Safe Foraging: Mitigating Potential Harm

The issue of primary importance when going out for a forage is: IS IT SAFE TO PUT INTO MY BODY. If there may be even a sliver of doubt identifying a potential wild meal, then ALWAYS ERR TO THE SIDE OF CAUTION.

That being said, the risk of identifying your next meal does add some thrill and excitement to your forage adventure.

Enoki Mushroom (Flammulina Velutipes)

On the question of safety, it is important to take make aspects into consideration. First, are you properly identifying the species. With plants, a guide will instruct you which parts of the plants you can eat and in what season. A good example of this is stinging nettles, when nettles are young their tender shoots can be parboiled to prepare for eating then prepared for a sauté or a stew. Any other stage of the lifecycle and stinging nettles would not make it onto the plate.

Maybe some of the smaller shoots could still be harvested
Mature Stinging Nettles

With Mushrooms the identification process is more drawn out. A good guide book will help. A journal will help keep notes and details. The first signs that should be observed are the substrate or what the mushroom grows on, size, shape, color, smell. Each mushroom has its own way of dispersing its spores, which are the seed that will colonize new substrates and soils. Many have gills, some contain them within and puff out spores, some have smooth surface, some have pores. Then there are other signs to look for such as a veil over the gills or a bulbous stem. There are many look-a-likes.

In order to gain another clue, make a spore print. The color of the spore print will show up on a white sheet of paper and a white spore print will show up on a sheet of black paper. Remove a cap or spore bearing organ and place them on the sheet of paper and leave at least overnight. When you come back to the specimen, you should notice a mass of spores that collects on the paper underneath. The color is your clue to better identify what you collected. For further and most thorough examination, you can examine the spores under a microscope in which the tissue will show up as parallel, interwoven or divergent.

Most Delicious at this young and tender stage. Contains anti-tumor properties purportedly.
Chicken of the Woods Laetiporus Sulphreus

Although I would recommend not eating unless your are certain that what you have is edible and suitable to put on your plate, it would also help to know the deadly poisonous species that grow in the area of the forage. Some examples of deadly poisonous species are deadly galerina and destroying angel. Galerina have a signature rust brown spore print and destroying angel has a cup at its base and a veil. Both contain amatoxins. If you believe you have been poisoned, make sure to take the specimen of what you ate with you to the hospital. It is important to note that poisoning can only occur by ingestion, so you may safely touch and smell a deadly poisonous mushroom without being poisoned.

Deadly Galerina Galerina Autumnalis

When gathering your food from the forest, observational skills are of supreme importance. If you find a wild edible that is close to a path or close to a road, look around you to see if there are any contaminants that could make an edible species inedible. If the specimen is aged or infested may be another good reason to pass on a positively identified species. Use all of your senses, including intuition. If your disgust alarms are going off, listen to yourself. If there are no contamination sources in the area and the system looks vibrant and the specimen looks delicious, then you can also trust your intuition on the other side of the coin.

Foraging is as old as humanity and we have the deeply engrained yet learned ability to distinguish between safe and toxic and enjoy the endless bounty that the forest grows and the abundance that the source of life provides.

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