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Foraging Etiquette 101

In a post-pandemic world, sustainability and respect will be more important than ever

By Brooke Geery

Morel mushrooms are popping up everywhere right now (if you know where to look). With an increased interest in self-sustainable living as we come out of a global pandemic, it’s a great time to dip your toes in the waters of foraging your own food. But before you go out into the woods, fields and river beds, make sure you know the “rules” to ensure your own health and safety as well as the environment when you leave. 

Foraging is a hobby for some and a profession for others. Plants are a renewable resource and nature will fix itself, but there are simple steps you can take to make sure the earth doesn’t even need a Band-aid after you walk away, and that everyone can find enough for themselves. Here are five rules to remember when you forage.

  1. Know what you’re looking for — the most important reason to do your research before hitting the trails is so you don’t accidentally poison yourself. Never, I repeat, never eat anything you can’t 100% positively identify. “Yes, there are only a few deadly mushrooms but there are many that will make you wish you were dead. I know of a couple people who have been left with organ damage that they will have to deal with for the rest of their life,” expert forager Roger (a.k.a. The Birdman) Boutard explained. “One of the best ways for people to be sure they have the correct knowledge is to join a mycology group. There’s usually a mycology society with somebody who has a degree in it,” he added.
  2. Respect the terrain — mud season is the worst season to trek around in the woods, but also one of the best to find desirable edible mushrooms and plants. As much as possible, stay on the marked trails in the spring, so as to not to disturb the burgeoning plant life that is fighting for survival in the forest. Also, know that the largest mushrooms have been there for many years, and while it’s always tempting (at least for me personally) to snag a huge bracket fungi for display purposes, I try to leave anything that’s clearly still living and working on decomposing its host for others to enjoy, too.
  3. Leave things as you found them — this doesn’t mean don’t take anything, but rather don’t leave anything behind. Beer cans, paper masks, cigarette butts, granola bar wrappers, toilet paper etc. The woods are no place to store them, so if you choose to bring anything, make sure you pack it out with you, too. If you see someone else’s trash don’t be afraid to pick it up. That good deed might be just what it takes to find your next mushroom score.
  4. Check for ticks — Vermont has more ticks than New Jersey has traffic, so check yourself carefully when you get home. In the Green Mountains, contracting Lyme disease should be at least as big of a concern as “that other virus.” Lyme, however, is very preventable if caught early.
  5. Take only what you need and can use — once you learn to spot mushrooms, ramps, fiddleheads and more, you will see them everywhere. For the novice forager it can be tempting to fill a bag to the brim with everything you see, but please don’t! Not only is it good policy to leave some for others, but overpicking things can decimate the population for years to come. That said, certain mushrooms, such as oysters, grow fast and often, so you can feel better about taking most of them. However, be sure to leave some to “spore out” and create the next bumper crop when conditions are right. As for morels, be sure to use a knife as not to remove the underground mitochondria (doing so also makes them easier to clean, too—it’s best to brush off the mushrooms in the forest otherwise you bring the dirt into the basket or bag. If possible mushrooms should not be washed.) And also on the recommendation of Boutard, “Don’t go with one of those little pretty baskets; hide the bag in your pocket or the morels will run and hide!”

In the simplest terms, enjoying nature and respecting it go hand-in-hand and you’ll be a lot more likely to have a successful hunt if you treat Mother Nature kindly. It’s hippie wisdom that’s been around for many moons, and now it’s our turn to keep Vermont green and flourishing for years to come. 

To learn more about foraging and mushroom hunting in the Rutland/Killington region visit or search the web for a local mycology society in your area.

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