As the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to change color, autumn casts a captivating spell over the natural world. It’s a season of transition, where summer’s abundance gives way to the rich, earthy offerings of fall. Foraging in autumn is a delightful way to connect with nature, embrace seasonal flavors, and fill your basket with edible treasures.
Always be sure to forage in areas where the plants have not been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals. Additionally, respect local regulations and permissions for foraging in your area, and leave no trace by not damaging the plants or their habitat.
- Foraging Wild Mushrooms
- Nuts and Acorns
- Wild Plums
- Rose Hips
- Wild herbs and greens
- Foraging Tips and Safety
Foraging Wild Mushrooms
Autumn is a bountiful season for mushroom foraging in many regions, as the cooler and often damp weather conditions create an ideal environment for fungi to thrive.
Chanterelles (Cantharellus spp.)
These mushrooms are known for their bright orange-to-yellow color and distinctive, wavy caps. Chanterelles are highly prized for their delicious, earthy flavor and can often be found in wooded areas, especially near oak and conifer trees.
Be aware that false chanterelles closely resemble true chanterelles. However, there are several key characteristics that can help you differentiate between the two:
True chanterelles typically have a cap that is vase-shaped or wavy, with a distinct “saddle” or depression in the center. The cap is often smooth or slightly wrinkled but not scaly. It may have a shiny or slightly matte appearance. False chanterelles tend to have a cap that is more convex and less wavy than true chanterelles. The cap may have a somewhat scaly or fibrous texture and lacks the distinct “saddle” shape.
True chanterelles have gills that are forked or repeatedly dichotomous (dividing into branches) near the stem. The gills run down the stem and are typically thick and blunt-edged. They do not have true, sharp, or knife-like gills like some other mushrooms. False chanterelles have gills that are not forked or dichotomously branched like true chanterelles. Instead, they have blunt, decurrent gills that run down the stem but lack the forked appearance.
True chanterelles come in various shades of yellow, orange, or even pale white. The color is usually uniform and not mottled or blotchy. Some chanterelles can have a slight pinkish hue near the stem. False chanterelles are usually a uniform bright orange, orange-red, or rust color, which can sometimes appear mottled or blotchy.
The stem of a true chanterelle is typically the same color as the cap or slightly paler. It is often solid, firm, and lacks a prominent ring or collar. The stem of false chanterelles may be slightly paler than the cap but is often a similar color. Some false chanterelles may have a prominent ring or collar near the top of the stem.
True chanterelles often have a pleasant, fruity aroma that is described as apricot-like or earthy. False chanterelles generally lack the fruity or apricot-like scent of true chanterelles. Their odor can vary but is often described as more earthy or fungal.
Porcini (Boletus edulis)
Porcini mushrooms, also known as king boletes, are large, brown-capped mushrooms with thick stems. They have a nutty and slightly meaty flavor. You can find them under hardwood and conifer trees.
There are mushrooms that are commonly referred to as “false porcini” or “imitation porcini,” and they resemble true porcini mushrooms (Boletus edulis) in appearance but belong to different mushroom species. It’s essential to know how to distinguish between true porcini and their look-alike counterparts
True porcini mushrooms have a brown to reddish-brown cap that is typically thick, sturdy, and convex. The cap surface is usually dry, slightly velvety, and sometimes cracks with age. It may have a network pattern on the upper surface. False porcini mushrooms often have a cap that resembles true porcini but may lack a distinct network pattern or crack less with age. The cap may be smooth or slightly velvety.
The underside of true porcini features a distinctive, dense network of small, angular pores that are white when young and turn yellowish with age. The pore surface is separated from the cap and stem. False porcini mushrooms also have pores underneath, but the pore surface may appear slightly different from true porcini. They may be larger, more irregularly shaped, or have a different color, such as whitish or yellowish. In some cases, the pore surface may bruise blue or green when touched.
The stem of true porcini is thick, firm, and often bulbous at the base. It is white to pale brown, sometimes with a fine network pattern, and doesn’t have a prominent ring or collar. The stem of false porcini can vary in appearance but may lack the network pattern or have a ring or collar. Some false porcini species have a more slender stem compared to true porcini.
The spore print of true porcini is brown. The spore print color can vary among different false porcini species but is typically brownish.
To distinguish between true porcini and false porcini mushrooms, it’s essential to carefully examine all the key characteristics, including cap texture, pore surface, stem features, and spore print color. Remember that there are multiple species within the Boletus genus, some of which are edible, while others are not. If you are uncertain about the identification of a mushroom, it is advisable to consult an experienced mycologist or rely on comprehensive field guides to safely enjoy mushroom foraging.
Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)
Also called maitake, these mushrooms grow in large clusters with overlapping, fan-shaped caps. They are often found at the base of oak trees and have a unique, savory taste.
The true hen of the woods is a prized edible mushroom known for its unique appearance and savory flavor. While some false hen of the woods mushrooms are also edible, others may not be suitable for consumption. Distinguishing between true and false hen of the woods mushrooms can be challenging but is essential for safe foraging.
True hen of the woods typically consists of a large, tightly clustered mass of overlapping, fan-shaped, or rosette-like caps. The caps are usually pale to dark grayish-brown and have a wavy or scalloped edge. The mushroom resembles a cluster of ruffled chicken feathers, which is how it gets its common name. False hen of the woods mushrooms can vary in appearance but often have a similar clustered, rosette-like shape. However, they may have different colors, such as yellowish, reddish, or brownish hues. The caps of false hens may lack the distinctive ruffled appearance of true hens.
The caps of true hen of the woods are often soft, and fleshy, and have a tender, almost velvety texture. The underside features a series of fine pores rather than gills. The texture of false hen of the woods can also vary. Some species may have a texture similar to that of true hens, while others may be more fibrous or brittle.
True hen of the woods is typically found growing at the base of hardwood trees, especially oak trees. It is a saprophytic mushroom, meaning it feeds on decaying wood. False hen of the woods mushrooms can grow in various habitats, including conifer forests and mixed woodlands. Some species may also grow on decaying wood.
To avoid confusion and ensure safe foraging, it’s advisable to consult experienced foragers, field guides, or mycologists who can help you accurately identify and differentiate between true hen of the woods and its false counterparts.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion’s Mane mushrooms have long, shaggy spines that resemble a lion’s mane. They are typically found on hardwood trees and have a mild, seafood-like flavor.
Lion’s mane is often touted for its potential to support brain health and cognitive function. Some studies suggest that it may stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) production, which can promote the growth and repair of brain cells. This has led to investigations into its potential use for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. Lion’s mane may have neuroprotective properties that help protect nerve cells and support the central nervous system. It has been studied for its potential to alleviate symptoms in neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
Some research indicates that lion’s mane may have a positive impact on mood and mental well-being. It has been suggested that it could help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
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Lion’s mane contains prebiotic compounds that can support a healthy gut microbiome. A balanced gut microbiome is associated with various health benefits, including improved digestion and a stronger immune system.
There are a few other species of Hericium mushrooms that can be mistaken for lion’s mane, such as Hericium americanum (bear’s head tooth fungus) and Hericium coralloides (coral tooth fungus). These mushrooms are all edible, but they do not have the same medicinal properties as lion’s mane.
When foraging for lion’s mane look for a mushroom with a white to cream-colored cap and long, cascading spines. The spines should be connected at the base to form a single cluster.
The mushroom should have a strong, crab-like odor. Lion’s mane are typically found on dead or dying hardwood trees, such as oak and beech.
Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus spp.)
These bright orange or yellow shelf fungi grow in large, layered clusters on hardwood trees. They have a mild, chicken-like flavor and are often used as a meat substitute.
There are a few false chicken of the woods mushrooms that can be mistaken for the edible chicken of the woods mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) such as the Jack-O’-Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius) which is poisonous, Sulfur shelf mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus), Hairy stereum (Stereum hirsutum), Black staining polypore (Merulius tremellosus), Giant polypore (Meripilus giganteus).
True chicken of the woods mushrooms typically have a vibrant, eye-catching appearance with bright orange or yellow brackets (shelves) that often overlap. The brackets are usually flat, thick, and fleshy. False chicken of the woods mushrooms can vary in appearance but often have a somewhat similar shelf-like growth pattern. However, their color, shape, and size may differ from true chicken of the woods.
The texture of true chicken of the woods is often described as having a firm, meaty, and slightly stringy or fibrous quality when cooked. It has a distinct, chicken-like flavor. The texture of false chicken of the woods can also vary among different species. Some may be fibrous, while others may be more tender or have a different mouthfeel when cooked.
True chicken of the woods mushrooms are commonly found growing on living or dead hardwood trees, including oaks. They are saprophytic, meaning they decompose wood. False chicken of the woods mushrooms can grow in various habitats, including coniferous and mixed woodlands. They may also be found on decaying wood, but the specific host trees and habitats can vary depending on the species.
True chicken of the woods is considered edible when young and tender, but it should be harvested before it becomes too tough or woody. It is a popular choice among foragers for its taste and versatility in cooking. The edibility of false chicken of the woods mushrooms can vary by species. Some false chicken of the woods mushrooms are considered edible and safe to eat, while others may not be palatable or could potentially be toxic.
Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.)
Oyster mushrooms are common and can be found on a variety of substrates, including dead or dying trees. They have a delicate, seafood-like taste and come in various colors.
True oyster mushrooms have a distinct fan-shaped or oyster-shell-like cap with a smooth, whitish-to-grayish surface. The caps can vary in size and may overlap or grow in clusters. False oyster mushrooms can vary in appearance but often have a somewhat similar fan-shaped or oyster-shell-like cap, which can be white to grayish. However, the shape, size, and color may differ from true oyster mushrooms.
True oyster mushrooms have gills that are white to pale gray and run down the stem. The gills are broad, closely spaced, and attach directly to the stem. False oyster mushrooms may have gills that are similar in appearance to true oyster mushrooms, but there can be variations in the spacing, attachment, or color of the gills.
The stem of true oyster mushrooms is often eccentric, meaning it is offset from the center of the cap. It is typically short, thick, and white. The stem of false oyster mushrooms can vary but may not have the eccentric, offset attachment characteristic of true oyster mushrooms.
True oyster mushrooms are often found growing on dead or dying hardwood trees, including oak, beech, and poplar. They are saprophytic, meaning they feed on decaying organic matter. False oyster mushrooms can grow in various habitats, including different types of trees and woodlands. The specific host trees and habitats may vary depending on the species.
True oyster mushrooms are considered one of the most popular and delicious edible mushrooms. They have a mild, sweet, and nutty flavor and are commonly used in culinary dishes. The edibility of false oyster mushrooms can vary by species. Some false oyster mushrooms are considered edible and safe to eat, while others may not be palatable or could potentially be toxic.
If you are unsure whether or not a mushroom is an oyster mushroom, it is best to err on the side of caution and leave it alone.
When you find a mushroom, gently cut it at the base with a knife or scissors. Avoid pulling it up, as this can disturb the mycelium and potentially harm the mushroom patch. Harvest only specimens that you can positively identify as edible.
Be mindful of the environment and practice sustainable foraging. Only collect what you can use, and leave some mushrooms behind to ensure their continued growth and spore dispersal.
Remember that mushroom foraging can be risky, and misidentification can have severe consequences. Always prioritize safety, educate yourself thoroughly, and approach mushroom foraging with caution and respect for the natural environment. If you’re unsure about the identification of a mushroom, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not consume it.
Nuts and Acorns
Acorns are the fruits of oak trees and can be found in various species throughout North America. They are not only a favorite food source for wildlife but can also be processed into nutritious flour or roasted for a tasty snack. Different oak species have acorns with varying levels of bitterness, so you may need to leach out the tannins by soaking or boiling them before consumption.
Acorn flour is a nutritious and versatile food source with several health benefits, although it does require some processing before it can be consumed safely. Acorns have been used as a food source by indigenous cultures for centuries. Here are some of the nutritional benefits of acorn flour:
High in Nutrients: Acorns are rich in essential nutrients, including carbohydrates, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are particularly high in complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, making them an energy-dense food source.
Good Source of Fiber: Acorn flour contains a significant amount of dietary fiber, which is essential for digestive health. Fiber can help regulate bowel movements, reduce the risk of constipation, and promote feelings of fullness and satiety.
Healthy Fats: Acorns contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fats. These fats are beneficial for overall health and may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Protein: While acorns are not a significant source of protein, they do contain some, which can contribute to your overall daily protein intake.
Vitamins and Minerals: Acorns contain various vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin. They also provide small amounts of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Antioxidants: Acorns contain antioxidants, such as tannins and phytochemicals, which help protect cells from oxidative stress and may have various health benefits.
However, it’s important to note that raw acorns are not suitable for consumption due to their high tannin content. Tannins are compounds that can be bitter and astringent and can interfere with nutrient absorption and digestion. Therefore, acorns must be processed to remove the tannins before they can be turned into flour or used in recipes.
The traditional process of making acorn flour involves leaching or soaking the crushed or ground acorns in water to remove the tannins. This process can be time-consuming and may require multiple changes of water until the bitterness is reduced to an acceptable level.
Once the bitterness is removed, acorn flour can be used in a variety of culinary applications, such as baking, making porridge, or thickening soups and stews.
Hickory trees produce nuts with a sweet, rich flavor. There are various hickory species, each with slightly different nut characteristics. Shagbark hickory nuts are a popular choice for foraging. Crack the shells to access the delicious nutmeat. Note that Smoothbark, bitternut, and water hickory nuts are not edible.
