Tis the season of fun forest findings!! The genus Cantharellus, named for the Greek kantharos, meaning cup, is a mushroom found growing wild throughout the world. Many have tried to cultivate this mycorrhizal fungi but have failed, the complex symbiotic relationship they have with host plants cannot be recreated and is not fully understood, so the only option one really has to enjoy these is to go forage. With heavier than usual rains passing through our area we have been fortunate enough to be harvesting these golden beauties earlier than the norm for our area. We began finding them close to a month ago and the season is in full force now. We will hopefully be harvesting chanterelles for another month or so, or until it finally becomes a Southern inferno with the heat that is sure to hit eventually. Now this is NOT a ‘how to identify’ post. I will not be responsible for anyone who reads this and decides to stomp off into the forest and gather the first orange mushrooms they see. Don’t, just don’t. If you have never gathered chanterelles before the please find someone who is an expert and get them to take you for a walk….or find a mycologist willing to assist you…or read read read one sites like this or this that give you more in depth looks at toxic look-a-likes and whatnot. Until you know what you are looking at make sure you have someone look at them that undoubtedly can identify for you (your tummy will thank you). In helping you learn to look for them I am assuming you know what you are looking for…..you just might not have much luck when you are hunting and need a few pointers.
First, let’s talk the walk. It’s summer. Forest+Summer=Ticks. Anytime you are going to be spending an excessive amount of time (especially slow moving) in the forest please take precautions with ticks. This is serious business folks. Lyme is at epidemic levels in the US and is still on the rise. If you are like us and can’t let anything, not even ticks, keep you out of the woods then do what you gotta do to keep those little blood sucking monsters off of you and whomever is with you. Okay now that you are debugged, you’re going to need a container to gather the forest goods that await you. For the love of all things good, stay away from anything that doesn’t allow for air exchange, this can cause fast bacterial growth (this goes for any mushroom storage outside of fully dried). DON’T USE PLASTIC. Mesh bags, paper bags, baskets, etc all work great. Many believe that using a mesh type bag allows for spores to drop as you travel through the forest ensuring that the species continues. This may or may not be the case for chanterelles considering they have a symbiotic relationship with some trees so dropping spores on top of leaves next to a unknown tree species may or may not do anything at all. But hey, if it makes you feel good and it has the potential to make more of these babies then save a few onion or potato mesh bags and lash those suckers together. Voila mushroom bag. We have a creel basket that we use for mushroom hunting that really does the trick, I’m not sure where or when we got it but you can purchase them at various places online. Okay, you are debugged and have your fungi holding device. We also always take with us a few paper sandwich bags for other species we may find and want to take home to identify or other goodies that we don’t want to mix with whatever we are hunting the forest floor for. Other good things to remember to have on hand are a machete, wearable knife, water bottle, and/or lifestraw. We ALWAYS have at least these things with us.
Let’s briefly get to know your forest. First, are you allowed there? Don’t trespass, ask and get a permit if one is required in your area. With that said, there are coniferous forests and deciduous forests and….mixed forests (mutts are always the best imo). Deciduous and mixed forests are where you may find chanterelles. I mentioned earlier that chanterelles are mycorrhizal fungi and must have their host trees and possibly other unknown relationships in order to be able to establish themselves. So where do you find them?
It has been our experienced in hunting and harvesting these mushrooms the past few years that we always seem to find them in transitional/mixed forests. These are forests that transition from deciduous to conifer…where they are mixed. We regularly find them close to oaks but sometimes they are no where close them. Look for areas that don’t have an abundance of pine but are not void of them. Old pines, hardwoods, softwoods. Dappled light to solid shade. Scan your eyes around the forest and look for areas that only have only a few pines, scan the ground in that area for palish or bright orange. Go inspect if something catches your eye. The longer you hunt the more your eyes will either become adapted to scanning the forest floor or your eyes will start playing tricks on you and every sunlit leaf will become a chanti from a distance.
We also look where water sources and run offs are. No fungus likes to grow in an arid dry area, there will typically be water somewhere close by (even if it is underground). We regularly find them in old drainage run offs through the forests. I’m not sure if the water movement through the areas actually helps the spreading of the mushroom or if the erosion exposes the mushrooms close to their root hosts. Either way we find a plethora of these in forest drainage valleys.
Jeremy & Lil Man gathering smooth chanterelles in a drain valley. Can you see the others?
Chanterelles grow in many regions of the US as well as other countries across the globe. In Switzerland they are commonly found in hemlock forests, West coast USA they seem to love oak, here it is our experience find them more in transitional forests. Your area may be different as well, take notes as you find them.
Okay, let’s talk responsible harvesting real quick. There is debate in the mushroom community on exactly what is the most responsible way to harvest mycorrhizal fungus. Some say don’t cut or break the stem above ground because it essentially creates a wound that can allow for disease to enter the fungal system underground. Others say don’t pull it up always cut so you are sure to leave part of system in ground. We have done both ways over the years in the same patches and have not noticed any difference in harvests. There may be truth to both but in my personal, non-expert opinion, the greatest thing you can do to responsibly harvest is to not pick them all. As you are harvesting inspect each specimen, if it is a little past prime (drying out or slimey) and beyond then leave it. If it is buggy then leave it. If it looks like something you don’t want to eat or clean then what do you do???? Leave it! Also, take note if you see babies coming up close by and how many. This will give you a good idea of what’s around the corner. If most of the mature specimens look ick and there are babies coming up then leave the adults alone and come back in a few days for the next flush.
We also have noticed in nearly every one of our regularly picked patches that within days after golden chanterelles disappear we will begin finding smooth chanterelles in the same location. Give it a week and go back if you can. If you enjoy these mushrooms please be responsible and harvest just what you know you will eat. Don’t be greedy.
If you are looking for new recipes for chanterelles or other wild mushrooms then check out my chanti recipes (two more chanti recipes scheduled to be posted here this week!). I’ll be posting many mushroom recipes over the summer that will tickle your tastebuds. Also coming up soon is a post on how to clean chanterelles and how to attempt a force flush of chanterelles. So, come on back ya’ll!
Was this post helpful to you? Is this consistent with where you find your chanti patches? Leave me a comment below and let me know! Please also consider a harvesting journal. When you go out record what trees you find them close to (trees, other mushroom species, other plant species, water distance, etc), recent weather, orientation, etc. See if you find a new pattern then come back here and share it! Happy hunting fun-guy friends. Be safe.