Last weekend, armed with my Opinel mushroom knife, I drove 2 hours up Highway 1 to Salt Point State Park on the Sonoma Coast to join other members of the Mycological Society of San Francisco on the monthly Mushroom Foray that the Sonoma County Mycological Association (SOMA) hosts from September to May. Given the recent rains we had on the California coast, I was excited to start rooting through the woods for fungal treasures. The weather was perfect - clear skies and sunny, and not too cold.
I spent several hours traipsing through the deep forest of Salt Point State Park. It was such a beautiful wood; at some points, I came across a stream with beautiful elephant-ear shaped leaves growing on the banks. What a great Saturday outing. Mushroom hunting is a lot of work. I spent a lot of time scrambling up and down hills, climbing over logs, leaping over creeks, and pushing my way through underbrush. Oh, and I found mushrooms, lots of mushrooms. I happily bagged them in paper bags, hoping I found something delicious. I ended up with some big ones.
How the mushroom foray works is, the members go hiking in the woods, starting at 10:00 AM. After gathering up what you find, everyone meets back at the picnic tables at 12:30 and places their findings on the specimen table, where the experts analyze everything and determine what's poisonous, and what's edible. I discovered that the way mushrooms work is, there are thousands of different mushroom types. Few are poisonous, and few are delicious. Everything else is in-between.
In the end, it turned out that the mushrooms I found were non-poisonous, but bitter-tasting and not really good for eating. Oh well. It was still fun, and I learned a lot!
After all the delicious, eatable mushrooms are identified and picked out, they were cooked up and shared, along with other potluck items that people brought, and lots of wine. I got to eat a gigantic boletus and some chanterelles that had been harvested that morning.
Where you can collect mushrooms in the San Francisco Bay Area is restricted. According to the SOMA:
Picking wild mushrooms is restricted on many public lands, but some areas do allow gathering for personal use. Rules and regulations can and do change, so before loading up your basket, please make sure to check the latest policies regarding mushroom gathering on public lands.
In the Bay Area, four California State Parks allow mushroom gathering for personal use:
- Mount Tamalpais State Park (Marin County)
- Salt Point State Park (Sonoma County)
- Samuel P. Taylor State Park (Marin County)
- Tomalas Bay State Park (Marin County)
These parks have a bag limit of five pounds of mushrooms per
person per day, no commercial picking allowed. The fines are steep, so don't try to sneak some extra mushrooms out.
Please, unless you are a mycology expert that can identify mushrooms with 100% certainty, do not eat any mushrooms that you collect until you have them properly identified by an expert. Eating unidentified mushrooms can lead to severe illness and/or death.
Want to find your local mycological society? Check this link for a directory of local chapters. If you don't join a mycological group, check around your local colleges and universities to see if there are mycologists in the Biology departments who are willing to inspect any mushrooms you collect for you. Some mycological groups allow you to email them a photograph of a mushroom you have collected for identification.
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(Images: Kathryn Hill)