Mushroom Season is Here!

Now that we've had some rain, you might be asking, when is the best time to find mushrooms in Marin and in the Bay Area generally?  Your answer: two weeks after the first big rainfall of at least two inches is the time to get outside and start hunting.  With any luck, you will be able to continue discovering mushrooms throughout the winter and spring.

According to Kevin Sadlier, mushroom expert and President of The Mycological Society of Marin County, meaty porcinis and black trumpets will appear first, followed by hedgehogs and yellowfoot chanterelles. Golden chanterelles grow throughout the winter season, while candy caps show up in January.

Where to Forage in Marin

Wendy Dreskin, local naturalist and nature educator, wrote an informative article for the Marin Independent Journal in October 2019, Marin Hike: November Brings all Sorts of Fungi Drama.  In it, she gives excellent advice about collecting mushrooms in Marin, and includes fascinating fungi facts.  Here’s what she has to say about where to forage:

In Marin County, many of our public lands, including Marin County Open Space, Marin Municipal Water District lands and Samuel P. Taylor State Park, prohibit mushroom gathering, but limited collecting for non-commercial use is legal at Point Reyes National Seashore.

For more detailed information about guidelines for Point Reyes National Seashore see, Mushrooms at Point Reyes National Seashore.  The mushroom collection limit there is two gallons plus one mushroom per adult, per day.

Wendy Dreskin’s article, from November 2019, Marin Hike: Last Ducks Arrive for Winter as Mushrooms Pop Up, is also worth a read.  In it she shares where to find the Blue-Staining Suillus, also called the Douglas Fir Suillus, a member of the Boletus family.

You’ll also want to read two other articles about Marin mushrooms that quote local expert David Sadlier: Mushroom Mania by Carolyn Jung, published in Edible Marin and Wine Country in 2018 and Mushroom Foraging Season Is Here by Kasia Pawlowska, published in Marin Magazine in 2019.

How to Forage for Mushrooms Safely

Be careful!  Mushrooms can kill.  Follow these words of caution shared by the experts: 

If you can't verify every identifying characteristic, don't eat it.

When in doubt, throw it out!

The Bay Area Mycological Society lists the three deadliest mushrooms in California and describes their features.  They are:

Amanita phalloides, the Death Cap

Amanita ocreata, the Destroying Angel

Galerina marginata, the Deadly Galerina

And, they share some good advice:

  • Use reputable local field guides
  • Join a local mycological society, and/or run your mushrooms by a local mushroom expert
  • Be cautious about where you collect mushrooms; they can absorb toxins from the environment
  • Don’t eat old or spoiled or rotten mushrooms
  • Before collecting edibles, learn about the local, poisonous mushrooms, and be able to distinguish them, especially the few deadly species
  • Eat only mushrooms that have been positively identified - and identify every mushroom you plan to eat
  • If you can't verify every identifying characteristic, don't eat it. When in doubt, throw it out!

The Mycological Society of Marin County, whose mission is to promote the understanding, protection and enjoyment of mushrooms and other fungi, shares advice on foraging for wild mushrooms.  They detail what to look for such as the presence of water and the type of trees.  For instance, the Coast Live Oak can host a species of golden chanterelle but oaks can also provide habitat for Amanita phalloides, the death cap.  Their advice:  Before you learn anything else, learn to identify the death caps!

Mushroom Identification

There are many guides to mushrooms in California that can be checked out of the library.

You might want to start with David Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi, 2nd edition, 1986 considered by some to be the “most comprehensive field guide to wild mushrooms”, it includes descriptions of over 2,000 species, more than 950 photographs, a checklist of the 70 most distinctive and common mushrooms, plus chapters on terminology, classification, habitats, cookery, and toxins.  Arora is an American mycologist, naturalist, and writer.

Arora’s other well known guide, All That the Rain Promises and More:  A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms , published in 1991, is another excellent choice to use when foraging, with over 200 edible and poisonous mushrooms that are depicted with simple checklists of their identifying features.


Mushroom Cultivation

Yes, you can grow mushrooms at home, either inside or outside, depending on the variety.  Oyster mushrooms are the easiest to grow and are recommended for beginners, but you could also consider growing Shiitake, Wine Cap or others. Once again, The North American Mycological Association is a great resource. Here are directions for growing mushrooms at home, with detailed instructions and links to suppliers for everything you need to get started, including where to buy mushroom growing kits.

Books on mushroom cultivation can be found in the MARINet catalog here.

Paul Stamets is considered an authority on the subject and you can find a number of his titles including:

Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms

The Mushroom Cultivator:  A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home

Recent titles by other authors include:

DIY Mushroom Cultivation: Growing Mushrooms at Home for Food, Medicine, and Soil by Willoughby Arevalo

Mushroom Cultivation:  An Illustrated Guide to Growing your Own Mushrooms at Home by Tavis Lynch

Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation: Simple to Advanced and Experimental Techniques for Indoor and Outdoor Cultivation by Tradd Cotter

Nutrition Facts and Cooking Advice

Mushrooms are good for you!  The Food Source Information Wiki, developed by Colorado State University in collaboration with the Colorado School of Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, states that mushrooms are a good source of B vitamins and are also the only source of vitamin D and one of the highest sources of selenium found in the produce section.  Take that brocolli!

