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While excessive rain in 2018 might have wrecked a lot of plans, it was a banner year for whitewater kayakers and mushroom hunters, and I am happily both of these. And 2019 is shaping up to be more of the same. The idea for this column came when I was out on a hike and excitedly showed my chanterelles to a guy on a bike who said, “Oh, free food!” At first, my foraging forays were more of a tiptoe through the tulips excursion, but as I began to immerse myself in edible plant and mushroom identification, all of the same old hikes started to become much more colorful—and this without experimentation with mind-expanding fungi. It’s a whole new delectable world out there now. And logically, for a pharmacist, this led me to seek out medicinal uses of mushrooms. It seems like everyone has a story of grandma or another ancient relative strolling out of the house with a wicker basket under their arm to go picking greens or mushrooms for dinner. We always wondered how they did it safely because no one seemed to get sick—or they never told you about it. Of course foraging has been around since, well, forever.


For those of you outdoor enthusiasts, which I assume is everyone consuming the content of Wilderness Medicine Magazine, if you do not forage already while you’re out and about in the wild, I want to share this with you—please start to learn the joys of identifying and consuming wild edibles! Who hasn’t already relished the sweet crush of summer sunshine munching on a handful of blackberries plucked along the trail, or wondered whether that flaming orange fungus could possibly be eaten? Wild plants and mushrooms in general are more nutritious and in my experience much more delicious than store bought ones, and they don’t contain pesticides or other harmful chemicals, although you do need to be knowledgeable about where you are picking them from. Learning to identify what you’re seeing on your outdoor explorations is very gratifying, and successfully cooking and relishing the taste of a wild find is an accomplishment. It also may come in very handy should you find yourself in an unexpected lack of food situation. Selling foraged (harvested) mushrooms is becoming wildly much more popular these days, but there are often clear rules for doing this: here is an example from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Photo by Nancy Pietroski

Foraging includes not only wild plants, fruits, berries, mushrooms, etc., but also digging for sea life including clams, oysters, shellfish, etc. Plucking a juicy cherry tomato fresh from the vine in your garden is a form of foraging, although of course, cultivated plants are not wild. Hunting and fishing aren’t quite the same as foraging as they require equipment and skills, but the end result is the same—fresh wild caught calories and nutrition.


Yes, there is a thing called mycophobia. Some family members and friends thought I was crazy when I started to eat some of the wild mushrooms I harvested (after positive identification). My husband embraced the mushroom thing immediately and we are eating so much more excitedly and adventurously for it. I have gotten a number of friends totally jazzed about it, and profusely thank those friends of mine who planted the seeds of inquisitiveness and led me to my first positive identifications. All those years of mushrooms, mushrooms everywhere, and not a bite to take, because I just didn’t know. The key to successful foraging is education. There have always been a plethora of plant and mushroom identification books and texts out there, but the internet now offers logarithmically more. Websites (foraging.com is a good example) and YouTube videos can be extremely valuable, but caution must be exercised because there are a lot of self-proclaimed experts out there. Online plant or mushroom identification courses are available (although there are not many of these). Join an online club, especially in your geographic area, as it is extremely useful and especially validating when you score a big find -you can post photos— but nothing substitutes for the real thing. Join a live club or take a live course and go on outings. It is most reliable to have an expert positively identify a plant or mushroom, to be able to see it in its native environment, and to harvest it at the correct time of year. I will put a plug in for Learn Your Land with Adam Haritan. This is an excellently created and curated series of resources, videos (can access from YouTube), newsletter, etc. by an extremely knowledgeable and personable expert on foraging. Adam has very recently created a 4-season online course “Foraging Wild Mushrooms.” One caveat is that the course focuses on the eastern part of the US, most specifically western PA, but basic principles can be applied to other regions, and many species are similar if not the same across the country.


Do not consume any plant or mushroom before it is positively identified and properly prepared; this means, in most cases, cooked. Eat only a small amount at first to make sure you can tolerate it.

Make sure you are not trespassing on someone’s property when picking wild plants.

Make sure foraging is allowed if you are on public lands such as in a park (sometimes a permit is required).

Don’t unnecessarily trample or otherwise perturb the surrounding environment when plucking that tasty or therapeutic morsel.

The following is a list of foraging resources to get you started, with no particular one endorsed over another. Parts 2 and 3 of this article will focus on some well-known edible and medicinal plants and mushrooms, their use in a wilderness setting, and toxic ones to avoid.


I am a bit biased about the following three books because I took a foraging workshop with the buoyantly animated and inimitable Sam Thayer. The books have a terrific soup to nuts (actually, it’s nuts to soup!) introduction to foraging. Nature’s Garden introduction has a fascinating analysis of Into the Wild, of whether Chris McCandless did really starve from eating poisonous plants.

Some other popular and useful foraging and identification books that I have used or heard recommended by experts include the following. This is just a start. And remember, when identifying wild plants, always use more than one source to make a positive identification.

- Ancestral Plants Vol 1 (Arthur Haines)—may be out of print
- Ancestral Plants Vol 2 (Arthur Haines and Daniel Vitalis)
- The Joy of Foraging (the beloved Gary Lincoff, recently passed)
- Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods (Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman)
- All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms (David Arora)
- Mushrooms Demystified (David Arora)
- The Complete Mushroom Hunter, Revised: Illustrated Guide to Foraging, Harvesting, and Enjoying Wild Mushrooms (another classic by Gary Lincoff)
- Numerous stalwart identification guides from the National Audubon Society, Peterson Field Guides, Timber Press Field Guides, Falconguide, etc.

The Regional Foraging Series is a terrific set of resources, especially useful if your wanderings take you all over the US


The following Mushroom Guides are my favorite take-alongs on the trail; very clear, concise, and colorful descriptions, photos and a convenient pocket size. There are plant identification apps available, but internet service isn’t always available in the woods, and downloading an entire library of plants can take up a lot of space on your phone.

- Mushrooms of the Northeast: A Simple Guide to Common Mushroooms (Teresa Marrone and Walt Sturgeon)
- Mushrooms of the Northwest: A Simple Guide to Common Mushroooms (Teresa Marrone and Drew Parker)
- Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest: A Simple Guide to Common Mushroooms (Teresa Marrone and Kathy Yerrich)


Medicinal mushrooms are a whole other can of fungi and will be discussed in more detail in Part 2. I always seem to get asked, “Are you getting the good ones?” Meaning hallucinogenic, and therefore purportedly medicinal by some interpretations. This is in a different plane of consciousness and will not be discussed in these articles! Here is one book I found very useful to start to delve into the medicinal and often mystical aspects of mushrooms:

Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing, and Culture Herbs and Health Series (Christopher Hobbs)


The current edition of Auerbach’s Wilderness Medicine has some excellent chapters addressing some aspects of foraging and medicinal plants, including Chapter 90: “Living Off the Land” and Chapter 68: “Ethnobotany: Plant-Derived Medical Therapy”.


Would you ever have thought that this flaming orange fungus is absolutely delectable? And yes, tastes like chicken!

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). Photo by Nancy Pietroski


If you have any favorite resources on foraging or plant identification, contact me at [email protected]. I’d be interested in hearing about what you use on your foraging forays. 

Find your Fungi - Photo by Nancy Pietroski (Central Oregon Mushroom Club)

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