Foraging, identifying and harvesting wild mushrooms in the himalayas
Hunting for wild mushrooms is a very rewarding experience, but knowing which mushrooms are edible is a key skill you must have before going into the woods. Mushroom hunting takes hiking to a whole new level. It excites both nature and food lovers alike.
As a microbiologist and a nature lover, I have been foraging and enjoying wild mushrooms for years now. So, on the lovely morning of 4th August, 2019, I along with the team of "EarthJust Ecosystems" and a few hikers went for foraging wild eatable mushrooms.While no Morel mushrooms are found in the month of August. But, these are the best monsoon months to enjoy other eatable wild mushrooms.
Some other tools that we found helpful along our way were:
● Magnifying glasses (to observe the fascinating mushroom specimens)
● A knife/scissors for cutting mushrooms (plucking the mushrooms damages the organism underneath. Cutting with the knife ensures that mushrooms will show up next year as well)
● Baskets to carry your harvest out of the forest
● Waterproof clothing/ raincoats and gumboots (optional)
Eatable, poisonous & medicinal mushrooms collected by our team of hikers on 4th August, 2019
Mushroom Identification- eatable, poisonous & medicinal mushrooms
While some mushrooms are eatable, others have medicinal properties. Poisonous mushrooms are also very common in these months. So, no mushrooms should be consumed without proper identification. Most cases of mushroom poisoning, however, are caused to rotten or spoiled mushroom and not by consumption of poisonous one!
After foraging these gorgeous beings, we sat down for identifying and pick the edible species, discussing the various types of fungi and their role in the forest ecosystem. The group was then informed about how to recognize and avoid various poisonous mushrooms. We also found a few medicinal varieties during our hunt.
Team identifying poisonous, edible & poisonous mushrooms
Here are some of the edible mushrooms that we found:
This mushroom is commonly known as "pear-shaped puffball". They are found in dense clusters on decaying woods. There occur from July through November in the Shivalik hills (the lower Himalayas). The longitude section of this mushroom reveals plain white surface. Gills never occur in puffballs.
Spring orange peel fungi
This pretty orange colored mushroom is commonly found at higher elevations, often near melting snowbanks. It grows in clusters on leaf litter or mossy ground.
Spring orange peel fungi (caloscypha fulgens)
The common puffballs
These puffballs are not edible at all stages. They are only edible when the internal tissue is white & uniform in appearance. The internal tissue of this mushroom bears sports. And with time it turns from white to brown & then powdery when mature. After complete maturity, these puffballs puff there spores through the central hole.
As a general rule, any kind of puffball mushroom is only edible when the internal tissue is pure white in appearance.
Common Puffball Mushrooms
White & grey oyster mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms get their name from their oyster shaped cap. They have a very short or no stem at all. They are come in a wide variety of colors. We were able to collect atleast 5-6 different varieties of grey, brown and white oyster mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms are the second most cultivated mushrooms in the world, just after the white button mushrooms commonly found in the grocery stores.
Different varieties (all eatable) varieties of oyster mushrooms that we foraged
We also found some medicinal mushrooms:
Most of the medicinal mushrooms are identified by there woody texture. They are tough to chew and swallow. So, they are consumed in the form of tinctures & teas. Here are the medicinal mushrooms that we found:
Different types of Gynoderma mushrooms grow throughout the world. However, there identification is not very difficult because only few other mushroom species rival its iconic beauty!
These mushrooms grow on different kinds of hardwood logs like elms, maples, beeches, oaks and others. Fortunately, there are no poisonous lookalikes of Gynoderma.
To reap its health benefits, we made a tea out of it. As they are too woody & cellulose rich to eat, unlike other mushrooms that we harvested.
Codyceps is an interesting fungus that parasitizes and colonizes the insect and gradually kills the insect in a slow and lengthy process. The fungus then fruits from the dead, colonized insect. These mushrooms however, have a great medicinal value. Among the various Codyceps varieties, cordyceps sinensis is the most commonly harvested mushroom.
Scientists are still investigating Codyceps tuberculata for thebioactive polysaccharides found in this mushroom.
Inedible mushrooms that we found:
Other than eatable & medicinal mushrooms, rest of them fall in one of the 2 categories:
Eating an inedible mushroom is just bad for the stomach and may cause diarrhea and vomiting. On the other hand, consuming a poisonous mushroom can be dangerous & even cause death.
We found the following mushrooms that were either inedible, poisonous or unknown edibility.
This is a small and erect slime mould, often found in large colonies. It is pinkish red in color and crowded with small stalks. Total height is only 1 or 2 mm. Its habitat is dead wood (especially broad leafed trees). The edibility of this mould is not known yet!
Lepiota cristata, also known as "Stinking Dapperling" is inedible and slightly poisonous. It may cause gastrointestinal irritation. Hence, it should always be avoided. This mushroom has a central umbo, which nearly becomes plane with age. It has a reddish brown concentric ring surface at center, shading lighter towards margin.
Inocybe is categorized as a poisonous mushroom. This mushroom was first described in 1774 by Jacob Christian Schäffer, a German naturalist. Its cap (5-8 cm wide) is conical in shape with a prominent central knob, edges upturned, often split. It is yellowish brown in color with fibrous stripes.
Cooking them up!
Once home, we soaked all the eatable mushrooms in lukewarm water to remove the dirt, and sliced them lengthwise. For small mushrooms, we left them whole. Then we sauted them with butter and garlic for 10 minutes on medium-high heat.
Another way to enjoy wild mushrooms is roasting them on fire for a few minutes. Then, you can add salt to taste. However, my preferred method of cooking is to saute them! Once done, eat them as a side dish to wild game your meat, soups or salads. You can also directly incorporate them into any recipe that utilizes mushrooms.
Stir fried spring orange peel fungi, wood-ear mushrooms, puffballs & oyster mushrooms
If you end up scoring more mushrooms than you need for a couple of days worth of meals, you can always sundry them for long-term use. Sun drying can be done on racks or trays in bright sun for 6-8. Once completely dry, they are good to use for 8-12 months, if kept in an airtight container.
I rarely ever have surplus mushrooms from mushroom hunts, so mine get eaten right away. This time I had a few surplus mushrooms that I sun-died.
Sun-dried medicinal & eatable mushrooms, herbs and green algae collected during mushroom hunt
As we are learning more about mushroom hunting, foraging and identification, our hunts are yielding interesting specimens, and, also, a delicious bounty. What do you guys feel about our mushroom hunts? Would you like to join us on our next mushroom hunt? Please let us know in the comment section below.