NW Ontario Edible Mushroom Foraging Guide

Hey there, fellow nature enthusiasts! I know many of you are hesitant about picking wild mushrooms, mainly because of their bad reputation. But trust me, with a bit of knowledge and careful observation, you can confidently identify edible mushrooms and enjoy some of the tastiest wild treats out there. So, let me guide you through the process of foraging for edible mushrooms in Northwest Ontario.

Know the Seasons and Habitats

First things first: understanding when and where to find mushrooms is essential. Most mushrooms thrive in specific seasons, so make sure to pay attention to these details:

  • Spring: Morels are the stars of the season. Look for them in hardwood forests, mainly near Poplar trees.
  • Summer: Chanterelles and black trumpets are abundant during this time. They prefer mixed hardwood and coniferous forests.
  • Fall: This is the prime time for mushroom hunting, as many species like porcini, oysters, and lobsters are in full swing. Look for them in both hardwood and softwood forests.

Critical Features for Identifying Edible Mushrooms

Now, let’s talk about the characteristics you should examine when identifying a mushroom:

  1. Growth: Note if the mushroom grows in clumps or individually and if it’s on decaying wood, in the ground, or on other substrates.
  2. Gill Configuration: Check if the mushroom has gills, pores, teeth, or false gills.
  3. Colour Changes: Observe the colour of the gills and the cap, and check if they change when you press or scratch them.

The Importance of Spore Prints

One of the most reliable ways to identify a mushroom is by taking a spore print. To do this, remove the mushroom’s stem, place the cap gill-side-down on a piece of white paper, and cover it with a glass or bowl. After a few hours or overnight, you’ll see the spores deposited on the paper. The spore print colour can help confirm the mushroom’s identity.

Download the ID worksheet to help with your Identification process.

Gill Types: Note colour, staining and type of gills present.

True Gills: narrow platy fins radiating from the stalk out to the tips of the caps. Note the density colour and the bruising colour of the gills. Honey mushrooms are good local example.

Pores: No defined gills as above, instead a series of pores under the cap. This is a hallmark of Bolete mushrooms. Boletes are many and varied in their edibility and or toxicity.

Teeth/spines: Gills appear as narrow teeth or spines hanging from the cap. Scaly Hedgehog mushrooms are a local variety.

False Gills: No true gills, instead may have ridges that appear as gills, however they are not easily breakable, thin or platy. Lobsters and Chantrelles are great examples of false gills.

Mushroom rules

Never eat a mushroom you are not 100% sure of its identification. Even when 100% sure, only ingest a small amount as some people have reactions to normally edible mushrooms. Always cook them first.

The underside of mushrooms are its gills. They are typically fragile blades, some have spines/”teeth”, some are more ridges, some are pores and others have no gills at all.

Spore print mushrooms – place the cap, gills down on a piece of white AND a piece of dark paper for an hour or two. This will tell you the colour of its spore print.

Stay away from young “button stage” mushrooms and older, bruised or damaged mushrooms.

Where does the mushroom grow? On wood? Mossy forest? Hardwood? Softwood?

How does the mushroom grow? Clusters? Alone? In spaced out groups?

What time of year is it? Most mushrooms have a season, finding a fall mushroom in the spring means its not likely what you were looking for.

Start out with easier mushrooms, join groups and go on identification walks. Always ask for help with identification.


Foraging rules

Never eat something without knowing what it is. Even if you have a good idea of what it is, check for reactions. First rub it on your skin, see if there is a reaction, rub it on your lips, see if there is a reaction. THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO MUSHROOMS!

Go on one of the many guided foraging walks, do your research, identify the plants/mushrooms/berries - ask the experts.

Even if a plant is edible, many have limitations on how much you should eat and/or special considerations regarding preparation.


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