Responsible Mushroom Foraging
We love mushrooms and we know you do, too! Whether you’re an expert mycologist (like Paul Stamets!), a cook who loves working with edible wild mushrooms, or someone who enjoys a stroll in the woods, as a community of mushroom and nature enthusiasts it’s important to use responsible best-practices every time we venture into natural habitats.
Mushroom foraging responsibly means being safe and sustainable in everything you do, from understanding the importance of mushroom identification to minimizing your impact in natural habitats while you’re looking for and collecting mushrooms in the wild. We’ve compiled information below that you can use to stay safe and forage responsibly!
Mushroom Fruit Body Forage Guide
Below is an in-depth Mushroom Forage Guide followed by an easy-to-read Mushroom Forage Checklist for your next mushroom foraging adventure!
What is mushroom foraging?
Mushroom foraging involves an individual or small group of mushroom enthusiasts who seek out specific species of mushroom fruit bodies in their local forests, meadows, or other natural habitats; mushroom foraging differs from a mushroom foray and mushroom harvesting in several ways.
The purpose of a mushroom forage can be recreational, scientific, or gourmet, and involves seeking out and identifying native (often edible!) mushroom fruit bodies, sometimes with the intent of collecting them for personal use to either cultivate in a home garden or for cooking. The best time of year for a mushroom forage in the Pacific Northwest is usually in the spring or fall, depending on what species you’re looking for. In some climates, foraging can happen year-round.
It’s important to keep in mind that some mushrooms are toxic and some species can actually be lethal. If you’re new to the world of mushrooms, it might be a good idea to start out on a group foray (see below!) led by an expert who can help guide you with mushroom identification.
Here are three common ways to enjoy a mushroom forage:
For some mushroom enthusiasts a forage could mean simply going out into natural habitats, finding native fungal species, and identifying them for their own records, often taking photos to document the adventure!
Photo of the Pacific Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus) found during a mushroom forage.
Mycologists – amateur and expert alike – might forage to collect fungal specimens for scientific applications or conservation efforts.
Photo of Paul Stamets climbing a tree to discover what mushroom species may live in the canopy.
Possibly the most common type of forage involves identifying and collecting native, choice edible mushroom fruit bodies for use in delicious home-cooked meals.
Photo of Shaggy Mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) on a cutting board being prepared for a meal.
A mushroom foray is an organized event for a group of enthusiasts, often led by a mycologist or someone with expertise in local fungi and their habitats. Because they’re organized and led by experienced foragers or mycologists, a foray is a great way for a beginner to learn the ropes and experience the joys of mushroom hunting without worrying about learning everything on their own. Forays are often educational in nature and participants can expect a guided search in natural environments for native fungal specimens where they will:
- Learn how to identify different mushroom species and which ones are safe to eat.
- Gain a better understanding of the significant ecological role mushrooms play in the places where they grow.
- Discover the importance of conservation efforts to protect at-risk or endangered species.
- Have the benefit of expert guidance in identifying and collecting gourmet mushrooms to collect and cook at home!
Photo of an expert-led group foray mushroom collection table.
Pro tip: If you’re interested in joining an organized foray in your area, visit the North American Mycological Association website and search for an affiliated club near you!
Mushroom collection checklist
Whether you’re going out for a foray or a forage, if you plan on collecting mushrooms there are several items you’ll want to take along. Here are the main items you’ll want to take with you:
- Reputable mushroom identification guide
- Parking pass and/or permits
- Woven or mesh basket
- Mushroom brush
- Mushroom knife
Photo of mushroom identification guide, parking pass, woven basket, and a mushroom knife and brush.
Mushroom harvesting, unlike a mushroom forage or foray, is the cultivation and/or collection of mushrooms for large-scale or commercial use, often in a controlled environment like a farm or a professional-grade grow room. When grown on farms or in grow-rooms, a highly specialized team of experts can monitor temperature, humidity, contaminants, and quality.
Mushroom harvesting in native habitats for commercial use is typically regulated and can require special permits. If left unregulated, the commercial collection of wild mushrooms could result in over-harvesting that might endanger native fungal species.
What to know before foraging for mushrooms
Season and location
Know what you're looking for and if it's the right time and the right location for that particular species.
If you’re hoping to collect a particular mushroom species for your favorite recipe, double check to find out what time of year they typically develop fruit bodies. It’s also important to confirm which regions and environments they tend to grow in. There are a number of variables that determine whether or not a specific mushroom species can grow in a certain area. This includes everything from the climate to what substrates (or food sources) are available – oftentimes a particular type of tree. For example, one well-known gourmet and beneficial mushroom you may have heard of, Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus), tends to grow on hardwood trees like Maple, Oak, or Beech.*
Photo of Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) growing on a hardwood tree.
Check in with your local mycological society for insider tips to help with your trip planning. If you aren’t currently connected and aren’t sure where to start, you can visit the North American Mycological Association website and search for an affiliated club near you.
Also, please keep in mind that just because a particular species might be edible, it doesn’t mean it’s legal to harvest in your location. Fungal species that are at-risk or endangered are often legally protected. Be sure to confirm that the mushroom species you’re hoping to collect is not only safe for consumption, but also legal to collect.
Follow the rules for fun, safe, and responsible foraging
Find out if permits or parking passes are required.
Always check for local laws, regulations, and limitations regarding hiking, going off-trail, and foraging. Some trails also require permits to visit, so make sure you do some research before heading out the door.
Some areas are environmentally protected and will have signs that indicate that hikers should stay on the trail. In those areas, it might not be permitted to collect any of the local vegetation or fungi without first acquiring a permit – if it’s permitted at all.
