Chanterelle Hunting in the Pacific Northwest
By Sarah Jaroszewski
As the long days of summer turn into early fall, golden orange treasures (cantharellus formosas) emerge from the forest floor. Here in the Pacific Northwest, these delectable fungi favor Douglas fir and hemlock forests. These extremely versatile mushrooms are some of the safer mushrooms to identify in the wild and are an amazing addition to your diet, providing both nutrition and wonderful flavor. The bright golden-orange color is easy to spot in the forest, an uphill angle makes it even easier to find chanterelles growing under and around stumps, fallen branches and ferns.
There is a poisonous lookalike mushroom to be aware of (pictured above) commonly called, “Jack O’Lantern.” (omphalotus olearius). They grow in clumps in different areas of the forest (ie: on logs), have a more brownish color and true gills on the underside as opposed to the distinct forked ridges of the chanterelle (aka:“false gills”). Jack O’Lanterns are bioluminescent—the gills glow in the dark! It’s pretty amazing that an enzyme is responsible for this. Nature is magnificent!
The “false gills” (aka: ridges) pictured below are the best way to distinguish the two mushrooms.
And remember, if in doubt, throw it out! Go with an experienced person your first time or find a class at a local state park. Be very cautious of what you touch or harvest. There are lots of fun varieties to look at out there but most of them shouldn’t be harvested or played with.
Also, remember to be respectful of the forest by walking gently around plants, leaving the small baby mushrooms to grow and not overharvesting (leave 20%). Chanterelles have a mutually beneficial relationship with the plants and trees they grow around—helping each other get nutrients and water. They are integrally connected with the forest so it is important to leave no trace and harvest with intention. I bring along a basket and small scissors and clean off needles and soil as I harvest.
I usually cook some of what I harvest and dry a portion in a dehydrator to use during the winter. Edible mushrooms can be very nutrient-rich so properly cooking to preserve these nutrients is very beneficial. You always want to cook mushrooms to break down the cell walls and make them digestible. To best preserve nutrients cook them covered on low heat (below 140 degrees F) with a little butter or olive oil for 15-20 minutes. I cook them this way and then add them to different recipes.
Chanterelles are a source of vitamins B, C and D (one of the only plant foods besides seaweed that can provide you with this essential vitamin). They are also a source of minerals, protein and fiber.
Wild harvesting chanterelle mushrooms can be a rewarding enriching experience with common sense and safety precautions in place. If you have ever been interested in wild harvesting food, I strongly encourage you to start reading, as there are many guide books and resources online. Being able to identify and harvest food and medicine in the wild has always been an important skill and is no less valuable today. Happy (and safe) harvesting!