Lakeside Wild Mushroom Hunting

“Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
– Sir Terry Pratchett

It’s been a while. A long while, since I’ve written anything. And I miss it. I miss rambling on about my quest for healing, health, vitality and longevity through anti-inflammatory eating and through avoiding toxic chemicals inside and out.

But I have a good reason for my lack of communication. My family and I have been busy relocating from the city to a lakeside home at the edge of a forest; close to where I grew up. Whether it is a permanent move or temporary, is still yet to be determined, but needless to say, I now have endless topics to write about.

One of the first discoveries I made at our new location was the abundance of my favourite wild flowering bush, philadelphus lewissii or commonly known as Mock Orange Blossom. They aren’t in bloom this time of year but I immediately recognized the shrub and leaves. I will be able to make my Mock Orange infused oil and lotion next June. And the lake breezes are going to smell simply amazing!


Other plants I was immediately excited about seeing growing abundantly near our new home included the elderberry, Oregon grape, Saskatoon Berry, wild rose hip, yarrow, juniper berry and white sage. These are all plants I grew up with and love. I lived the first nine years of my life on a small acreage where I spent my days wandering around sampling wild edibles and collecting fragrant plants for my own “perfume.” I guess this love of wild crafting never left me.

October is mushroom season here in the Interior of British Columbia. My family and I have spent years wild mushroom hunting and learning the different species, edible and non-edible. The eight years we lived on a mountain acreage we identified and ate boletes and bleeding milk caps or lactarius rubrilacteus (my favourite). As soon as the mushrooms began popping around here I was on the lookout for the beautiful orange bleeding milk caps. These mushrooms are mycorrhizal (co-dependant), usually with fir trees. Since this area is full of fir trees, I was very hopeful to find them. But alas, they are non-existent so far. There are however, plenty of boletes, shaggy manes and russulas.

I decided to further study what looked like the shrimp russula mushroom or Russula xerampelina. They are said to often be an overlooked delicacy. We had a ton of russulas on our acreage but I had never spent a lot of time studying them.

The first thing the kids and I do to properly identify a new mushroom is to look it up in our mushroom handbook and follow the checklist for the particular mushroom we think it is. Russulas are said to be hard to identify because there are so many different species and the cap color tends to vary within the same collection. It certainly seemed this way with our samples; some had more red, purple or brown hues to them; all in the same area. Check.

Russula xerampelina are mycorrhizal with conifers, especially pines. These were growing under a group of pine trees. Check.

Next, we smelled the mushrooms. They were to have a shrimpish or fishy odor to them, especially in the older mushrooms. The older looking mushrooms we collected definitely had a shrimpish or fishy odor to them but the newly emerged “buttons” did not. This is normal, however for the buttons to have little odor. Check.

The gills had to be inspected. For the shrimp russula they need to be attached to the stem or beginning to run down it and creamy white in color. Ours were creamy white. Check.

Stems are to be 3-12 cm long, 1-4 cm thick, dry, fairly smooth, white or flushed with reddish to purplish hues, bruising yellowish, then brown. Ours fit within this description. Check.

The next step to properly identify a mushroom is to create a spore print. This is done by popping off the stem of one or more samples and laying the caps gill side down on a piece of white paper (black paper if the mushroom being studied is to have white spores) and covering each cap with a glass cup. This is left to sit over night. The humidity formed from the moist mushroom under the glass causes the mushroom to drop its spores onto the paper. In the morning, lift your glass and inspect your mushroom “art”. In the case of shrimp russulas, they are to be yellowish to orangish-yellow. Check.

The final step, unless you have a microscope to look at the shape of the spores, which I don’t, is to taste the mushroom. In the case of russulas, if it tastes “peppery”, it’s not edible and if it tastes like a “mushroom”, it’s edible. There aren’t any deadly russulas but there is one nicknamed the “vomiting” russula (Russula emetica) – emetic meaning to induce vomiting. I think I’ll avoid that one. It usually has a much brighter red colored cap compared to the shrimp russula and the spores in a spore test are white.

So, with all the tests pointing towards the shrimp russula identification, I went ahead and took the plunge – I broke off a piece of the mushroom cap that had given me the yellow spore print and chewed it up. It is recommended to chew the mushroom for 30 seconds to give it time to taste peppery or not, and then spit it out. Yay, it just tasted like a mushroom and not peppery at all.  I am not an expert, but I believe we properly identified the Russula xeramlelina – and I didn’t vomit 🙂

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