Michelle McDaniel has collected mushrooms in the forests of the Mogollon Rim for the last five years. She said the effort naturally developed from her family hunting and hiking in Rim Country and collecting blackberries and black raspberries.
Mushrooms are everywhere on the Rim right now due to the monsoon rains the area has received regularly in recent weeks, she said. In fact, the rain has been so good, she saw a Facebook post that collectors are seeing varieties of mushrooms on the Rim that haven’t been seen in years. One of the world’s leading authorities on mushrooms, David Arora, has even been collecting on the Rim, according to another Facebook post McDaniel saw. “I haven’t been able to verify that though,” she said.
Arora wrote the book, All That the Rain Promises and More, a resource recommended by the Arizona Mushroom Society and which McDaniel always takes with her when she heads up to the Rim.
“I have only been doing this for five years. I’m really a novice at it. There is so much more to learn,” McDaniel said.
She highly recommends anyone interested in learning more about mushrooms in Arizona join the Arizona Mushroom Society. The membership fee is $15 per year and it provides access to experts throughout the state and opportunities to accompany them on organized forays to find mushrooms; learn how to identify them and their toxic look-alikes. Upcoming events of the AMS include:
Flagstaff Foray – Friday, Aug. 13 from 9 a.m. to noon in Flagstaff. Registration opens Friday, Aug. 6.
The event is an opportunity to attend an educational foray in Flagstaff. It is free to all AMS members who register. Members can sign up one non-AMS guest to attend as well. Those who register will receive an email with the meet-up location and time. Space is limited.
Since becoming confident in her identification skills, McDaniel said she has safely collected about 20 varieties of wild mushrooms in Arizona.
“I learn about new mushrooms every year and if they have toxic lookalikes,” she said.
Besides joining the AMS, McDaniel recommends going on forays with the society members, walk along with the professionals.
“The main thing — if in doubt, throw it out. You have to do your research and then some.”
The “then some” is time side by side with someone who knows, along with a guide book.
She said sometimes definitions and pictures could be confusing. “To be sure you just have to spend time on it and ask the right people for help.”
McDaniel said she was first drawn to the idea of searching for wild mushrooms after seeing so many when hunting and hiking in the forest.
“They were just fascinating,” she said.
The first expert she reached out to was local and he gave her a crash course on good, edible wild mushrooms. “We went out for a short walk and I got so excited,” she said.
She then connected with the AMS.
McDaniel and her family also grow mushrooms. They brought a few small logs already inoculated with oyster mushroom spores to grow at home and have bought a kit with the spores on dowels, which are then put in logs to grow. She said there are also kits that are simpler to use that are a lot of fun for beginners.
McDaniel said after working with people in the AMS, she gained the confidence to collect and use wild mushrooms from the Mogollon Rim. She always does three things with the mushrooms to make sure of her identification — she looks at it closely, touches it and smells it. To start, keep selections to the easy, well-documented choices; research it as well as its toxic lookalikes.
McDaniel said she felt confident enough to collect, prepare and eat/dry what she found after joining the AMS, sharing information with experts, and taking part in the group’s forays, which are primarily designed for beginners, from what she experienced.
She cautioned that even mushroom field guide photos could be deceptive. Not all photos give an accurate reproduction of the colors of the mushrooms. There is also the fact that a young mushroom could look much different from its mature version.
McDaniel said mushrooms with gills are not recommended for beginners to collect. And despite the AMS warnings about the sites for mushrooming having dangers, McDaniel said they are not too hard to find this time of year, most are on the sides of meadows where they are easy to spot and easy to get to.
She said there are a lot of huge mushrooms popping up around Payson right now, green spore parasols. These are not something to collect.
When collecting mushrooms, don’t use plastic bags, use baskets. The mushrooms won’t get squashed and will stay dryer.
McDaniel and her family usually sauté the mushrooms for use, but if they have an abundance, they will either freeze them or dehydrate them. She said the dehydrated mushrooms would keep all winter for use in soups and stews.
She shared a mushroom collector joke, “Every mushroom is edible — some only once.”