If you’re entering into the wide world of wild mushroom foraging in BC, or even considering giving foraging wild mushrooms a try this year, congratulations! You’re already steps ahead from many people who seem to suffer from the unfarmed fungi-phobia that seems to exist across a lot of North American culture.
From where I stand now, it seems crazy that there are so many umami-filled morsels of food growing free in the ground every year, and yet so few people actually forage mushrooms in British Columbia.
There are so many umami-filled morsels of food growing free in the ground every year, and yet so few people actually forage mushrooms.
Then again, being scared of harvesting wild mushrooms is completely understandable when you don’t know very much about them. All you hear about wild mushrooms in media is that apparently a lot of people become poisoned or fatally ill from them. Thinking back, I was scared of them, too!
In fact, I’m still extremely cautious about which mushrooms I harvest. I only pick the edible wild mushrooms that I’m absolutely sure I can identify positively, and I always double-check with an expert or mushroom field guide – and you should do the same.
However, there’s a difference between fear and caution. I hope that this (friggin’ tasty) guide to wild mushroom foraging in BC will help you overcome your mycology anxiety.
This edible mushroom foraging guide’s advice, tips, and tricks about how to find a mushroom spot, how to forage wild mushrooms, how to cook wild mushrooms, and health and safety info will help you in your upcoming mycology adventures, wherever in British Columbia you’re located.
How to Find a Wild Mushroom Spot in BC
When it comes to finding a wild mushroom spot, I have good news and bad news for you.
The bad news is that there’s no 100% surefire way to identify a spot that’s rich with edible wild mushrooms until you’re actually in the exact spot during the ideal weather conditions and season.
The good news is that there’s the Internet and kindly mushroom experts who are occasionally willing to give a new wild mushroom forager advice or even (gasp) GPS coordinates to their “secret spot” (more on this later).
General Mushroom Spot Identifiers
I have a few general ideas on where wild edible mushrooms tend to grow in the fall, but please keep in mind that this is only drawing from my own personal experience foraging mushrooms over the last few years. Your experience could be very different than my own!
In my experience, most edible mushrooms that I find in the fall tend to be:
- In moist, rich, dark soil
- In or near mossy areas
- In shaded areas with limited direct sunlight
- Not immediately beside running water
- Limited deadfall (though that maybe they’re just harder to spot)
- Near, beside, or underneath trees (except for cedar)
However, there are lots of exceptions to this, depending on the season and which mushroom you’re looking for. For example, I’ve found edible wild mushrooms (shaggy manes) in my driveway before. It shocks me how often I’ll find sought-after chanterelles on the side of well-walked paths and hiking trails, too.
The best way to find your own wild edible mushroom spot is to determine the best weather, temperature, and season for the edible mushroom you’re looking for. Check out the satellite feature on Google Maps to do some scouting beforehand and do your mushroom research. When the timing is right, go out for a hike and explore the forests around BC!
It is illegal to harvest wild mushrooms in parks. The edible food that can be found in parks is meant to sustain and protect the wildlife and ecology in that area. Please respect the law!
Mushroom Mentors and the “Secret Spot”
If you have a friend or know someone who already forages for wild edible mushrooms, you may be in luck. If they feel inclined, they may share their secret mushroom spots with you or even take you with them when they go mushroom picking.
Broach the subject with them by mentioning that you’d like to start foraging for wild mushrooms. Explain to them that you’ve done a lot of research and would like to get some field experience, but that you don’t know where to look. They may volunteer to help you, but don’t be pushy!
Remember, being shown or taken to a secret mushroom spot is a really significant thing to someone who is passionate about mushroom foraging. Mushrooms spots only yield a limited amount of mushrooms and they tend to reappear annually, so being shown a secret spot is a privilege!
Make sure you respect your friend and their secret spot by following some basic secret spot etiquette:
- Don’t tell anyone about their secret spot or its location
- Ask for permission if you want to return to their secret spot without them
- Be respectful and follow basic mushroom foraging etiquette (below)
- Treat your friend (and the area) in the way you’d want to be treated, if the situation was reversed
How to Start Foraging Wild Mushrooms in BC
Mushroom Harvesting Supplies
You really don’t need much to go on a mushroom foraging adventure. In the past, I’ve gone mushroom picking with garbage bags (unscented!), paper bags, butter knives, baskets, my pockets, my purse… whatever will get the job done is just fine.
