It’s that time of year in the Bay Area when a world of wonder starts to grow at our feet in the form of wild mushrooms.
With another wet winter approaching, according to the National Weather Service, mushroom purveyors hope for a follow-up to last year's “epic” foraging season.
From the psychedelic to the poisonous to the Michelin-star-restaurant-worthy, the “fruit of the root” is likely to flourish in the Bay Area in the coming weeks, say mycological experts, or biologists who study mushrooms.
Here’s how to find and enjoy the weird little umbrella-shaped fungi without dying.
Any novice mushroom picker is cautioned to seek out expert advice, whether through a foraging tour, a trusty book such as Mushrooms Demystified, or online guides such as MykoWeb.com and MushroomObserver.org.
For additional expertise, contact the Mycological Society of San Francisco, which in December is hosting the Fungus Fair, where experts from far and wide will gather.
Most edible mushrooms have look-alike species, and eating the wrong fungus can result in terrible sickness—or even death. If you don’t know what you’re doing, find someone who does before munching on mystery mushrooms.
Just reading this story won't cut it.
Book a foraging tour with one of the following companies for the safest way to find and identify edible mushrooms. If you’re up for the trip, Eating Wild offers mushroom tours from Mendocino to the Sierras. Forage SF also curates expeditions to harvest wild treasures, from clams to seaweed as well as mushrooms.
There are two types of mushrooms, according to Ken Litchfield, a cultivation expert at the Mycological Society of San Francisco.
“Either it goes in the frying pan, or it doesn’t go in the frying pan,” Litchfield said, referring to mushrooms you can eat versus mushrooms you should never eat.
He explained that a simple taste test of a fingernail-sized clipping of a mushroom may tell you whether it's edible. However, he warned not to swallow when doing such a test and warned these mushrooms have poisonous look-alikes.
“Right off the bat your taste buds will tell you whether something could be edible or not,” he said.
Porcinis: A delicious staple of Bay Area mushroom culture and Italian cuisine, porcinis have a meaty texture and grow from the roots of pine trees. Porcini means “little piggy” in Italian, and it’s best to pick these piglets when they’re young.
Morels: These delicious little acorn-shaped mushrooms are home to springtail bugs, which provide an added snack in every bite. In the springtime, you can find morels growing amid the aftermath of the summer wildfires and the winter snowfall near Lake Tahoe. If you don’t like eating bugs, soak your mushrooms in salt water first, and the little critters will float to the surface.
Chanterelles: Often guarded by poison oak, chanterelles, the popular funnel-shaped fungi, grow at the base of oak trees. Infamously difficult to cultivate, the fruity-smelling, peppery-tasting mushrooms can also be wildly expensive.
Fly Agaric: The ubiquitous fly agaric mushroom is known by many names, including the Super Mario mushroom, the emoji mushroom and the Santa mushroom, the latter both for its iconic red-and-white cap and because its psychedelic properties are rumored to be the origin of the legend of Santa Claus. You can boil them to extract their psychedelic properties if you’re into that, but be careful–they’re considered toxic and have been known to cause symptoms from nausea to sweating and twitching.
Candy Caps: Candy caps are one of the few mushroom varieties that pair well with dessert. Identified by its scarlet color, the fungus is also known for its strong, heady fragrance when dried. Submerge these mushrooms in sugar to make a homemade syrup.
Mushrooms are found anywhere with oak and pine trees in Santa Cruz, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find on most hikes. Get lost in the forest of Enchanted Loop Trail and keep your eyes on the ground.
Last year’s burn areas make for this year’s delicious morel mushrooms in Tahoe during the springtime.
Salt Point State Park and the Mendocino Headlands offer plenty of hiking trails to scour for fungus along.
The hills of Mori Point offer plenty of shade, elevation and rain for mushrooms to grow.
David Sjostedt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org