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Mushroom Foraging 101: A Forager’s Top Tools and Tips For Getting Started

From deadly zombie-making cordyceps in the fictional world of “The Last of Us” to psilocybin decriminalization efforts in the real world, mushroom mania is in bloom. But not every mushroom is mind-altering. Foragers take to the woods in search of delicious morels and porcinis to add to anything from soups to grilled cheese sandwiches, for three distinct reasons — foraging is eco-friendly, economical, and delicious. Local mushroom hunting cuts down on the emissions required for packaging and transporting food, and, aside from the minimal cost of equipment, it’s free. For Tony Mastracci, a Massachusetts mushroom forager of six years who has found over 40 species, it’s also about “the thrill of the hunt.” 

This rise in mushroom foraging comes a decade after the millennial obsession with putting truffles on everything which morphed into wild mushrooms appearing more on menus in major cities. But consumer interest in foraging has been steadily rising over the last five years, gaining more attention in part from the COVID-19 pandemic which forced many people outside in search of hobbies. Since then, wild mushrooms have entered mainstream conversations about potential health benefits as well as the advantages of eating forest (or front lawn)-to-table. They’ve also been spotted in style and decor trends.

Porcini mushrooms (boletus family) foraged by Tony Mastracci. Courtesy of Tony Mastracci

While Mastracci was an early adopter of the foraging hobby, he stressed that they’re not all friendly. “There are a couple that will, within six hours, start breaking down your kidneys and your liver,” Mastracci said. That’s why being an informed forager is crucial to staying safe. Nowhere else does the adage “when in doubt, throw it out” apply better than foraging. And even edible varieties of mushrooms will be safer to eat when properly cooked. Because of this, Mastracci emphasized the need to invest in a regional field guide to help parse the tasty from the toxic. 

The good news is that toxic mushrooms are only poisonous when ingested. Picking up a mushroom and bringing it to a more experienced forager is perfectly safe (though proper handwashing is well advised). Mastracci cited a few he knows to be careful around. Amanita is a species of mushrooms that includes many poisonous mushrooms, including the aptly named Death Cap and Destroying Angel. Another type of mushroom that can be mistaken for edible Chanterelles is the poisonous Jack-o-Lantern. 

The Essential Mushroom Foraging Tools At a Glance

Best Mushroom Knife

Opinel No.08 Carbon Steel Folding Pocket Knife

Buy Now On Amazon $19.00 Jump to Details
Best Regional Mushroom Book

Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest

Buy Now On Amazon $23.80 Jump to Details
Best Long Mushroom Knife

Kershaw Folding Fillet K-Texture Knife

Buy Now On Amazon $30.31 Jump to Details
Best Mushroom Bag

Reusable Mesh Grocery Bag

Buy at Public Goods $3.50 Jump to Details
Best Foraging Bag

Barebones Foraging Bag

Buy at Huckberry $70 Jump to Details
BEst Mushroom Brush

Chef’n ShroomBroom Mushroom Cleaning Brush and Corer

Buy Now On Amazon $10.59 Jump to Details
Best Trekking Poles

REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles

Buy at REI $110 Jump to Details

What the Expert Says

To find mushrooms, stay safe, and make friends, Mastracci encouraged joining a group. He’s a member of various mushroom-hunting Facebook groups but plenty of regional mycological societies also welcome new members. These groups can help new foragers identify mushrooms and keep them up-to-date with relevant rules and restrictions in their area.

As for which mushroom foraging equipment is needed, Mastracci recommended a few key things, including brushes, bags, and mushroom foraging knives, along with some extras that can keep foragers comfortable and make it easier to identify different mushrooms.

He added that even if a mushroom hunt is unsuccessful, it can still be fun. “Nothing beats being out in the fresh air, whether you’re alone or with somebody else. The fresh air that you get, you know, it’s just, you can’t beat it.”

Courtesy of Amazon
Best Mushroom Knife

Expert Advice: For mushrooms “like chanterelles or morels, a 2 or 3-inch knife is ideal,” Mastracci said.

Hot Take: Opinel’s No. 8 is one of the most beloved blades, and with good reason. Opinel’s knives have attractive wood handles with a rotating collar that securely locks the blade in place. The knife has a 3.25-inch blade. Opinel also makes a specific mushroom foraging knife. 

Also Consider: “They do make a knife that has a brush on one end and the blade on the other.” Mastracci noted that minimalists might prefer the Opinel mushroom knife — a 2-in-1 tool with a curved blade.

Courtesy of Amazon
Best Regional Mushroom Book

$23.80 $29.99 21% off

Buy Now On Amazon

Expert Advice: Given the dangers presented when mushroom foraging, Mastracci said it behooves new foragers to read up about their local fungi. “Anybody who’s going to start should have some kind of a field guide.”

Hot Take: The Pacific Northwest is known for its rich mycological biodiversity, and this is a well-regarded guide for foragers in Washington and Oregon. Many regions have their own field guides, which is the first thing to consider when locally foraging for mushrooms. For a larger scope, Mastracci likes the National Audobon Society’s Fied Guide to Mushrooms.

Courtesy of Amazon
Best Long Mushroom Knife

Expert Advice: “If I get to, let’s say, a hen of the woods, which could be the size of a basketball, using a knife with a 3-inch blade and trying to get under it is not gonna work very well, so I carry a 6 to 7-inch foldable fillet knife,” Mastracci said.

Hot Take: Kershaw is a trusted knife brand, and this folding fillet knife has a 6.5-inch blade that’s great for cutting under larger mushrooms like hen of the woods. It folds for secure storage, and the glass-filled nylon handle is sturdy and easy to handle. 

Courtesy of Public Goods
Best Mushroom Bag

Expert Advice: “You don’t want to put them inside a plastic bag. What they’ll do is they’ll start sweating. So to retain the solidity of the mushroom, you really want to let it breathe,” Mastracci said.

Hot Take: Intended for the Trader Joe’s produce section, this mesh grocery bag from Public Goods is also one of the best mushroom foraging bags, according to the expert’s criteria. The bag is 11 by 13. inches and made from 100% organic cotton. The bags are also machine washable, and they come in a pack of two. 

Courtesy of Huckberry
Best Foraging Bag

Expert Advice: When pocket space is limited, Mastracci said a carry-all foraging bag should “should have a mesh bag or a wicker-type basket” to ensure proper ventilation.

Hot Take: Yes, there’s even cool mushroom gear now. This foraging bag from Barebones has a solid canvas exterior with replaceable interior inserts, depending on what’s being hauled. The mesh insert is ideal for giving foraged mushrooms airflow. It can be worn as a crossbody for easy hands-free carrying.

Courtesy of Amazon
BEst Mushroom Brush

Expert Advice: “Before you put them in your basket, you want to clean the stem, then you wanna clean the dust, the dirt off of it. That makes it easier to clean when you get home,” Mastracci explained.

Hot Take: This brush is designed for cleaning mushrooms and it has a loop on the end for removing the stems. A set of paint brushes can also work, but a regular vegetable brush may be too hard for delicate mushrooms.

Courtesy of REI
Best Trekking Poles

Expert Advice: “I do a lot of off-trail climbing over rocks and climbing over trees that are down. So a good walking stick goes a long way,” Mastracci said.

Hot Take: These poles from REI have padded wrist straps and natural cork grips, which are comfortable and moisture-resistant. The telescoping design makes them easy to stash when not in use. Mastracci explained that foragers might find using a single pole useful for both walking and moving brush aside.

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