On the forest floor in the woods of the Bras d’Or watershed, poking up between mosses, growing from decaying logs, sprouting likes shelves from living trees, and pushing up through colourful mats of fallen leaves, are mushrooms of all sorts and varieties. With practice and careful study, one can learn to identify edible mushrooms in our forests, though this is not an undertaking to take lightly. A number of people poison themselves, in some cases fatally, by misidentifying and eating the wrong mushroom. That being said, there are only 32 mushrooms species in all the world that are known to be fatal to humans. Of these, the most common fatally poisonous mushroom is the Amanita genus, which is found frequently in Nova Scotia. Be sure you can positively identify edible mushrooms (meaning you are 100% certain you know the species of the mushroom) before eating them!
Despite the few deadly mushrooms out there in the world, the fungi kingdom plays an invaluable role in our ecological systems. The underground parts of fungi maintain our soils by breaking down waste while absorbing nutrients and providing structure through its large network of hyphae (which are small thread-like vegetative parts, similar to a tree’s roots). This network forms a mass that is called mycelium. Mycelium has even been used to help clean-up environmental spills, as it acts like a big spounge, absorbing and filtering out toxins and waste. We are really just beginning to understand how important fungi is!
On top of this, some species of mushrooms provide delicious fruiting bodies for us to eat. The Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) pictured above is one of the more well known and sought out edible mushrooms in our forests. It is yellow or orange in colour, funnel shaped, and quite meaty. On the underside of the smooth cap, gill-like ridges run down the stipe. Golden Chanterelles grow to be 5-9 cm high and 3-7 cm broad. It has a fruity, apricot-like smell and a peppery taste. Their flavour is best appreciated when cooked. Excellent in sauces and soups, the Chanterelle has made it onto the menu of many fine restaurants the world over. Not only are they delicious, they are also one of the richest sources of vitamin D known and also contain high levels of vitamin C and potassium.
Why not take a walk late in the summer or in the early fall, after a good rainfall, which is when the fruity mushroom of the fungi tend to spring up from their underground network. You’ll be amazed by the variety we have in our woods! As you examine the cap and gills and stem of the mushroom, stop to imagine the system underground of which it is part. Tiny threadlike hyphae forming a mat of mycelium that influences the trees, and builds and holds together the soil you are standing on!
To get further inspired, come on out to our free naturalist series presentation on August 24th, 2011. We’ll be exploring the wonders of the forest floor, including the fungi!
If you really want to be blown away by the wonders of fungi and mycelium, check out this amazing TED Talk by Paul Stamets:
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces fresh chanterelle mushrooms, quartered if large
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1 garlic clove, minced
Melt butter with oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add shallot and garlic; sauté 2 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be made 2 hours ahead. Transfer to baking sheet. Cover loosely with foil and let stand at room temperature. Before serving, rewarm in 400°F oven until heated through, about 5 minutes.