Wildlife & Nature

Hunting Mushrooms is a Delicious Hobby

Rhode Island couple balances eating their finds with environmental advocacy

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Ryan Bouchard with a white lion’s mane. (Emily Schmidt)

When it comes to mushrooms, Ryan Bouchard and Emily Schmidt are much more than “belly hunters.” Sure, the 130 types of wild mushrooms the Wakefield, R.I., couple has cooked with were all delicious, but they consider southern New England’s population of umbrella-shaped fungi more than culinary enhancers.

They didn’t create their start-up enterprise, Southern New England Mushroom Hunting, or publish a book/2015 calendar titled “Gourmet Mushrooms of Rhode Island” to rid the region of edible fungi. In fact, they are more concerned with educating people about the species’ role as pollution filters and ecosystem builders.

They deliver this mushroom message by focusing on their deliciousness.

“Wild mushroom flavors are indescribable. They make an awesome meal,” Bouchard said. “But what impact does hunting mushrooms have on the environment? We don’t want to promote the disturbance of nature.”

That’s why Schmidt, besides focusing on the nutritional value and health benefits of mushrooms, spends plenty of time studying the species’ ecological importance, most notably as a means to degrade contaminants. She is intrigued by mycoremediation — a form of bioremediation, the process of using fungi to deconstruct environmental contaminants. Some fungi are capable of absorbing and concentrating heavy metals in the mushroom fruit bodies.

“Whether a mushroom is edible or not, they can help save the planet,” Schmidt said. “The world of mushrooms is endless.”

Bouchard and Schmidt got much of their passion for and interest in mushrooms from the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s Joe Metzen and fellow Rhode Islander Josh Hutchins, who has studied the species in Maine. They also ascribe to Paul Stamets’ view of the mushroom. Stamets, a mycologist with four decades of experience, is the founder and president of Fungi Perfecti.

Southern New England Mushroom Hunting offers lecture/slideshow classes, guided walks, cooking demonstrations and private lessons. The couple routinely gives presentations at public libraries.

“Gourmet Mushrooms of Rhode Island” is loaded with mushroom photographs, pages of information about the edible and inedible varieties and 12 months of 2015. Bouchard wrote the text and took most of the photos, with Schmidt providing the rest.

“We want to teach people how to safely hunt for wild mushrooms,” Bouchard said. “There’s ethics to picking wild mushrooms. You don’t want to upset the balance of nature, and you want to be careful when picking to eat.”

Bouchard said a person can making a living picking wild mushrooms in Maine and on the West Coast, but for most southern New England hunters, such as Schmidt and himself, it’s more of a hobby.

Both Bouchard and Schmidt said chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, lion’s mane and black trumpets are the choicest wild mushroom varieties they have discovered.

They warn prospective hunters to be prepared for funny looks from hikers, dog walkers and joggers when they’re out searching for wild mushrooms. More importantly, they note that many poisonous and deadly wild mushrooms look at lot like the delicious ones.

“Some of the varieties are intimidating even for experienced mushroom hunters,” Bouchard said. “There are dozens of deadly ones and others that will make you wish you didn’t eat it.”

To successfully find wild mushrooms, Schmidt said it takes planning, being a keen observer of nature, keeping track of the weather and understanding forest types.

“In other cultures, talk of mushroom season is part of coffee-shop conversations,” Bouchard said. “We want to help make mushrooms a bigger part of the local food movement; a bigger part of American culture.”

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  1. Thanks, Jim. I did use the wrong word. Change made. I think my brain was a few psi short at the time.
    — Frank Carini/ecoRI News editor

  2. @James Lang: "Good article, Frank, but your use of the word "sequester" makes me wonder if you misconstrued the remedial power of fungi. Various species of fungi DISASSEMBLE the molecules of certain toxins and pathogens."

    Fungi can certainly sequester pollutants without disassembling them, particularly toxic heavy metals such as chromium, cadmium, mercury, and lead. Because they do not change the chemical nature of these elements, but merely concentrate them in their flesh, remediation then requires the fruiting bodies to be harvested and taken to a toxic waste disposal site.

    This ability to concentrate minerals from the soil is what makes fungi such worthy partners in mycorrhizal symbiosis with tree roots. They supply the tree with necessary trace minerals such as selenium, zinc and copper in exchange for surplus sugars and water.

  3. Chicken of the Woods Locations at Spirit Pond Phippsburg Maine

    There are also huge amounts of chicken of the woods mushrooms near the same trail locations growing on old and fallen oak trees. They grow randomly between mid June through the end of October, with fall production being the greatest from September through October. Honey mushrooms are also found frequently at the same oak locations in October on the dead oaks and on the roots of living oaks.

    https://goo.gl/maps/fhMLGsuWmxr
    43.752408, -69.806937

    https://goo.gl/maps/cNAj8TPVc5p
    43.750986, -69.807275

    https://goo.gl/maps/dvHmkXpNwUn
    43.751461, -69.808005

    https://goo.gl/maps/4zmGpaCoi2q
    43.749886, -69.811110

    https://goo.gl/maps/t75ubQYnyTM2
    43.748844, -69.811986

    The best producing hen of the woods tree in maine is located at the Spirit Pond Preserve Phippsburg land trust trails in Phippsburg maine.

    the coordinates are approximately:
    43.751511, -69.807439

    Spirit Pond Hen Of The Woods Red Oak Tree Map Link:
    https://goo.gl/maps/xav2jNiw9u82

    every single year this ancient red oak produces at least 50 pounds of prime grade A Hens.

    The Spirit Pond oak tree produces from the middle of September to the middle of October every single year, and has done so for at least the last 15 years and probably longer. The tree is located toward the beginning of the spirit pond trail and about 200 feet from spirit pond at the site of an old homestead and near the spirit pond burial ground. the tree fell directly over a portion of the trail in 2015 but still grows hen of the woods mushroom from the remaining stump, around the stump and from the base of the fallen tree itself in huge numbers and size. Check this tree frequently during the season as it is well known locally to grow hens.

    Where to find the second most productive hen of the woods oak tree in maine is at the Center Pond Phippsburg land trust trail in Phippsburg maine. It is located at the edge of center pond just opposite the beaver pond along the main trail.

    Center Pond Phippsburg Maine Hen of the Woods Map Link

    https://goo.gl/maps/6RM8cur8mio
    43.809922, -69.815736

    The preceding geo-location in this instance is exact. The fallen trunk of this tree can be seen on google maps satellite view. This grifola frondosa supporting red oak tree has grown mushrooms as late as mid November and particularly on, and inside the hollow portion of the fallen tip-over dead section which actually rests in Center Pond itself.

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