Indiana hosts many great spaces for camping, hiking, biking, and mushroom hunting! This green state is home to many rich forests that support mushroom growth of all kinds. On top of that, Indiana allows mushroom hunting in many of these natural spaces.
Although it’s not part of the mainstream Indiana culture, mushroom lovers here know there are lots to find. Below, we describe Indiana’s most popular edible mushrooms, the laws for collecting mushrooms, where to go looking, and much more.
One of the biggest foraging obstacles is the fear of picking a toxic mushroom, and it’s a valid concern. When it comes to eating wild mushrooms, you should be 100% sure of your find if you’re going to eat them. The only way to be sure is to start your foraging journey!
You can gain confidence by quickly identifying edible and highly toxic mushrooms. It’s best to start by searching for one or two easy-to-identify species rather than trying to identify every mushroom you find.
Many people don’t realize it’s normal to go out mushroom hunting in Indiana and not bring any mushrooms home. It’s also great to simply practice finding them. Even experienced foragers come home empty-handed.
Mushroom hunting is more about learning the mushrooms — eating them is just a bonus. So, don’t second-guess yourself too much, and get out there!
It’s essential to reference multiple sources to get a complete idea of the species in your area, the local rules, and the best hunting spots. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced forager, there’s always more to learn.
Thankfully, there’s a great community of mushroom hunters in Indiana, which means a lot of online information. For example, the Indiana state government published an online brochure with great information about local species and basic mushroom knowledge.
One of the best ways to gain knowledge about mushroom hunting is to join a mushroom group. When you join a group, you get to meet other mushroom hunters who can share their knowledge — some have been at it for years. Look no further than the Hoosier Mushroom Society for specific information about local spots and help identifying mushrooms. They host several guided mushroom hunts to help beginners learn to identify and get comfortable searching through the woods. They also lead several mushroom-specific courses.
There’s also the Mansfield Mushroom & Market Festival held every year. Here, you can learn about local mushroom species, eat tasty mushrooms, and meet other people interested in mycology (the study of mushrooms).
Laws and Regulations
Before studying a local species, you must know Indiana’s mushroom hunting rules. Luckily, Indiana is very open to mushroom hunting and doesn’t have many restrictions you need to worry about.
All the following rules apply to collecting mushrooms for personal use only. If you wish to collect mushrooms for commercial use, you’ll need a specific permit.
Indiana generously allows collecting mushrooms on all state lands! This includes state parks, forests, wildlife areas, and recreational areas.
You do not need a permit to collect on state lands and can go hunting off the trails. However, these rules will only remain if people are respectful and don’t abuse these laws. Don’t take absurd amounts of mushrooms, and if you do go off-trail, don’t be destructive.
These same rules apply at Hoosier National Forest — no permit is needed to collect mushrooms for personal consumption. They haven’t specified a maximum quantity on their website, but be moderate.
City parks decide their rules independently. If you want to go hunting in a local city park, you should call the park’s specific number to confirm permission.
You’re only allowed to hunt on private property with explicit permission from the property owner. Most people are kind and don’t mind, so just be respectful and ask first. Of course, you can also collect on your own personal property.
For more specific and detailed information, check out the Hoosier Mushroom Society.
General Foraging Tips
Haven’t foraged before? You learn several things from experience, but if you can avoid those mistakes in the first place, all the better.
To forage responsibly and respectfully, there’s a general foraging etiquette. This way, we can all continue mushroom hunting and keep the forest ecosystem intact.
The main rule for foraging of any kind is only to take as much as you’ll use. If you find a whole area of mushrooms, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But remember, other mushroom hunters and forest animals would also like to enjoy those mushrooms.
Before you harvest a mushroom, it helps to tap the cap to release residual spores. The mushroom’s spores are like fruit seeds; releasing spores helps support new mushroom growth. Be mindful and keep your eyes open. Many mushrooms grow in groups (called “troops”), so you’re likely to find more once you’ve spotted the first one.
Lastly, leave no trace. Make sure to pick up any trash you may have dropped. Be gentle when searching for mushrooms — breaking down trees or shrubs in pursuit of a shroom harms the whole habitat.
