leads coastal and Sierra forays for San Francisco–based ForageSF. Of the
16 people who came along on our jaunt, genders were represented equally,
and ages of participants ranged from 22 to 70. Aside from Hamilton and
Pascal Pelous, a guest from the Mycological Society of San Francisco, all
attendees were pairs, including a mother and son.
What is it all about? “Picking a mushroom is like picking an apple off a
tree; it doesn’t harm the tree,” Hamilton says. In fact, it helps the organism, as the mushroom’s purpose is to spread spores and reproduce. In
the soil underneath the mushrooms is mycelium, a spiderweb-like part
of a fungus. A mycelial mat of a specific honey fungus found in the Blue
Mountains of Oregon is thought to be the largest living organism on earth,
measuring 2.4 miles across. What makes this discovery all the more
striking is that fungi are more closely related to animals than they are to
plants. Their cell walls are not cellulose but are composed of chitin, the
same material that makes up an insect’s exoskeleton. Marvelous as they
are, not all mushrooms are our friends. “Death caps are all over Marin
right now; they have a slight green tint,” says Hamilton. “Hospital green,”
he musingly adds. A single death cap mushroom can kill three people.
Mushroom hunters know their habitat and understand nuances that differentiate species. Please consult experts before ingesting foraged fungi.
Where does this activity take place? Be aware that foraging in the wrong
When is a good time to go foraging? “As soon as the ground is wet, it’s
places (private property) can result in a fine or worse. Your best legal bet
for hunting and gathering mushrooms for personal use is at Point Reyes
National Seashore — guests can collect up to two gallons plus one mush-
room per adult per day. Foraging is also permitted at Salt Point State Park
on the Sonoma Coast.
on,” says Hamilton. For the Bay Area, that generally means from around
November until the end of March.
Why give it a try? A sentiment echoed throughout the community is that
foraging satisfies a hunter-gatherer instinct. Your hike has a mission, and
there’s a reward at the end. Not every foray is fruitful. But “even if I come
out empty-handed, I still got to spend a day in the forest,” Hamilton says.
How to get started? Attend Mycological Society of Marin County meetings every third Wednesday of the month at the Mill Valley public library
to learn about culinary mushrooms, how to properly identify fungi and
more details about foraging. Fungus fairs are another good opportunity to interact with like-minded individuals and expand knowledge;
an annual one takes place at Point Reyes National Seashore. Consult a
guidebook; Hamilton recommends Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast:
A Comprehensive Guide to the Fungi of Coastal Northern California by
Noah Siegel. Or sign up for an outing led by Hamilton or ForageSF.
mycochef.com, foragesf.com m
This image: Patrick Hamilton
(center) and Pascal Pelous (far right)
helped participants identify their
findings. Opposite: The bounty.