Mind you, I’d recommend bringing a few things before you go:
- Breathable cloth bags to hold your mushrooms
- Sharp knife or spoon to remove debris and stems
- Headlamp, charged cell phone with good GPS, first aid kit, basic hiking supplies
- Waterproof clothes if it’s been raining recently
- You may want to bring gardening gloves if you’re squeamish
There’s a fair amount of confusion over whether it’s necessary to go out of your way to spread spores when you forage mushrooms. Frankly, I don’t know who to believe, but I do what I can to ensure that there will be mushrooms in the same spot next year, and you probably should, too.
You can play it safe by doing two things:
- Use a breathable cloth bag to collect mushrooms so the spores can exit the bag
- Cut and leave the very bottom of the mushroom stem on the ground where you found it
Okay, there are a few basic rules of etiquette when it comes to wild mushroom foraging. There’s no foraging police and no one is going to come and harass you if you don’t follow them, but if you believe in eating and harvesting sustainably, you should want to follow them.
- Leave a place in the same or better condition than when you arrived
- Take some, leave some – remember, edible food that you forage also sustains and protects the wildlife and ecology of that area!
Identifying Wild Mushrooms in BC
I’m a moderately experienced mushroom forager and a damn good mushroom cook, but I’m no mycology expert. I concentrate primarily on identifying and collecting a select few types of wild edible mushrooms that I’m confident I’m able to positively identify.
Please take care to positively identify the wild mushrooms you forage and be familiar with their poisonous lookalikes!
“Foolproof Four” or “Infallible Four” Wild Edible Mushrooms
The “Foolproof Four” or “Infalliable Four” wild edible mushrooms are the easiest mushrooms to identify. These wild mushrooms are distinctive looking and have few poisonous lookalikes.
If you’re just starting to forage for edible mushrooms, I would recommend that you stick to just foraging for these until you’re more familiar with other types of wild mushrooms.
Black Morel (Morchella Elata)
Here are a few ways you can positively identify the black morel mushroom in BC:
- Characteristic black or brown honeycomb-textured cap
- Cap and stem are hollow with thin walls
- Stem is white, smooth, and hollow
- Cap bottom joins smoothly to stem (does not hang over loosely)
- Can grow alone or in clusters
- Often near conifers but not necessarily directly beside or under trees
- Mild taste
- Warning: May be poisonous if consumed with alcohol
- Lookalikes: False morel (can be poisonous, do not recommend eating)
- Note that the false morel looks “brain-like” (see image below)
Yellow Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius)
Here are a few ways you can positively identify the yellow chanterelle in BC:
- Consistent yellow colour, smooth, dry, firm
- Cap has depressed dip in centre
- Cap grows up to 15 cm wide
- Mature chanterelle is funnel-shaped and tapers at bottom
- Does not change colour when bruised
- Grows alone or in groups, but not clustered, at base of trees but not on the tree itself
- Appears in summer and fall
- Mild taste and mild, fruity odour
- Lookalikes: False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca), Jack-O’Lantern Fungus (Omphalotus illudens)
Chicken of the Woods AKA Crab of the Woods (Laetiporus gilbertsonii or Laetiporus conifericola)
Here are a few ways you can positively identify the chicken of the woods mushroom in BC:
- Fruiting body is up to 60 cm wide, grows in a shelving formation or rosette
- Caps up to 30 cm wide and up to 20 cm deep, up to 3 cm thick, fan-shaped or semi-irregular
- Caps are smooth to finely wrinkled, suede-like, bright yellow or orange when young and fading with UV exposure
- No stem
- Flesh is thick, soft, watery when young, paling and crumbling with age
- Grows on living and dead oak and eucalyptus trees and other hardwoods (note: less commonly seen Laetiporus conifericola grows on living and dead conifer tress)
- Can appear alone, but often found in large clusters
- Appear in the summer and fall
- Spore print is white
- Laetiporus gilbertsonii and Laetiporus conifericola appear in Western North America and are biologically different than the more commonly known Laetiporus sulphureus.