The Mushroom Council  website has information on selecting, storing, and cleaning mushrooms.  They also have delicious sounding recipes like Vegan Mushroom Street Tacos or Roasted Oyster Mushrooms with Arugula and Walnuts.

The Magic of Mushrooms: Why They're the Next Big Wellness Trend  by Samantha Cassetty, RD, published earlier this month on, gives a good short overview of the health and wellness appeal of eating mushrooms.

For a list of mushroom cookbooks you can check out of the library using our curbside services, click here.

Looking for e-cookbooks or e-guides?  Hoopla has a remarkably good assortment of titles on cooking and collecting.  You’ll need a library card to use Hoopla and access is determined by your home address.

Mushrooms in Art

For an example of how to create a mushroom journal, plus tips on drawing and painting mushrooms, be sure to look at the post, Celebrating National Mushroom Month 2017, on Scratchmade Journal, a website devoted to art and nature created by a self-taught artist who sketches and works in watercolors.  On it, you’ll find tutorials, product recommendations and inspiration.  There’s a great post on drawing and painting mushrooms here .

And here’s her video on creating a Mushroom Nature Journal

Did you know that mushroom can be used to create fabric dyes?  Miriam Rice, a fiber arts teacher from Mendocino, California, began using wild mushrooms as a source of pigments in the 1960s.  Basic instructions on using mushrooms to dye wool fiber can be found  on the website of The North American Mycological Association.

Miriam Rice and the many colors produced by her mushroom dyes.

The website Mcyopigments, has well illustrated, clear instructions for dying yarn with mushrooms and lichens.  Regional Palettes: A Closer Look at Northern California Dye Mushrooms is especially relevant to our area.  It includes information about locally-sourced alternatives to commercial mordants and how altering the pH of the dye bath can alter and enhance the colors of the final product.

Mushroom Movies

Find them on Kanopy.  All are free with your library card. No library card? No problem.  Apply for one here.  Access to Kanopy is limited based on your home address.

Know Your Mushrooms follows Gary Lincoff and Larry Evans on a hunt for wild mushrooms and the cultural experiences attached to them. With footage from the Telluride Mushroom Fest, plus animation, and archival footage, and a soundtrack by the Flaming Lips.

Know Your Mushrooms is also available to check out on a DVD from the library

Marvelous Mushrooms--Episode 5 of The Everyday Gourmet: Cooking with Vegetables in which Chef Briwa describes the flavor and textural differences found in varieties from shitake to crimini before creating two dishes: a vegetable pot pie and tamales filled with maitake, trumpet royale, and button mushrooms.

Mushrooms, with Joel Greene and the Curiosity Quest, explores the Monterey Mushrooms facility to learn how these tasty fungi are grown and shipped all over the world.

Want to Know More?

The scope of material on fungi is vast, much like the underground network that produces mushrooms. A search for the subject fungi brings up a list of materials you can borrow from the library including these two recent publications that illustrate the multiple facets of fungi.

Entangled Life:  How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by biologist Merlin Sheldrake who asks "Can we think of their behavior as intelligent?" given that mushrooms can process and communicate information about environments quickly and over great distances.



The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, is an ethnography of the global matsutake mushroom trade and explores the relationship between “…capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes, the prerequisite for continuing life on earth.”

Among other things, you can read about the expanding field of mycroremediation, that is using mushrooms for environmental clean-up operations.  Here are a few articles to get you started on this fascinating and important subject.

Mushrooms Clean Up Toxic Mess, Including Plastic. So Why Aren’t They Used More?  by Renée Alexander and published in Yes Magazine in 2019

Using Fungi to Clean up Contaminated Soil, Research Brief 308, published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Superfund Research Program, August 2020

And Finally, A Few More Online Resources:

The Fungi of California written by Mike Wood and Fred Stevens who are are both past presidents of the Mycological Society of San Francisco.  Good advice:  When you read the descriptions here, please remember that mushroom identification requires careful keying and description, and is best followed by confirmation by a local expert. If you're identifying mushrooms for the cooking pot, remember that one mistake can be fatal. Don't rely strictly on the descriptions here for your identification. And when in doubt, throw it out!, created by Michael Kuo, is based on his collections of North American mushrooms, and includes over a 1100 species pages that illustrate and describe these collections.

The Mycological Society of San Francisco was founded in 1950 to promote the understanding and enjoyment of mushrooms and other fungi, preserve mycological habitats, and maintain the rights of the general public to collect mushrooms for study and recreational purposes on public lands.

The North American Mycological Association is a non-profit organization of professional and amateur mycologists.  Their goals are the promotion of scientific and educational activities, protection of natural areas and their biological integrity, sustainable use of mushrooms as a resource, and responsible fungi collection.

Sonoma County Mycological Association is a non-profit group dedicated to learning about local mushrooms and educating the public about the vast and diverse world of fungi. They sponsor mushroom-related activities and services, including free emergency mushroom identification for concerned citizens of Sonoma County.