“There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
~Old Klingon Proverb
By Jennifer Young
There are people who love mushrooms and put them in everything and then there are those who pick them off the pizza. Neither plant or animal, mushrooms are part of the kingdom known as fungi and are, technically speaking, the fruiting body of a fungus. They have no phytonutrients, but they are immensely nutritious, being high in fiber and devoid of fat. They’re rich in B vitamins, potassium, iron, and selenium, and they have no cholesterol. For those who think they taste good, the warm season means mushroom hunting season, a practice that’s popular with many Hoosiers and is even legal at Indiana state parks.
Indiana is home to about 2,000 different mushroom species. The good news is that only a handful of different types found in the state can kill you if you eat them. Some mushrooms can make you ill and others require special preparation before you can safely eat them. There are mushrooms that are safe to eat but taste terrible and others that are not known well enough to risk putting on your plate.
Of course, Indiana is home to a dedicated faction of mushroom hunters and researchers who understand the benefits that mushrooms play in the environment and in our diets. The Hoosier Mushroom Society of Orange County, Indiana, has been organizing mushroom forays and providing educational outreach programming and workshops about mushroom hunting and cooking with mushrooms since 2009 when it was founded. Some members specialize in photographing mushrooms in our state forests like picturesque toadstools and other members who use mushrooms for their arts and crafts.
In Indiana, mushrooms grow in many different habitats. In fact, many species of mushrooms are specific in their food source requirements. For example, some types of mushrooms only grow beneath or near certain types of trees such as oak or pine trees. People who are experienced mushroom hunters are aware of where to look for certain edible varieties. They also know the best time for hunting for particular mushroom types. For instance, the best time to hunt morels in Indiana is in April and May.
Indiana’s state parks are home to a wide range of mushroom types. During the growing season, people are allowed to hunt for mushrooms in the parks so long as they only take enough for themselves. It’s against the law to forage in the parks for mushrooms you intend to sell or use commercially. While many mushrooms visible from the trails are edible, there are some extremely dangerous types to be weary of.
In Indiana, there are some deadly varieties of mushrooms that look quite similar to harmless varieties. It takes some training to note the differences. For instance, the amanita genus encompasses about 600 types of mushrooms, including the edible mushroom known as ‘Caesar’s mushroom.” However, the genus also contains deadly mushrooms known as destroying angels and fool’s mushrooms. These mushrooms can cause organ failure and death. The genus causes 95% of deaths associated with mushroom poisonings. Yikes.
On the other hand, the state also contains some popular edible varieties such as morels, puffballs, chicken of the woods, oysters, black trumpets, and chanterelles. Again, remember the danger that look-alike mushrooms pose. For instance, the poisonous jack o’lantern mushroom closely resembles a chanterelle.
If you’re interested in learning about hunting for mushrooms in Indiana, start by visiting the website for the Hoosier Mushroom Society or contact the state’s various universities. For instance, the Purdue Campus of West Lafayette offers a course on morels. Some of the state’s national parks and forest preserves may also permit mushroom hunting. However, before you head into the woods for your share of luscious puffballs, it’s important to educate yourself about how to differentiate the edible mushrooms from the toxic varieties.