Western Giant Puffball (Lycoperdon Perlatum)
Here are a few ways you can positively identify the western giant puffball mushroom in BC:
- White, potentially with beige tint
- Up to 60 cm wide
- Wide, oval, potentially with scaled or textured surface
- Flesh is firm and all white
- No gills or “typical mushroom” shape inside
- Can grow alone or in clusters
- Commonly found in pastures, open grassy areas, arid areas, near sagebrush
- Appear in spring, summer, and fall
- Can have a strong odour during cooking when young
- Mild taste with marshmallow-like texture
Intermediate Wild Edible Mushroom Foraging Identification
Hedgehog Mushroom (Hydnum Repandum)
Here are a few ways you can positively identify the hedgehog mushroom in BC:
- Cap is wide, smooth, convex, wavy at edges, light brown and orange-y
- Distinctive underside of cap with cream-coloured spines
- Flesh is white when cut, turns unevenly yellow-brown
- Stem is solid, white, may slightly enlarge at base
- Grows alone or in groups in areas of conifers and hardwoods
- Grows in the summer and fall
- Non-poisonous lookalikes: Bankera fuligineo-alba (not edible), Hydnum umbilicatum (edible)
Shaggy Mane (Coprinus Comatus)
Here are a few ways you can positively identify the shaggy mane mushroom in BC:
- Cap is narrow, cylindrical, white, covered in brownish or reddish scales, grows up to 15 cm wide
- Older shaggy manes have bell-shaped cap
- Soft, white flesh
- Gills lightly attached to stem and white-grey when young, liquifies into black inky flesh when older
- Partial veil may leave half-ring on stem as wild mushroom ages
- Appear in early spring and late fall
- Pleasant taste with no odour
- Note: Black flesh has bitter taste, so remove before cooking and eating
- Non-poisonous lookalikes: Coprinus sterquilinus (edible)
Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces Lactifluorum)
Here are a few ways you can positively identify the lobster mushroom in BC:
- Technically, the lobster mushroom is a parasitic fungus that grows on mushrooms, and is not actually a mushroom
- Fungus turns mushroom host bright red-orange
- Firm, dense texture
- Texture is coarse, cracked, or dotted with small white bumps
- Fungus will eventually deform host until the original host mushroom is unidentifiable
- Has a seafood flavour that varies from mushroom to mushroom
- Fresh lobster mushrooms have white flesh inside
- Appears in summer and fall
Identifying Other Wild Edible Mushrooms
As for the other types of edible wild mushrooms, I’ll leave the final word on identification to the experts, as should you!
Here’s a link to Northern Bushcraft to help you identify wild edible mushrooms in BC.
I rely on these excellent books to help me positively identify wild edible mushrooms:
How to Cook Wild Mushrooms
Cooking Wild BC Mushrooms: Tips and Tricks
Don’t be afraid of using your mushroom treasures. You worked hard to find and forage these prizes, so make sure you treat them right during the cooking process.
Wild edible mushrooms are very comparable to their farmed counterparts in terms of how to cook them. Don’t undercook them, don’t overcook them, and season appropriately.
Basically, in almost every mushroom recipe, what you’re looking to do is gently release and evaporate the liquid in the mushrooms until they’re beautifully tender and ready to eat. Homemade wine also goes a long way in making a delicious sauce.
These are my favourite edible wild mushroom recipes that I always rely on in the spring and fall seasons:
Health and Safety
Before you go out and forage for wild mushrooms in BC, there are some basic health and safety tips that you should follow. I can’t possibly list every single danger in the outdoors that you need to be aware of (bears, cougars, falling down, etc.!), so I caution you to do an appropriate amount of research on wild mushrooms and bushcraft before you start foraging.
Additional health and safety notes to think about:
- Eating wild mushrooms raw is extremely unadvisable
- If you’ve never eaten a particular type of wild mushroom before, such as a chanterelle or lobster mushroom, please cook a tiny bit of it and try it before you gorge yourself on your harvest – you never know what your body might be allergic to (I can’t tolerate matsutakes at all, personally)
- Always, always positively identify your mushrooms and verify with an expert if unsure
- Be extremely watchful of poisonous BC mushroom lookalikes (doing your research will help with this)
Other Wild Mushroom Foraging in BC Resources
Wild Edible Mushrooms of British Columbia – Northern Bushcraft
Wild Mushroom Foraging in BC – Swallow Tail Tours
Harvesting Edible Forest Mushrooms in BC – BC Government
Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora
All The Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora
Good luck on your next wild mushroom foraging adventure in British Columbia. Let me know how it goes in the comments below!