Though most people don’t realize it, Ohio is a lush state with lots of nature to explore. Its green forests provide growth for all kinds of plant and animal life – and mushroom life!
The temperate climate in Ohio allows for a variety of mushroom species to grow there, including many edible ones. This means there’s plenty of opportunity for mushroom hunting in Ohio! Keep reading to find out about local edible species, when to go looking, and the rules about mushroom hunting.
Stories and legends about the ultra-deadly mushrooms tend to scare many people away from mushroom hunting and collecting. Many people don’t realize, however, that toxic mushrooms are the minority.
Yet, this doesn’t mean that you can eat most mushrooms that you’ll find. When picking wild mushrooms you should only eat what you find if you’re 100% positive of the species. Thankfully, it’s really easy to learn how to forage for mushrooms safely so that you can build the skills to identify wild mushrooms!
Often, when people talk about mushroom hunting they talk about the mushrooms they’ve collected but mushroom hunting is about a lot more than just picking food from the forest!
Mushroom hunting includes learning about local species, what they look like, where they grow, and how to navigate your local forests. It’s a whole world – so, let’s dive into some information to get you started!
In this article, I’ll describe a few edible and toxic mushrooms that are found in Ohio, as well as tips about mushroom hunting. But, there’s also more information you can get. Especially if you’re just beginning to forage or are new to the mushroom world.
Don’t be intimidated by all the information, but instead jump in! Thankfully, there are many great outlets for learning about mushroom hunting in Ohio.
This page from Ohio State University is a great educational source for getting familiar with mushrooms in Ohio. It has tons of tips for a beginner forager, plus a full list of edible and toxic species!
It’s also a great idea to join the Ohio Mushroom Society. Joining a group helps you meet other foragers- both experienced and amateur – so that you can share knowledge. This is a great way to learn about local hot spots, identify tricky mushrooms, and know when the season has begun.
The Ohio Mushroom Society leads a huge, guided hunt in the spring, summer, and fall! As well as several “mini forays” throughout the year. Plus, membership is free for students!
Laws and Regulations
Before you excitedly go running into the forest to collect mushrooms, you need to be aware of the regulations in place. These rules aren’t the same statewide and can change seasonally, so it’s important to research before heading out.
You do not need a permit to collect mushrooms in Wayne National Forest as long as you’re only collecting “small amounts… for personal use.” You’re also allowed to collect mushrooms in all of the state forests.
The State Wildlife Management Areas and State Parks allow mushroom collecting, however, foraging off the trails is prohibited. Each state park decides on its regulations, so it’s best to call before going to confirm and get explicit permission.
You’re only allowed to hunt and collect mushrooms on private property with explicit permission from the owner. Most people are quite nice about it and don’t mind, so it’s always best to ask first!
Thankfully, the Ohio Mushroom Society created an in-depth post explaining the rules about foraging in Ohio. If you’re still unsure, you can always directly call the office number of the place you plan to go to!
General Foraging Tips
Here are some basic tips to help make your hunting trip smoother, so you don’t find yourself making the same mistakes that so many of us already have!
Be prepared for the weather. Mushrooms grow best after rain, which means you’ll want to wear rain boots and a jacket. You’re not likely to find mushrooms right away and often hunts last for several hours, so make sure you have everything you need.
Also, never bring a plastic bag to collect mushrooms. Plastic traps in moisture which will cause the mushrooms to wilt quicker. Most hunters bring a wicker basket or a bag made of a soft material.
Mushroom hunters often bring a pocket knife and/ or brush with them to clean the mushrooms. Washing mushrooms with water will cause them to rot, so it’s best to brush or snip off any parts covered in dirt.
There’s also a general foraging etiquette for foraging in a way that’s sustainable and respectful. It’s simply bad practice to be destructive when you’re collecting mushrooms, but these behaviors are also reflected in the whole mushroom-hunting community – making it harder for everyone.
Clearly, only take as much as you will use. It’s easy to be over-excited when you find a hot spot but be reasonable with how many mushrooms you pick. Remember, there are many forest animals and other mushroom hunters that would like those mushrooms too! It does no good to pick too much and let the mushrooms rot in your fridge.
Often, mushrooms aren’t in plain sight and you have to do some searching. However, you should never rake away leaves or dig up plants when searching. This is damaging to the overall habitat and has negative effects on the forest ecosystem.
In general, be mindful of your effect on the forest. Stay aware of your impact and try not to trample plants or drop trash!
Common Edible Mushrooms
There’s a handful of mushroom species that are safe to eat and are super tasty. These are called “choice edibles” and those are the ones to search for if you’re looking for wild mushrooms to eat. You can, of course, go mushroom hunting just to identify mushroom species and not to pick edibles, but you might as well pick up some food while you’re out!
Luckily, Ohio is home to several edible mushroom species that are loved all over the country. Even for the edible species, it’s important that you always cook wild mushrooms and never eat them raw.
Mushrooms decompose and absorb toxins in their environment, so even the edible ones can contain toxins. Cooking mushrooms helps break down any chemical they may have picked up. For the same reason, only pick mushrooms from clean areas, away from busy roads or commercial spaces.
Morels (Morchella spp.)
Ohio has many species of morels, including Morchella americana, Morchella esculentand and, Morchella angusticeps. Thankfully, all the species in the Morhcella genus are edible and very tasty.
Morels are considered good beginner mushrooms because they have a distinct look that makes them easy to identify. These mushrooms are small and have a unique, conical cap with ridges that almost look like a honeycomb.
The color depends on the species: some are light brown, others dark brown, and some completely black. Morels pop up throughout the spring, starting in March and continuing through May. The fire morels tend to be the first of the season, appearing in early to mid-March.
