Fungi season is upon us!
Although we can hunt for fungi all year round, autumn is the most productive time of the year to get outside and go hunting for fungi.
As you get more interested in bushcraft and the natural world around us it starts to become obvious that fungi - an almost taboo subject that we are conditioned to avoid - are both fascinating and very useful.
In this short article I’ll give you a few ideas about how you can get outside and safely enjoy hunting for fungi.
As a Scout Leader I have written this article with other leaders in mind but the content applies equally to any organised groups or individuals who want to learn about fungi.
Why Look For Fungi?
Fungi are an amazing thing, somewhere between plant and animal, they play a key role in their ecosystem by breaking down dead and dying matter around them.
From a young age we are trained to avoid mushrooms and toadstools, treating them with extreme caution. This leads to many people remaining completely ignorant and passing them by.
When you get interested in bushcraft, it becomes clear that fungi are a useful resource. We can eat them, make fire with them and even strop our knife with them. However, we need to learn which are safe and which ones to avoid and this learning takes time and effort.
Learning to safely identify fungi is key here and it's a subject best learnt from experts in the field. Luckily these experts are more accessible than you might think and usually keen to share their knowledge.
How To Learn About Fungi
There are several ways to learn more about fungi and I would recommend employing a combination of methods for best effect. I should say, though, there is a lot to learn and even the experts are still learning.
Organised fungi groups - Joining a ‘foray’ with an organised group is a great way to get outside with likeminded people who can teach you about fungi. There are a number of groups across the country that arrange forays and you can usually go along for a small fee. See the links section below for more information on finding a foray near you.
Visiting fungi experts - Another way to get access to a fungi expert is to approach a local fungus group or the British Mycological Society and arrange for them to come and join you for a private foray or lecture. We did this with our Scout troop last autumn, on a troop night, and split the evening into two halves. The first half was outside, whilst it was still light, collecting fungi from a local wooded area. We then moved back to our HQ for a briefing from our local Mycologist and spent time identifying the fungi we had found.
Fungi books and field guides - Field guides and books are essential in making a positive identification on any fungi you find. It’s advisable to have a selection of books. Illustrations and photographs of species vary greatly and you will find it useful to cross check between different sources. Good fungi books will have several clear pictures of each species, a description of characteristics such as feel and smell and detail on the environment in which the fungi grows.
Positive Identification Of Fungi
Correctly identifying what you have found is the key to safely exploring the world of fungi, especially if you are considering eating what you find. A positive match from several books is helpful but a second opinion from a fungi expert is essential if you are foraging for the pot.
REMEMBER – IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT!
Fungi Foraging Kit - What You Will Need
You don't need much to go hunting for fungi but the following are useful:
A basket - You’ll need something to keep your finds in and a basket is good because it allows air to circulate and prevents your specimens sweating as they might in a plastic bag.
A knife - so you can cut the fruiting bodies (the part we see) off at the stem and leave the mycelium (the part we don't see) behind in the ground or tree.
A first aid kit - because it’s a key part of our kit and is essential if we are using a knife.
Books - for assisting with positive identification.
A stick - for lifting up ground vegetation and looking underneath.
Waterproofs - because fungi season usually corresponds with rainy weather...
Something to wash your hands with before eating or drinking. If you have been fiddling around with unidentified fungi it’s probably best to clean your hands when you have finished and ensure that anyone you are responsible for does the same.
Safety Is Paramount
Foraging for fungi is fun and educational. It teaches us about natural resources we can use in bushcraft and gets us closer to nature. However, some fungi are fatally poisonous and it is therefore essential to take a safe and sensible approach, only eating fungi that are positively identified as edible by a competent person.
The most important thing to remember when identifying any wild foods is:
IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT!
Over To You
If you are new to fungi, then let us know how you get on with exploring this fascinating subject. If you are a seasoned forager, let us and other readers know your stories of fungi finds in the comments below.
This article is meant only as a guide as to how to approach learning about fungi. It is not a treatment of how to identify edible species that might be available. Nor does it provide a guide to identifying and avoiding poisonous species that may also be present in the habitat where you find edible species. If you want to learn more about edible fungi identification, you should learn from an expert with them showing you each species in person. Any foraging you do on your own is at your own risk.
Useful Fungi Links
Association of British Fungus Groups: http://www.abfg.org
The British Mycological Society: http://www.britmycolsoc.org.uk
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