Mushrooms have begun to take a spotlight in western health and wellness after a couple thousand year tour in the eastern hemisphere. As they begin to get more popular it’s important to know where mushrooms come from.
Most mushrooms nowadays are grown in farms because it is more economically feasible, which you should be cautious with when it comes to mycelium products, but otherwise farm-grown is perfectly safe.
At just one farm located in Pennsylvania, the Phillips Organic Mushrooms Farm harvested over 1 million pounds of mushrooms in a week. So how are mega-scale organic mushrooms grown?
First of all, farmers have to wear a biosuit when harvesting mushrooms because they are susceptible to all sorts of competing fungi and viruses. Some mushrooms are grown in nutrient-rich compost and this is where the mycelium-network lives and breathes. (To read more about how the mycelium network works, click this link.)
Fresh mushrooms have to be harvested daily in most farms year-round because they double in size every 24 hours. One such mushroom is Portabella; younger portabellas are harvested alongside the slightly older ones and that’s how we get “Baby Bellas”! But the dirt isn’t the only place where mushrooms like to grow.
Other kinds of mushrooms like shiitake mushrooms like to grow in logs. In farms they recreate logs by making them out of red oak sawdust to boost the amount of nutrients the mushrooms get. The logs are dunked in soaking pools and then placed on VERY tall shelves of varying light degrees. These logs will yield several pounds of mushrooms over the course of a few weeks.
Now these are the two most popular ways to grow mushrooms, but every mushroom likes a different environment. Yellow and grey oyster mushrooms are grown by stuffing compost and logs into a vertical plastic bag. Maitake logs can only grow one to two mushrooms per cycle so they have to be handled very carefully and with consistency!
The other way you can get mushrooms is by foraging them yourself, but you have to be very careful when doing this because as the saying goes “you can eat any mushroom...once.”
Step One: Education
Although there are only three mushroom-related deaths per year, plenty of mushrooms can make you considerably sick. So before even going outside, educate yourselves on the mushrooms local to your area and "if you’re ever in doubt, throw it out." A smart investment would be to get a region-specific mushroom guide or a single-page mushroom ID chart to carry around with you. Plus with modern technology you can get the app iNaturalist which can help you ID on the go and catalog them for another time.
Step Two: Into the Wilderness
Once you have a well-informed idea of what you’re looking for you should put together a mushroom hunting “go-bag”:
1. A basket or mesh bag
2. A pocket knife
You need a knife to clean up the stems of mushrooms, cut them to check for worms, and sometimes you need them to cleanly extract from the ground. The president of the North American Mycological Association (NAMA), Barbara Ching, recommends this mushroom knife off of amazon.
3. A brush
Brushes are good to clean off mushrooms after you’ve picked them, of course you’re going to want to wash them when you get home, but this will cut down that workload. Run by any crafts or home improvement store and grab a medium to large paint brush.
4. A topographic map
Mushrooms are picky little growers and like to grow at specific elevations at different times of the year, depending on temperature and humidity. If you know what mushroom you’re looking for and at what kind of area it grows then a topographic map can help you make sure you’re in the right spot!
5. A permit (when necessary)
If you’re hunting on government land, you’re going to need a permit. As long as you’re hunting for non-commercial use, you can get a free permit and bring home a fairly sizable load of mushrooms.
6. Water and Snacks
When you’re hiking up and down mountains all day looking for mushrooms, you can get tired pretty quick. Bring a water bottle and a couple mushroom snacks to boost your energy and get you in the mood for foraging!
Step three: Storage
Depending on what mushrooms you pick and how many you picked, you may have to use some preservation tactics so they don’t go bad. For some tips on how to cook your mushrooms, click the link to our blog post! You need to cook your mushrooms thoroughly when you harvest them just in case you picked the wrong one; consult your guidebook for cooking tips specific to each species.
But if you can’t cook them in time, learn how to pickle or can your mushrooms. New York Times author, Ben Kough, recommends getting a food dehydrator or vacuum sealer to make sure your mushrooms don’t go bad.
If you’re interested in foraging make sure you read Ben Kough’s article and do your own research before heading into the wild! And if you’d prefer to just stay inside, then we got you covered; take a look at some of our products to ensure you get a daily dose of functional mushrooms. Mush love and happy hunting!