In Ohio, morels are known to grow near dead or dying American elm or ash trees. However, as far as we know, these mushrooms don’t have a specific tree that they grow with. So, they could be anywhere! Although, old orchards and previously burnt fields tend to be great hosts.
Chanterelles (Cantherellus spp.)
As with Morels, there are about 15 species of Cantherellus and they’re all choice edibles. These mushrooms are also well-known culinary mushrooms because of their fresh, peppery flavor.
Chanterelles are late-summer mushrooms and will start to pop up as temperatures cool. But, chanterelles need a moist environment so, a particularly dry summer means that the season will start later. In Ohio, these mushrooms might grow even in June if the conditions are right.
Chanterelles grow as individual mushrooms but they often grow near each other. So, if you spot one keep your eyes out for more! In Ohio, chanterelles often grow near hemlock or oak trees. In general, they like to grow near hardwoods.
Common Toxic Mushrooms
You don’t need to know every toxic mushroom, but knowing the deadly ones can help you avoid major mistakes. Even if you’re sure that the mushroom you’ve found isn’t one of these toxic species, you still need to be 100% positive of the species before you eat it.
The toxic species listed here all contain toxins that cause kidney or liver failure. There are many other mushrooms that aren’t fatal but still cause terrible indigestion or kidney/liver problems- still something to avoid!
Deadly Amanitas (Amanita phalloides, Amanita bisporigera)
Both the death cap (Amanita phalloides) and the destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera) are mushrooms every forager should know. They have these dramatic names so that there’s no confusion – do not eat these.
You might also hear Amanita bisporigera referred to as the North American destroying angel. The name destroying angel is also used for Amanita verna and Amanita phalloides var. alba. Technicalities aside, all of these mushrooms are deadly to eat!
Both mushrooms are completely white, though they might have a light green, yellow, or pink tint. They’re large mushrooms that are several inches tall with a wide cap. Their size and pale white colors make these intimidating mushrooms.
Amanita mushrooms are often found in forests with lots of hardwood trees, especially with oaks. They usually grow in late summer and through the fall.
False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta, Gyromitra montana)
If you’re going to hunt morel mushrooms, obviously it’s useful to learn to identify false morels. At first glance these two mushrooms could be mistaken but, over time, you’ll find that they’re pretty easy to tell apart!
Gyromitra are also called beefsteak or brain mushrooms because their caps have a similar texture. Their wavy caps are why they’re confused with morels but the two are pretty distinct when compared.
Although, an easy way to tell the two apart is by cutting them in half. Morels are completely hollow inside while “false Morels” have a solid stipe and cap. You can also tell the difference in that morel mushrooms are more upright while false morels are flatter and wider.
Jack O’Lantern (Omphalotus subilludens, Omphalotus olivascens)
This mushroom is considered the golden chanterelle’s toxic lookalike. Primarily because they’re both bright orange colored. However, they’re easy to tell apart with a trained eye!
Jack o’lantern mushrooms also have a trumpet shape, but chanterelles are tighter and more vertical. A good test is to peel off a piece of the mushroom – if it peels like string cheese, it’s likely a chanterelle! Also, chanterelles have false gills while jack o’lanterns have true gills.
These mushrooms usually pop up later in the fall and persist into the winter. Their season is typically later than chanterelles since they tolerate cold better.
Where to Hunt in Ohio
It’s hard to learn about the best hunting spots through the internet since most experienced hunters guard their favorite spots. This is why the Ohio Mushroom Society organizes guided forays!
Your best strategy to find wild mushrooms is to search by species. Every mushroom has a local habitat where it can be found, so doing research on a specific mushroom helps you narrow down your focus. This way you’re walking through the woods in a targeted way and not looking up, down, and all over!
Some mushrooms grow near specific tree species- some on dead trees others on living ones. Other mushrooms grow in grassy patches and many even grow on lawns or mulched gardens!
Do some research to have an idea of what habitat you should be looking in, then just keep your eyes open!
When to Hunt for Mushrooms
As with the last section, your best move is to go when a certain species is growing. Every mushroom species has its season depending on what temperatures it grows best at.
There are many other factors, though. Things like the amount of rainfall, soil temperature, and soil conditions determine a lot about when or whether mushrooms pop up. It’s a whole science! Even the experts don’t always know exactly when a species will start to mushroom.
Generally, spring and fall tend to be prime times for mushroom hunting. During these seasons the temperatures are milder and there are usually frequent rains – two things that really support mushroom growth. Mushroom season depends a lot on rainfall because all mushrooms need lots of moisture to thrive.
What are the Most Common Mushrooms in Ohio?
One of the most common mushrooms found growing in Ohio is the turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), a fungus of multi-colors that is easily recognizable by its concentric cap rings of different colors. Its scientific name translates to ‘of several colors’ and its name is given for its similarity to the tail feathers of a wild turkey. They can be found on dead tree stumps and logs throughout forests.
This common fungus is also known for its health benefits due to its being full of antioxidants and is used in many herbal supplements, as well as in traditional medicine. Modern research has proven that turkey tails have a positive effect on the immune system, but like with anything, there can be adverse side effects.
Off to the Forest!
Mushroom hunting is a great hobby that you can continue to do and learn about all your life. It may seem like a lot of information at first but don’t be intimidated. You have to start somewhere!
It’s crucial that you 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!
Mushroom hunting is a great reason to go out into a local park or forest. If you go on walks or bike rides often, look closer at the mushrooms you’re passing.
You shouldn’t expect to come home with loads of fresh, edible mushrooms your first time out! It takes time to get good at identifying mushrooms and it’s important to build up experience.
Over time, you learn so much. You’ll be able to identify mushrooms and even tree species, you’ll find new hiking areas, and you’ll meet awesome “mushroomers.” Happy hunting!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/PIKSEL
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