sustainably forage mushrooms

Sustainable Mushroom Foraging, and Why it’s so Important

When confronted with a patch of edible mushrooms in the woods, especially rare and delicious ones, we are often overcome with excitement. As foragers, we often pick each and every delicious mushroom in sight, not out of greed, but out of glee. However, these tendencies are detrimental not only to the local ecosystem but to our future foraging prospects as well. As mycophiles, it behooves us to be sustainable foragers.

black staining polypore
A giant black-staining polypore.

Leave Half of What You Find

When we pick mushrooms, especially young ones, we remove them from their environment where they would have otherwise released hundreds of thousands of spores, creating more mycelium and, therefore, more mushrooms. A good rule of thumb when foraging is to leave half of what you find to release spores and propagate more mushrooms.

Pick Mature Mushrooms

When choosing which mushrooms to pick and which to leave, do your best to pick the more mature mushrooms and leave the young ones. Mature mushrooms are more likely to have already released most of their spores, while young ones have not yet had the chance.

dryad's saddle (pheasant back)
The edges of Dryad’s Saddle are tender and yummy!

Use Restraint With Mycorrhizal Mushrooms

When picking mycorrhizal mushrooms, such as chanterelles, boletes, truffles, milkys, and some species of morel, many forages are even more strict. Mycorrhizal mushrooms have symbiotic relationships with other plants, usually trees, exchanging hard-to-get nutrients for their mutual benefit. When we harvest all the mycorrhizal mushrooms we find, we not only lower the reproductive ability of the mushrooms but impact the survival of local plants and trees as well.

Collect in a Porous Harvesting Bag

In order to still spread as many spores as possible from the mushrooms you do pick, you should always collect your goodies in a porous bag, like the one mentioned in our 4 Things You Need to Start Mushroom Hunting post. This allows the mushrooms to continue spreading spores and growing more mycelium for the rest of your hike.

porous bag for sustainable foraging
Eric showing off his porous mushroom bag.

No mushroom harvester is perfect, and we must admit to a few overindulgent forages. But even though sometimes the supply of wild mushrooms seems inexhaustible, with climate change, habitat loss, and overharvesting affecting many regions’ mushroom populations, it is more important than ever for us to harvest responsibly. Not only does it protect the species we love so much, but it also makes the production of those delicious mushrooms more likely in the future.

Click here for more information on mushroom foraging.

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