Foraging through the forest
Every fall, the plethora of mushrooms that grow nearby are on display at the annual Estacada Festival of the Fungus, thanks to the efforts of the Estacada Fungus Association.
But if you're interested in seeing some of the many species of mushrooms native to the Estacada area earlier in the year, consider venturing into the Mt. Hood National Forest.
If you're wondering where to begin your journey, Jason Page, Special Forest Products Program Manager for the forest's west zone, noted that mushrooms are often found in old growth areas of the forest, as well as near decaying logs.
"You've got a lot of nutrients on the forest floor if you've got a log," he said. "The old growth is less disturbed than a thinned unit. As you get closer to old growth, the level of species richness increases. There are old trees and downed logs. Mushrooms are usually found in those areas."
Howard Simon, a member of the Estacada Fungus Association, suggested beginning by finding a logging road that goes up into the trees.
There are numerous types of mushrooms in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Two common ones that are safe to eat include chanterelles, also known as cantharellus cibarius, and morels, also known as morchella.
Chanterelles typically range in color from yellow to orange and have a wavy and funnel shaped cap. They have false gills that resemble wrinkles and run down the stem.
Morels are known for their exterior that resembles honeycomb. They often vary in color but are usually yellow, tan or gray.
Page noted that morels can often be found in areas of the forest that have recently burned.
"You'll have really good picking the first year after a burn, a little less the second year and a little less the third year. After the third year they'll be limited," he said, citing the nutrient push fires create as the reason for this.
Morels tend to grow earlier in the year, and chanterelles typically grow during the fall.
Along with morels, another common find this time of year is lobster mushroom, also known as hypomyces lactifluorum. In spite of its name, it is technically not a mushroom but a fungus that attacks other mushrooms and gives them an orange skin.
Both Simon and Page emphasized the importance of verifying a mushroom's identity before it is consumed. There are many poisonous mushroom species — including ones that resemble ones that are safe to eat.
"ID is key," Page said. "If you come out and want to pick mushrooms, you want to be sure you're doing it safely and not eating bad ones."
There are several resources for mushroom identification, including guidebooks, but Simon recommended that those who are new to mushroom hunting join a group for foraging.
"If going after mushrooms is what you want to do, be part of a group. It gives you other people to help (with identification)," he said. "By no means do I think a person should go out into the woods and eat mushrooms on their own. It's not something to take lightly."
Once the safety of a mushroom has been confirmed, Simon noted that it typically should be cooked prior to eating.
One of the best times to go mushroom hunting is when there's been a few days of sun after several days of rain.
"The shift from the ground being wet and saturated, and there not being a lot of sun, to a few days of warm weather activates micronutrients," Page said. "The magic starts happening and (the mushrooms) sprout out of the ground."
Permits for mushroom hunting on the Mt. Hood National Forest are available at the Estacada Ranger Station, 595 N.W. Industrial Way. The free permit allows each person with one to collect one gallon of mushroom per day.
Forest regulations require that mushrooms be cut at the base to leave the fungus in tact for future mushroom hunters. Additionally, truffle dogs are not allowed to forage in the forest.
Simon encouraged anyone interested in foraging for mushrooms to join a group and do so.
"It's fun to get out. It's fun to find things," Simon said. "It's really enjoyable to be out in the forest. It's unbelievable out in Estacada. It's a beautiful area."