As I wandered through the woods the other day, I stumbled upon some oyster mushrooms growing shelflike on a Red Alder log, and couldn’t help but let out a nostalgic chuckle. I have a bit of a funny relationship with this particular edible fungus, you see. . .
Exactly 11 years ago this week, Patrick and I, along with 30 of our classmates, were dropped off in the wild with the mission of surviving entirely off the land for 5 days.
We did not come equipped with any sort of gear whatsoever (not even knives!).
All that we had were the clothes on our backs, the skills that we’d acquired over the previous 9 months, and each other.
Once we accomplished the challenging tasks of finding spring water, starting friction fire, and building debris shelters, we began to focus more on foraging.
I spent hours wandering the landscape and collecting some of my favorite wild edible plants. I brought a whole bunch back to the central fire and added them to the pile that others had foraged.
As that first day winded down, I warmed my bones around the fire with my classmates, my wild plant “dinner” laid out in front of me. . .
I sunk my teeth into a peeled salmonberry shoot (my favorite at the time!), and then it hit me.
Ugh, I thought. This tastes soo bitter!
So I nibbled on some miner’s lettuce.
Blah, I’m really not feeling this one either!
I plucked a nettle leaf, folded it up real small, and sank my chompers into it.
Wow, this tastes quite earthy. . .
I was taken aback by my sudden distaste for my favorite wild edibles. It was only day 1 of our survival trip, and these plants had already become unpalatable to me. And I had just harvested a huge pile of them!
It’s gonna be a long week, I thought to myself.
I was getting pretty hungry, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat another friggin’ salmonberry shoot, or stinging nettle leaf, or-not-quite-ripe salmonberry. And I was certainly not alone in those sentiments. My classmates were moaning and groaning right along with me!
Suddenly, my classmate Seanan popped out of the ferns excitedly, clutching a handful of white, fleshy, gilled mushroom caps. It was oyster mushrooms!
“YES!! Oyster mushrooms would satiate me!” I exclaimed.
We gave thanks to Seanan (and to the forest for providing!) and quickly roasted the mushrooms over the fire. We then enthusiastically devoured the warm, smokey-flavored, velvety-textured, meaty-goodness-of-a-fungus.
My belly grumbled with delight. Mmmmm. I could get used to this!
And so I ate some more oyster mushrooms. And more. And more. It had been a pretty damp spring, and there were plenty of oyster mushrooms to go around! My primitive hoarding instinct kicked in. I gobbled those mushrooms up with great fervor.
I was vegan at the time, and the thought of hunting a snake or scavenging a robin’s egg did not appeal to me. So, it was oyster mushrooms all day, every day.
Until. . .
I hit another wall. I woke up on day four and the thought of eating another oyster mushroom made me gag.
Luckily, our trip was more than halfway over, and it was only a matter of time before I was reunited with all of the foods that my classmates and I had been fantasizing about for the previous three days.
(No joke: we’d sit around the fire talking about food for what seemed like hours. There was even a “restaurant tour" being planned for our triumphant return to the domesticated world!)
Fortunately, I have since gotten over my inevitable aversion to oyster mushrooms, and each spring and fall when I find them in the forest, I harvest a few to mix into stir fries and to add to egg dishes. I gotta say, after all these years, I still think they’re pretty tasty!!
I share this story because I believe that everything in nature has something to teach us.
That week, oyster mushrooms taught me a lot about moderation. Just because something is “good”, doesn’t mean that more of it is “better”.
My experience with oyster mushrooms also cultivated within me an incredible amount of gratitude for the abundance and variety of food that we are privileged to have access to in this modern world. We are truly, truly blessed. . .
And so, as the rain falls upon the parched earth on this cool spring day as I write this, I give thanks to those teachings, and to the many other teachings of the forest.
And. . . I feel excitement about the abundance of fruiting oyster mushrooms and other wild edibles that will come from all of this moisture!
If you haven’t done so already, keep your eyes peeled for some oyster mushrooms out there.
I am definitely NOT a mushroom expert (that’s why I don’t go foraging with my students!)
However, I have spent some time keying out mushrooms with the awesome and knowledgeable folks at the Northwest Mushroomers Association, and I feel confident in my ability to identify oyster mushrooms. I definitely recommend going on a foray and/or signing up for class with those experts!
I’m also a big fan of the book All That The Rain Promises and More… by David Arora. As well as Mushrooms Demystified by that same author.
I trust that you won’t harvest and eat anything that you aren’t 100% confident in identifying.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. . .