience this fall foraging for mushrooms.

First, I just want to say that eating wild mushrooms when you’re not 100% sure of their identity is dangerous, and can even be deadly. So if you forage for mushrooms, be sure to consult at least two references to make sure you have your identification correct, and make sure every part of the description in the books completely matches your mushroom – “almost” is not good enough. Also, the first time you try a new species, it’s a good idea to have your identification confirmed by an expert. In my case, I am the teaching assistant for a mycology class this semester, and I have training in identifying wild mushrooms. My identification was confirmed by two other mycologists.

If you’re interested in learning to forage for wild mushrooms, I recommend starting out with very unique, difficult-to-confuse mushrooms such as morels or chanterelles. Save the regular, gilled mushrooms for later on. Also, get a good mushroom ID book. My favorite is called Mushrooms Demystified, by David Arora.

Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora, on Amazon

Okay, so in the past couple weeks, we have found a ton of these in our yard:

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This species is called Armillaria tabescens, also known as the ringless honey mushroom. They are dull brown mushrooms growing in large clusters that can be either parasites or decomposers of hardwood tree roots. When I pulled up some of the clusters, a few were growing from old tree stumps cut close to the ground, and most of them were growing from tree roots that were close to the ground surface.

To identify these, you want to look for several features. First, turn the mushroom upside down and look at how the gills attach to the stalk. Different kinds of mushrooms have different gill attachments. Some types of mushrooms have gills that do not attach to the stalk at all – the gills end right before they reach the stalk. On others, the gills can be attached. For these honey mushrooms, the gills should be running slightly down the stalk.

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Next, you want to make what’s called a spore print. Cut the cap off from the stalk, and set it, gills down, on a sheet of paper (or in our case, a shoe box that we were about to throw out). Cover with an overturned bowl so that the mushroom doesn’t dry out too fast. Over the course of a few hours, the mushroom will release its spores en masse onto the paper. At that point, you can see what color the spores are. Armillaria species will give a white spore print.

spore print honey mushroom

Some mushrooms such as the other Armillaria species have a ring around the stalk, but Armillaria tabescens does not. The other species are also great edibles, but be sure to do a spore print – there are poisonous, even deadly species that look similar and have a ring, but have brown spores instead of white.

Armillaria mellea has a ring around the stalk, called an annulus

Armillaria mellea has a ring around the stalk, called an annulus
Image from Wikipedia

The cap should be 1-6 cm across, and the stalk should be 5-20 cm tall and 0.5 to 1.5 cm thick. The stalk should be pale toward the top, and get a little darker toward the bottom.

Once you’re sure you have Armillaria tabescens, you want to just use the caps to cook with, since the stems are tough and fibrous. Also be sure to cook it very well, because if undercooked, this species has been known to cause upset stomachs in some people.

In our case, we parboiled some of them and then mixed them in with scrambled eggs and salsa. Mmmmm… delicious! I’ve heard they are good in anything that shiitake mushrooms would be good. We’ve dried the rest of the mushrooms in our food dehydrator, and I’m planning to make some udon with honey mushrooms and kale in miso broth. It’s an amazing recipe, so if you want to try it (you can use shiitake mushrooms like the original calls for), go here:

Udon with shiitake mushrooms and kale in miso broth

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