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A foray into the world of mushrooming

Rosa Stolzenberg has her basket outfitted for a morning mushroom hunt. She places the mushrooms in paper bags to preserve their natural quality and carries a small stool for breaks. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 3
Gene Kremer uses a small knife to pry a mushroom from a wooded area. He describes mushrooms "as a fungus that has learned to farm." Only 1 to 2 percent of the organism is the actual fruiting body. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 3
Mark LaFon considers himself a novice mushroomer. He says he likes the camaraderie of fellow gatherers, along with the hikes through the woods. Here he holds a chicken of the woods mushroom. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 3

Mushroom hunting can be a dangerous dabble for the unaware.

Take this comment from a mushroom website:

"Many mushrooms are toxic to the liver and can destroy the liver. Some are lethal and you might as well be looking for rattlesnakes. Don't do it. It's dumb. You not only open yourself to poisoning but there are spiritual entities that you can be opening yourself to that will be embedded in your spirit. Most if not all are malevolent....

"Leave it for witchdoctors of pagan religions to screw with it and not you. Believe me, they know there are entities out there that can cling to you for the rest of your life and even drag your soul to hell."

Holy moley!

But a dozen undaunted hunters set out on a foray Saturday through the Foothills State Forest to gather, identify and share the bounty of fungi.

A core group of mushroomers began forays in the late 1980s at Deep Portage. They educated each other and themselves each weekend, picking, reading and discussing.

"There are 100,000 varieties of mushrooms, at least 300 in this area," said John Mikesh. "It takes quite a bit of practice to identify edible mushrooms."

Mikesh suggests going on an excursion with "a group of knowledgeable people. There's such a variety of textures and colors. There's harmless mushrooms like honeycaps and look-alikes, some of which can be poisonous."

Spirited discussions and disagreements take place on mushroom websites and blogs. One such destination is identify.

It seems even the experts can't agree.

But they are unanimous on Mickesh's philosophy: Don't go mushrooming "out of a book."

He advises sticking to the "safe six:" chanterelles, morels, boletes, chicken of the woods...

"I would not personally recommend any mushrooms as safe, there are many that have look-alikes, including chanterelles, and morels," cautioned longtime mushroomer Paula Peters. "I would recommend that people attend an educational foray such as the one we had and learn about the mushrooms. One should never just go ahead and eat them without positive identification."

The Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club gathers up its baskets, stools (not toadstools) paper bags, tools and sets off on a gloomy but warm day.

Many wonder what they'll find. The past month of dry, hot temperatures hasn't done much for the proliferation of the mushroom crop.

But they were able to round up boletes, chicken mushrooms and polypores clinging to trees, one of the common but inedible types.

The state fungus, the morel, was not to be seen. The season's pretty much over.

A foray is announced ahead of time, but the exact location isn't widely known, said Peters. That's to prevent early pickers from mining the best finds before the event.

Saturday's was along the Cut Lake Trail, which is used for cross-country skiing and other activities.

The Minnesota Mycological Society is the mother ship of mushroomers. It sponsors state-organized hikes and coordinates the various clubs around the state, posts photos of whopper mushrooms and educational tidbits.

"We usually go out for an hour or two and come back," said longtime mushroomer Rosa Stolzenberg.

The group empties their paper bags - no plastic because it makes the stash moldier - identifies and categorizes the finds.

The edible finds are taken home and savored. Some, said first-timer Mark LaFon, who said he's a novice but enjoys the camaraderie in the woods, are "edible but not delectable."

Mushrooms are a decidedly acquired taste and mushroomers speak a language all their own.

Rains this week will hopefully spawn a whole new crop of "fungus amungus."

And the hunt will start all over.

The season is capped off with a dinner Saturday, Nov. 19 in Walker. For more details contact

The menu consists of mushrooms and other foods.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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