How to Hunt a Mushroom


I had a friend text me a photo of a mushroom tonight and ask me to identify it for her. I did! But it made me remember that saying.. "Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you've fed him for a lifetime." 

Mushroom hunting can be fun and rewarding - and it is often a lifelong passion and/or hobby once you get started because there is always something new to learn. My love for these beautiful organisms began when I was growing up with my parents, who were both foragers. I didn't learn "everything" from them though. They simply cracked open the door of that magical world just enough for me to become fully invested in my own lifelong journey of foraging.

My favorite literature that I use to help me identify shrooms that I find in the field today are both by David Arora. One of them is small enough to fit in my day pack when I am hiking or intentionally hunting for fungi, and the other is so thick it could be used as either a shield or a weapon if ever needed.

These can be rather dry to start out reading - unless you have some sort of base knowledge to jump off into the deep end with. I strongly suggest a soft opening into the land of mushrooms by immersing yourself into the fungi fields with some light reading and You Tube videos as well as ample time spent out in the field frolicking and foraging for fun.

Some peripheral reading materials to immerse yourself into the world of mushrooms:

Speaking of Langdon Cook and Paul Stamets - Those are 2 names that you will want to remember. 

Learn more about them here:

  • Langdon Cook is a writer, instructor, and avid forager here in the PNW. (I have an autographed copy of every book he has ever written and I hardcore fangirl over him.)
  • Paul Stamets is a mycologist and a scientist, and his Ted Talks are dreamy AF. Pre-covid he would sometimes tour around and I have caught a couple of his talks in person, in Seattle. If you see them and are interested - grab tickets quickly. They always sell out.

A couple of videos that every human with big mycological dreams needs to watch:

After you watch that 2nd video - Geek out with me for a minute over these photos of my 1st Agarikon that I found earlier this year (2020). I left it where it was to continue to make it's medicine.

I found that Agarikon while I was looking up - but don't forget to look down too. Have fun hunting for little caps while you are hiking or foraging and when you find one, ask yourself the following questions to help practice your identification skills -

  • What is the shape of the cap? Is it inverted? Rounded? Textured? Etc
  • Is the stem hollow or solid?
  • Does it have gills, teeth, or is it spongy underneath?
  • It is firm like wood or bark, or soft? Is it slimy or dry?
  • What about the environment that it was growing in - Was it growing directly out of the ground? Was it growing on a tree? Was the tree dead or alive? 

Certain mushrooms have relationships with specific trees - so it's always a good idea to supplement your mushroom specific learning with information about the native trees in the forests that you are foraging in as well. In the PNW, most edible mushrooms are found under conifer trees: Douglas fir, Hemlock, Pine, or Spruce. Can you identify these trees in your local forest? - Can you see the benefit of knowing if you are standing in the middle of a grove of Douglas fir trees? 

Another pro tip is to take note of the seasons that specific mushrooms grow in, so if you are walking through that same grove of conifer trees in the spring vs. in the fall - what different types of mushrooms should you be looking for during different times of the year? 

Lastly, check your local Nature Centers for more interactive learning and lectures. I have attended foraging events that were hosted through the Seward Park Audubon Society, as well as the Puget Sound Mycology Society that were helpful with sharing information as well as networking.

Lastly, lastly - Do you know you can grow your own mushrooms at home? It's pretty much foolproof and it's fun to watch the life cycle right under your nose! I am currently growing Pink Oysters and Lions Mane shrooms. I love the kits from Northspore.

Thanks for tuning in! If you have additional resources or feedback to share with me, I am always open to more conversations about fungi - Happy trails!