Common Edible Mushrooms
Now that you know how to go about mushroom hunting, let’s get into what you’re looking for. A handful of species are well-studied, completely edible, and very tasty. These are the “choice edibles.”
However, even though the consensus is that these mushrooms are 100% edible, always cook wild mushrooms. Mushrooms absorb toxins or harsh minerals in their environment, so you should never eat a wild foraged mushroom raw.
In the same vein, only collect mushrooms from clean spaces. For example, mushrooms near busy roads or fertilized lawns can contain chemicals that make them unsafe to eat.
Several species of morels can be found in Indiana, including yellow morels (Morchella esculenta) and half-free morels (Morchella semilibera). Thankfully, all the species of morels are edible.
The color of morel caps and stipes depends on the species. Morels have a unique cap that makes them easy to spot. It’s conical and has ridges all over that form a honeycomb pattern. These mushrooms are very small, typically only 3-5 inches tall.
These mushrooms love warmer temperatures and can be found in the spring, starting mid-April and through May in Indiana. Morels need temperatures consistently above 70 degrees Fahrenheit and lots of sunshine, but these mushrooms also need moisture. A few sunny days after spring rains are the best time to look.
Hunters have found that dead elm trees and beech-maple forests are good hosts for morels. Also, areas with sandy, well-drained soil or clay soil are typically fruitful. But morels are known to grow pretty much anywhere, so you have to hunt.
Consider joining the Indiana Morel Mushroom Progression Facebook group. Here, people share photos, stories, and updates about the morel season.
Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the woods is another well-known edible mushroom. It’s named because it tastes like chicken! These mushrooms are also large and bright orange at maturity, so they’re iconic for experienced mushroom hunters.
The name chicken of the woods can refer to all three species listed above. Laetiporus sulphureus is also called “sulphur shelf,” but despite its unappetizing name, it’s still edible.
Chicken of the woods is bright orange when it’s mature, which is another reason for its name. However, the older these mushrooms get, the tougher and less digestible they become. You want to pick a young, soft specimen that’s paler yellow.
You can find these growing on fallen wood or standing tree trunks. Specifically, Laetiporus gilbertsonii grows on hardwood trees, especially oak or eucalyptus trees. Laetiporus conifericola usually grows on conifer trees. Chicken of the woods grows in late summer and fall with late summer rains.
Shaggy mane mushrooms aren’t as well known as the previous two, but many experienced mushroom hunters will tell you all about them. The main reason these mushrooms aren’t super popular in the kitchen is that they need to be eaten the same day you pick them — no problem when you’re foraging for yourself.
These mushrooms are called “inky caps,” although that name technically refers to Coprinus atramentaria. They have this nickname because a few days after sprouting, their cap turns black like it’s covered in ink and crumbles apart. This is why you have to eat them in a short time span.
Shaggy mane mushrooms are tall mushrooms that grow upward in a columnar form. The skin peels up in thin scales on their caps, hence the name “shaggy mane.” The shaggy scales are how you can distinguish this mushroom from inky caps since those don’t have the same flakes.
These mushrooms also grow in late summer or fall and typically in grassy areas like fields or lawns. However, don’t pick one from a lawn treated with chemical fertilizer because mushrooms will absorb those chemicals.
If you do find a shaggy mane and are going to eat it, you mustn’t drink alcohol in the same 24 hours. The combination makes it hard for your stomach to process the alcohol and will cause severe indigestion.
Common Toxic Mushrooms
Equally as important as studying edible mushrooms is studying toxic ones. When you learn to correctly identify the mushrooms you’re hunting and the ones you’re avoiding, it’s easier to stay focused and not be stumped by every mushroom you come across.
The Amanita genus has many species that contain amatoxins, some with fatal amounts. Two of these mushrooms are the death cap (Amanita phalloides) and the destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera), whose names are no over-exaggeration.
You might also hear Amanita bisporigera referred to as the “North American destroying angel.” Equally, destroying angel is also used for Amanita verna and Amanita phalloides var. alba. Technicalities aside, all of these mushrooms are fatal if eaten.
