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Foraging in Western Washington

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The rains are finally falling and as the water comes down, those fabulous fungi begin springing up! This fall, much of Western Washington had a later start to mushroom foraging because of relatively dry conditions, but now the hunt for choice edible mushrooms is at last happening -- just about everywhere.

Some of the best-known choice edible mushrooms in our Pacific Northwest region include:

  • Chanterelles in several varieties such as the golden (Cantharellus cibarius)
  • Hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum)
  • Zeller’s boletes (Boletus Zellerei)
  • King boletes (Boletus edulus)
  • Shaggy parasols (Lepiota procera)
  • Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
  • Shrimp russulas (Russula xerampelina)
  • Shaggy manes (Coprinus comatus)
  • Matsutakes aka the “pine mushroom” (Tricholoma matsutake)
  • Cauliflower mushrooms (Sparassis)
  • Angel wings (Pleurocybella porrigens) 

That is just the tip of a substantial amount of fungi to be found! During other times of the year, one can also find morels, but they tend to abound in Central Washington more than west of the Cascades.

Newbies hoping to go out on their first forays should look no further than their local mycological society for education on identifying species, access to a peer network of mycologists and seasoned mushroom hunters, and, best of all, field trips! Here in Western Washington, joining the Puget Sound Mycological Society (www.psms.org) serves as an ideal starting point. For a low-fee annual membership, this club not only helps fledgling fungiphiles with safety and identification but also shares best practices for harvesting to help maintain species diversity.

 

Pictured is a combination of tube chanterelles, a couple golden chanterelles, a couple king boletes, and some hedgehogs

Because they are so prolific, Pacific Northwest foragers are a little chanterelle-obsessed, and for good reason! White and golden chanterelles are meaty, generous fungi which taste great dry-sautéed and finished in a sherry-deglazed pan. They are equally fabulous dehydrated, then pulverized and used as a coating on steak for extra earthiness or in gravies. Nobody’s going to give up their secret spot, which is why a foray with friends or a mycological group enhances your odds of success. 

Chances of finding chanterelles are optimal in forests with filtered light, second growth Douglas Fir overhead, a spongy duff underfoot (thank you, rain!) along with a smattering of salal and huckleberry shrubs in the mix. Seasoned foragers also describe a “fall smell” from decaying leaf matter when the conditions are just right. In a typical mid-December, the temperatures drop and fungi fruiting tapers off, making mushrooms more elusive.

When harvesting, cut mushrooms with a pocket knife at the base to help preserve the ground’s fruiting areas rather than pulling out a mushroom with the root mycelium. Just like with fishing and game hunting, there are state limits for personal mushroom harvests, found here (https://www.psms.org/rules.php), just know it’s more than you’ll ever eat in a day. To avoid poisoning or intestinal distress, never eat a wild mushroom raw and only eat what can positively be identified as edible, preferably “choice edible” for culinary varieties. When in doubt, reach out…to an expert! 

Author David Arora has written several books for mushroom identification, including All the Rain Brings and Mushrooms Demystified. Both belong on any forager’s bookshelf.  Some fascinating stories about those who hunt mushrooms for a living in the Northwest can be found in local author and forager Langdon Cook’s The Mushroom Hunters. Get reading, network with other foragers and have some fungi fun!