Mushroom foraging in Haliburton Forest
An introductory course on how to find, identify and harvest wild edible mushrooms is a new addition to the Yours Outdoors experiences offered.
Mushrooms are one of the most plentiful organisms found in ecosystems, and they’re prized for their ability to decompose matter and form relationships with other plants, trees, and bacteria. Wild mushrooms in particular often look very different from what is found in the grocery store, and can provide a variety of nutrients and act as herbal remedies.
However, confusing a poisonous mushroom for an edible one can be dangerous if a novice mushroom hunter were to unknowingly eat a poisonous specimen.
“There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushrooms hunters,” said Stephan Lukacic, Yours Outdoors fishing and mushroom forage guide. “In this one square of acre here, there are mushrooms that will literally kill you in 24 hours. Not a good way to die.”
Lukacic is an avid outdoorsman and has been foraging for mushrooms for years. After turning around his diet to include mostly foraged and hunted foods to help with a chronic disease, Lukacic credits his organic and wild diet with his health improvement.
“I have a huge organic garden, and I just try to avoid as many commercial products as possible,” said Lukacic. “And it’s literally changed my life, in such a positive way. When you’re doing the preventative stuff – living well, you’re outside, getting fresh air, getting your hands dirty, eating properly, and all those things … it’s kind of the whole ball game.”
The three-hour course consists of a review period, where foragers learn about things like the identifiers of a mushroom, signs of toxic mushrooms, and proper handling of mushrooms after being picked. The field work comes next when participants are ready to use their newly found knowledge to discover and deduce types of mushrooms themselves.
Stephan Lukacic shows Nikki Trumpler how to take a proper photo of a mushroom to post online for identification purposes. According to Lukacic, an item is needed for scale reference, and multiple pictures must be taken from different sides and angles so others can look at all identifying parts of a mushroom.
Mushroom foragers were sent out into the forest around Kennaway Road to find native mushrooms in the area. A few notable discoveries were the black trumpet mushroom, the Craterellus cornucopioides, known for its delicious and rich taste, and the destroying angel Amanita bisporigera mushroom, an all-white mushroom that is known to contribute to a large number of deaths due to poisoning, often because of lookalike mushrooms that are safe and edible.
Lukacic advised the participants that mushroom foraging is a skill that takes time, caution, and plenty of studying to master – and isn’t a hobby for those who plan to only use their sense of sight.
“Just looking at a picture of this one and that one, you’re just asking for trouble,” said Lukacic. “There’s so much information missing from a picture. A picture doesn’t tell you where it was growing, or what kind of soil it was, or what kind of tree it was growing on. You go through those key identifying features every single time. I still go through a mental checklist before I put them in my bag.”
There are many things that can be used to determine the species of a mushroom, and whether or not it’s safe for consumption. Looking out for the mushroom cap, its hymenium, stalk, habitat, smell and taste, and spore colour are just some of the things mushroom foragers use to narrow down its species.
Angie Trumpler, a mushroom foraging participant, came to the class with her daughter Nikki to start learning how to identify mushrooms, after running into a puffball mushroom with her.
“Honestly it was excellent, even with the downpour of rain,” said Trumpler, a farm owner from Alliston. “We have never done anything like this before, and we are thrilled.”
Classes are being offered throughout the summer and into the fall as weather permits, as the best time to go mushroom foraging tends to be early fall, as temperatures start to drop. For more information, go to www.yoursoutdoors.ca.
*This story has been corrected to reflect that mushrooms are poisonous when eaten. A previous version incorrectly implied mushrooms could be poisonous when handled. The scientific name for the destroying angel mushroom was also corrected to Amanita bisporigera. (Updated Sept. 15, 2019)