About 80% of Mendocino county’s wild mushrooms come from national forest lands, such as those prominent in Mendocino County. Some of the many mushrooms you will find here are Candy Caps, Black Trumpets, Porcinis, Morels, Oyster Mushrooms, Portobello, Yellow Foots, Hedgehogs, Golden, White & Black Chantrelles. Mendocino County in an average year produces and sells 300,000 to 500,000 pounds of mushrooms.
Of the 3,000 mushroom species found in Mendocino County about 500 are edible, 100 have the texture or presentation a chef can use and 20 are readily identifiable as most often used for cooking. The 2 most often exported from Mendocino County are Matsatake Mushroom (during Japanese New Years) and Horn of Plenty Blacks. Eric Schramm of Mendocino Mushrooms reports that he ships about 60,000 pounds of wild mushrooms per year.
Fall and Winter are peak seasons for foraging. A walk in the forest and you will no doubt see wild mushrooms, but don’t pick them unless you are an experienced harvester. Only a few mushrooms are deadly, but many can make you ill. Our seasonal downpours encourage the wild mushrooms to be found in fields, meadows, forests, and along the coastal wilderness. Mushrooms lie dormant throughout dry weather as mycelium. This microscopic form responds to the rains, feeding and fattening on earth’s organic matter until a cap poised sumptously, on a stalk pokes above the ground.
A mushroom is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source. The standard for the name “mushroom” is the cultivated white button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, hence the word mushroom is most often applied to fungi (Basidiomycota, Agaricomycetes) that have a stem (stipe), a cap (pileus), and gills (lamellae, sing. lamella) on the underside of the cap just as do store-bought white mushrooms. However, “mushroom” can also refer to a wide variety of gilled fungi, with or without stems, and the term is used even more generally to describe both the fleshy fruiting bodies of some Ascomycota and the woody or leathery fruiting bodies of some Basidiomycota, depending upon the context of the word. Forms deviating from the standard form usually have more specific names, such as “puffball”, “stinkhorn”, and “morel”, and gilled mushrooms themselves are often called “agarics” in reference to their similarity to Agaricus or their placement in the order Agaricales. By extension, “mushroom” can also designate the entire fungus when in culture or the thallus (called a mycelium) of species forming the fruiting bodies called mushrooms.
Mushrooms can be used for dyeing wool and other natural fibers. The chromophores of mushrooms are organic compounds and produce strong and vivid colors, and all colors of the spectrum can be achieved with mushroom dyes. Before the invention of synthetic dyes mushrooms were the primary source of textile dyes. This technique has survived in Finland, and many Middle Ages re-enactors have revived the skill.
Currently, many species of mushrooms and fungi used in folk medicine for thousands of years are under intense study by ethnobotanists and medical researchers. Maitake, shiitake, chaga, and reishi are prominent among those being researched for their potential anti-cancer, anti-viral, or immunity-enhancing properties. Psilocybin, originally an extract of certain psychedelic mushrooms, is being studied for its ability to help people suffering from mental disease, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Minute amounts have been reported to stop cluster and migraine headaches.
Here are a few mushrooms, some more common than others, getting widespread culinary respect:
Black trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides) A chanterelle with slim dark stem and tulip- or trumpet-like cap.
Candy cap (Lactarius fragilis) A small mushroom found mainly in the West with golden to reddish-brown caps and a slightly sweet, maple flavor that benefits desserts.
Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) Also known as girolle or pfifferling, it has golden ruffles that flare upwardly along the stem like a tulip or trumpet.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) Also known as hen of the woods, these are beautiful classic-shaped, gray-brown mushrooms with an earthy flavor.
Matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare) A white to yellowish gilled mushroom with brown fibrils and cinnamonlike spicy pungency that is prized by the Japanese.
Morel (Morchella esculenta) Light green to black, with a honeycomb cap (a “peach pit on a stem,” says Eric Schramm), these coveted mushrooms thrive where there have been forest fires, thus their affinity for smoky flavors.
Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) There are many varieties of this multilayered mushroom named for its oysterlike shape. One is the king, which has a texture that is scalloplike. The cultivated blue is almost purple and the golden has a sweet nutty flavor.
Porcini (Boletus edulis) Also known as cèpe (French), steinpilz (German), or gamboni (Mendocino County), the porcini has a fleshy cap and stem with a spongy layer instead of gills.
Portobello (Agaricus bisporus) Found all over the country, these trendy giants (with a name developed by marketing folks) are not wild, but are mature cremini (a darker-capped version of the white button) that are allowed to grow longer and develop their meaty texture and large size.
Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) Parasol-shaped, this mushroom, long popular in Asian cuisine, has a smooth, dark brown cap with gills and a tough stem.