And, always be sure to confirm that the mushroom species you’re looking for isn’t classified as at-risk or endangered.
Get directions, read feedback on trail and foraging websites about where you’re heading, and figure out your plan for parking once you get there. Very often a parking pass is required, and sometimes parking lots have limited space. Finding out what other foragers and hikers have to say will help you prepare for your trip in advance. You might discover you’ll need to wake up earlier than usual to get to a popular trailhead before all the parking spots are taken.
Take a reputable mushroom identification guide and the 10 essentials for hiking.
Mushroom identification and safety
Accurate mushroom identification is an important part of safe foraging. As Paul Stamets says, some mushrooms can feed you, some can kill you, and some can send you on a spiritual journey. Educate yourself before you go so you know the difference between edible mushrooms and not-so-edible look-alikes. It’s important to keep in mind that some mushrooms are toxic and some can actually be lethal. If you’re new to the world of mushrooms, it might be a good idea to start out on a group foray led by an expert who can help guide you with mushroom identification.
Always take a reputable identification guide along so you can easily reference photos and information about the fungi you encounter. Even if you don’t plan on collecting any fruit bodies for personal consumption, a good identification guide is a great tool to learn about the different species you might encounter, what role they play in their native habitats, and the ecosystems they reside in.
CAUTION! Beware of AI-generated mushroom field guides and wild mushroom cookbooks. There are some AI-generated books that contain inaccurate information and even dangerous advice. Often, these types of guides can be found on online retailers where AI-generated books are being passed off as having been written by a human, sometimes fabricating credentials as an expert in the field of study being written about. Be sure to acquire your field guides and cookbooks from a reputable source, written by reputable authors.
Photo of a group of mushroom foragers.
The day before a planned trip, check both the weather forecast and park websites for any updates that might affect your plans. Don’t let inclement weather or road closures ruin your day!
Knowing what kind of weather is in the forecast will let you know what type of clothes and shoes you should wear and what gear you should take.
Parks, trailhead, and trail closures are typically listed online. If the location you’re headed to is far away, a quick review of the website might save you from a long drive only to discover the road is under construction, the trail is closed for maintenance, or the location is closed for the season.
Always notify someone of your plans, including where you’ll be going, and what time. It can also be helpful to enable location sharing on your cell phone with them.
The 10 essentials for hiking
As with any trek into the forest, be prepared with a well-stocked first aid kit and the 10 essentials of hiking:
- GPS, map, compass, cell phone (Paul likes the GPS app Gaia)
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Well-stocked first aid kit
- Tools (i.e. multi-purpose tool, scissors, a repair kit, a whistle, and anything you’ll need for mushroom collecting)
- Matches or a lighter
- Plenty of water
- Ready-to-eat food and snacks
- Extra clothing (check the weather to find out what you might need, and consider brightly colored clothing if you’re going out during hunting season)
- Shelter (this might include a tent, a space blanket, or a water-repellent blanket)
It’s important to forage as responsibly and sustainably as possible. From following local laws and respecting environmentally sensitive ecosystems, to using the right techniques to collect wild mushrooms, it’s important to educate yourself before you embark on your foraging adventure.
Photo of Namekos (Pholiota microspora, previously known as Pholiota nameko) growing on a log.
Minimize your impact
On any mushroom forage, only take what you need for personal use and don't tread on plants or tear away shrubs or branches. Paul likes to say that you should forage in such a way that anyone who might forage in the same spots later would never even know you were there. By minimizing your impact on the surrounding habitat and collecting mushrooms only for personal use, you’ll help ensure the safety and health of the native ecosystem. And, the more fruit bodies you leave behind, the more spores will get released into the surrounding area, and the more mushrooms there will be in future seasons!
Pack it in, pack it out
Leave no trace! It's important to leave the native ecosystem as untouched as possible. Don’t leave garbage, toiletries, food scraps, or anything else – even if it’s labeled “biodegradable.” Anything we leave behind can remain for years, disrupting natural habitats. If you pack it in, pack it out.
Photo of Matsutake mushrooms (Tricholoma matsutake) collected in a woven basket during a forage.
Mushroom Forage Checklist
Mushrooms are incredible organisms and foraging is a great way to learn how to identify different species, collect delicious edible species for dinner, and also witness first-hand the incredible impact mushrooms have in native habitats – just be sure to do so as responsibly as possible, minimizing your impact along the way. To summarize the information above, here’s a quick at-a-glance checklist you can reference:
- Get a reputable mushroom identification guide before embarking on your forage, or better yet, go with an expert who can teach you proper identification. Check out your local mycology club for more info.
Pro tip: for expert advice, connect with the North American Mycological Association and search for an affiliated club near you.
- If you’re looking for choice, edible mushrooms, be sure to research what season they typically produce fruit bodies and where they tend to grow.
Check for local rules, permits, road closures, and the weather forecast.
- Take the 10 essentials for hiking, as well as a mushroom knife, a small brush, and a basket for your bounty, and always notify a friend of your plans for safety.
Pro tip: use a woven or mesh basket so mushroom spores will fall to the ground as you’re walking!
- Forage responsibly. Be careful not to disturb natural habitats and always use the most responsible technique for retrieving wild mushroom fruit bodies.
- Only collect as many wild mushrooms as you need for personal use – and always be aware of species that are at-risk or endangered and be sure to leave them intact if you’re lucky enough to see them in the wild.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Don’t leave trash, tools, food, or toiletries on the trail.
- Have fun!
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.