Foraging for mushrooms, even if you come home empty handed, is at a minimum a lovely walk through the woods. If you happen to stumble on a patch of porcinis or a cluster of chanterelles, all the better. And it is as enjoyable whether you’re in a small group, with another person, or just with your dog, which makes it a perfect pandemic pursuit!
When: Foraging for mushrooms in Colorado begins in earnest around May and runs, depending on the kind of fungi you’re looking for, until sometime in October, but it is in the midst of summer, between mid-July to mid-August that hunting, especially for choice edibles like porcinis, heats up in the hills.
Andy Wilson, the president of the Colorado Mycological Society, says that mid-July through late September are the best times with the peak typically coming around mid-August. “It all comes down to the summer monsoons,” he says, “and how much rain hits the forests and plains. Also, if there was a good snowpack the winter before, the ground says moist longer so fungi can do their thing.”
What: There are plenty of edible mushrooms that grow across the state, including the most prized of all which are oysters, porcinis, chanterelles and matsutake, but there are plenty of other delicious species including shaggy mane, wood ear, enoki, and hawks wing. However, the generally accepted king of mushrooms is the morel thanks to its meaty flavor and texture.
Where: This is the toughest question to ask a mushroom forager. It’s like asking a pirate where they buried their treasure. You can usually find a few generous souls in foraging groups online that might guide you in the right direction, but where to find mushrooms is largely a secret, and the hunt is part of the fun anyway. Perhaps the best way to find out (and to learn about foraging generally) is to ask around to see if anyone would be interested in having you tag along with them on a “hunt.”
A general rule of thumb is that mushrooms tend to sprout at lower elevations early in the season and as the season progresses they can be found at increasingly higher elevations. Also, as the season progresses some mushrooms become less available and others start sprouting, so knowing what to look for, when and where will help you find them and identify the edible varieties.
Trent and Kristen Blizzard of modern-forager.com live in Glenwood Springs and have been scanning and foraging the woods of the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond for years. They have curated special morel burn maps and an accompanying e-book that will teach you how to use their maps as well as an overview of elevation, forest types, accessibility, necessary permits, lands where you can and cannot hunt, natural indicators, and portable tech you can utilize. The Burn Morels e-book is included with all of their maps.
DEATH BY MUSHROOM
The single most important thing to know when foraging is what you can and, more importantly, what you CANNOT eat. You only really get to make the mistake of eating a particularly poisonous mushroom once. And they are out there, and they can often look very much like edible varieties. It is critically important to not go out foraging for mushrooms unless you are 110 percent certain that you know what you’re doing, and even then it doesn’t hurt to have someone else for a second opinion as well as an illustrated field guide. Your life literally depends on picking the right mushrooms.
Mushroom foragers also track wildfires because they can produce bumper crops of morels the year following a fire, specifically in the ashes of fires in conifer forests. Referred to as “burn morels,” the scientific term for mushrooms that rise from the ashes is “phoenicoid” which comes from the same root as phoenix, the mythical creature that also sprang from ashes.