Both mushrooms are large, about 7-10 inches tall at maturity. Their caps are also large at 5-8 inches in diameter and convex, although they flatten out over time. However, when these mushrooms first emerge, they go through an egg phase when they’re round and look like puffball mushrooms.
Also, they’re both white mushrooms — stipe and cap. Sometimes, the death cap has a pale green or yellow tint, and the destroying angel might have a light pink tint. Generally, they’re bright white mushrooms, and their color should signal you to stay away.
These mushrooms are commonly found in forests with many hardwood trees, particularly oaks. They are most prolific in the fall after consistent rains.
If you’re going to hunt mushrooms in Indiana, it’s helpful to learn to identify false morels. The more experience you have, you’ll find these two look nothing alike. However, it could be easy for beginner hunters to confuse Gyromitra with a morel.
For this reason, these mushrooms are often called false morels. They’re also known as beefsteak or brain mushrooms because of their caps. Like morels, they have funky caps with ridges, but these have a wavy texture.
Cutting the two in half is the easiest way to tell them apart. True morels are completely hollow inside, while false morels are not. It’s pretty easy to tell them apart just by looks. Morel mushrooms are vertical, growing upright, and with a conical cap. False morels are lower to ground, wider, and sometimes larger.
The name refers to several species in the Galerina genus, but they’re not all toxic. However, most of these species closely resemble each other, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Deadly Galerina mushrooms contain a toxin that causes kidney or liver failure, but the effects don’t become noticeable until 4-5 days after eating.
Galerina mushrooms often grow in clusters but can grow individually. They’re small mushrooms that only reach a few inches high, and their caps are only an inch or two in diameter. They have a skinny stipe and a rounded cap resembling a tiny umbrella.
Although color varies by species, many Galerina mushrooms are light or dark brown. These mushrooms are pretty indistinguishable for the beginner mushroom hunter; regardless, none are very tasty.
Where to Go Mushroom Hunting in Indiana
Along with knowing where it’s legal to go hunting, you need to know where you’re most likely to find mushrooms. If you’re not in a suitable habitat or don’t know where to look, you will not find any!
The simple answer to “where can I find wild mushrooms?” is that it depends on the species. As with any living thing, every mushroom species has its native habitat. Rather than going into the forest and searching high and low, study one particular species and go to the areas where it often grows.
Areas with lots of forest fluff — fallen leaves, shrubs, and branches — provide nutrients for the underground mycelium. Some mushrooms only grow with certain species of trees, so they’re only in forests that host those trees.
Specifically for Indiana, Jackson-Washington State Forest and Racoon Lake State Recreation Area are known to be abundant with mushrooms because of the rich soil and diverse forest life in these areas.
Splinter Ridge Fish and Wildlife Area is also a top mushroom-hunting spot. This wildlife area is 2,460 acres, so you can bet there’s a lot of mushroom life there. However, this wildlife area is also a favored spot for hunting animals, so be careful if you’re traversing these forests.
When to Go Hunting for Mushrooms in Indiana
As with where to hunt, the question of when to hunt is highly dependent on species. Each species has its season, so to ensure you’re not going at the wrong time of year, research the species you want to find.
Although, I can say that spring and fall generally are prime times for mushroom hunting. This is because most mushrooms grow best in temperate conditions with lots of moisture. So, the mild temperatures and consistent rainfall during spring and fall support mushroom growth.
Many factors determine mushroom growth, so that the season can vary even for exact species. For example, if the spring is too dry, the morel season might be just one week. You can’t know for sure, but going based on species ensures you’re not going seven months early.
Into the Forest
Mushroom hunting is a great hobby you can continue and learn about all your life. Initially, it may seem like a lot of information, but don’t be intimidated. You have to start somewhere!
You must do lots of research before eating anything you find, but that doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. The best way to build up your knowledge is by going outside and just starting to take notice of the mushrooms around you!
Over time, you’ll be able to identify mushrooms and tree species, find new hiking areas, and meet awesome “mushroomers.” Happy mushroom hunting in Indiana!
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © J.Pecora/Shutterstock.com
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