John Mikesh is a consulting engineer by trade, but a mushroom forager by hobby.
He joined the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club 10 years ago. Though he’d read about mushrooms, he found that the only way to truly get the hang of identifying mushrooms was to go foraging with someone who knew about them.
Mikesh spoke at the Oct. 10 Chautauqua program in Crosslake. He maintains that while there’s plenty to learn by talking to others and reading books, one must go into the woods with a person familiar with mushrooms to be sure to identify them correctly.
There are many shapes and appearances even to one species of mushroom.
Mushrooms typically have a bad reputation, Mikesh said. In Europe and Asia, mushrooms are viewed differently than they typically are in the United States.
“They eat mushrooms, pick them. It’s everyday life,” Mikesh said of other countries. “I hope you can get a positive approach to mushrooms.”
The mushrooms people pick are the fruiting body of the fungi. Thousands of threads grow underground, often invisible to the naked eye. When ready to reproduce, they send up the fruit to release spores.
Mikesh explained that there are three types of fungi. Parasitic fungi live on living organisms, eventually killing them. Saprophytic fungi live on dead or decaying organisms and break them down. Finally, mycorrhizal mushrooms live in a symbiotic relationship with other organisms, such as trees.
“Trees would only do one-tenth as well as they do now without mycorrhizal mushrooms,” Mikesh said.
The popular morel mushroom is a mycorrhizal mushroom.
Arguably the most popular Minnesota mushroom, Mikesh explained that the difference between a morel and a false morel is its inside. When cut in half, morels are hollow all the way through. False morels, though, have many chambers.
Mushrooms cannot be identified by color alone. There are many different identifying features on a mushroom, including the cap shape, margin (edge of the cap), rings around the stem, gills, spacing of the gills and stalk, or stipe.
The amanita mushroom, which comes in many forms, is the most common poisonous mushroom.
“You don’t get sick for a week, but if you eat enough you’ll get really sick. It’ll destroy your liver,” Mikesh said.
Mikesh said that amanita mushrooms often have a cup at the bottom of the stipe, which could be hidden under the surface of the soil. For this reason, it’s important to dig down and collect the whole mushroom.
Spore prints are an excellent way to identify a mushroom, Mikesh said. The color spores that come out of a mushroom are a good indicator of the mushroom species.
Spore prints are made by placing a mushroom cap on a piece of paper, covering it so the spores don’t blow away, and examining the spores hours or even a day later.
Mikesh discussed many types of mushrooms and where they may be found.
Mikesh finds oyster mushrooms on dead aspen trees. Oysters are a popular edible mushroom that is often off-white with fanned gills.
Bolete mushrooms are all edible. The aspen bolete has a thick stem and an orange cap, spotted stem and white pores. Though edible, Mikesh said these aren’t his first choice for eating.
Hen of the woods, a popular shelf mushroom, grows at the base of oak trees. Mikesh said these mushrooms stay good, and don’t get woody with age as some mushrooms do.
The sulfur shelf mushroom grows on dying oak, though sometimes the oaks it grows on will not appear to be dying.
Chantrelles are another popular mushroom.
“They say you find them in jackpines, but I find mine in mixed woods, where there’s a little grass,” Mikesh said.
Giant puffballs are also edible, but Mikesh warned to cut the puffballs in half to see if the inside is yellowing. If it is, the mushroom will most likely be sour and not good to eat.
Mikesh said that all mushrooms have toxins, and they all must be cooked.
To preserve mushrooms, Mikesh will cook and freeze them in zipped bags, or dry them, put them in a jar and freeze them in case of bugs.
Mikesh encouraged anyone who is interested in mushrooms to join the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club. The club holds forays in the summer, where the group collects and identifies mushrooms. In the fall, they hold a mushroom banquet.