The best time to forage hickory nuts is in late summer to early autumn, typically from late August to October. Look for nuts that have fallen to the ground and are mature. Ripe hickory nuts will have brown, four-lobed husks that are cracked open. The nuts themselves will be brown and hard
Look for trees with compound leaves, consisting of multiple leaflets. The nuts grow in husks that are round or oblong. Hickory nuts can be eaten fresh, roasted, or ground into a paste. They can also be used in baking and cooking. Here are a few ideas:
Roasted: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the hickory nuts out on a baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes, or until they are golden brown and fragrant.
Ground: Place the hickory nuts in a food processor or blender and grind until they form a fine powder. This powder can be used in baking, cooking, or making nut butter.
Use in baking: Hickory nuts can be used in any recipe that calls for nuts, such as cookies, cakes, and muffins.
Use in cooking: Hickory nuts can be added to soups, stews, and stir-fries. They can also be used to make a pesto or chimichurri sauce.
American Chestnut trees produce chestnuts with a sweet, starchy taste. While the American chestnut population has been greatly reduced due to fungal blight, some resistant trees and hybrids can still be found.
Be sure to identify them correctly, as they can be confused with horse chestnuts (which are not edible).
The bark of American chestnut trees is typically smooth with distinct horizontal striations or ridges. The bark of horse chestnut trees is rougher and may have more pronounced vertical fissures.
American chestnut leaves are typically alternate, meaning they are arranged one by one along the stem. Horse chestnut leaves are opposite, meaning they are positioned in pairs directly across from each other on the stem.
The fruit of American chestnut trees is a spiky burr that contains one or more edible chestnuts. The burr is typically covered in slender, sharp spines. The fruit of horse chestnut trees is a spiky capsule or husk containing several large, inedible seeds, often referred to as “conkers.” The husk has fewer, thicker spines compared to the burr of American chestnuts.
Chestnuts can be roasted, boiled, or used in various culinary applications, including stuffing, soups, and desserts. They have a sweet, nutty flavor and a creamy texture when cooked. Store the shelled chestnuts in a cool, dry place. If you plan to use them within a few days, you can keep them at room temperature. Otherwise, store them in the refrigerator or freezer to maintain their freshness.
Hazelnut bushes produce small, round nuts with a rich, nutty flavor. Look for the bushy shrubs in forests or along the edges of woodlands. Hazelnuts can be eaten raw or used in baking and cooking. Hazelnuts, also known as filberts, grow on hazel-trees and are typically found in temperate regions.
Harvest hazelnuts that have naturally fallen to the ground. These nuts are ripe and ready to be collected. Avoid picking unripe nuts from the tree, as they may not have developed their full flavor and can be bitter.
Hazelnuts have a hard shell that needs to be cracked open to access the edible kernel inside. You can use a nutcracker or a pair of pliers to carefully crack the shells. Be cautious not to damage the kernel inside. Hazelnuts are versatile and can be enjoyed as a healthy snack, added to baked goods, or used as a flavorful ingredient in savory dishes.
Store the shelled hazelnuts in an airtight container in a cool, dry place to maintain their freshness. They can also be roasted for enhanced flavor and stored in an airtight container once cooled.
Pawpaw trees are native to the eastern and midwestern United States, including parts of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and surrounding regions. Look for pawpaw trees in moist, shaded areas near rivers, streams, or wooded areas. They often grow in clusters.
Pawpaws typically ripen in late summer to early autumn, usually from August to September. You’ll want to plan your foraging trip during this time to maximize your chances of finding ripe fruit.
These custard-like fruits have a unique flavor and can be found in forests. Pawpaws are best when they are slightly soft but not mushy. They should have a sweet aroma and yield to gentle pressure.
Pawpaws are best enjoyed fresh, so taste one right there in the field to savor the unique flavor. If you have more than you can eat immediately, store them in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze them for longer-term storage.
Wild plums are typically found in forests, meadows, and other wild areas. They are ripe in late summer or early fall, and they can be identified by their deep purple or red color and soft texture.
Explore natural areas like woodlands, fields, and the edges of water bodies where wild plums are known to grow. Look for signs of plum trees, such as their distinctive leaves and small, green plums.
Wild plum trees (Prunus americana) are small to medium-sized trees or shrubs that produce small, round or oval fruits. The leaves are elliptical and serrated, and the tree may have white or pink blossoms in the spring. Once you have found some wild plums, be sure to wash them thoroughly before eating them. Wild plums can be eaten fresh, added to smoothies or yogurt, or made into pies, jams, wines, and liqueurs.
Rose hips come from the fruit of rose bushes. Common wild roses like Rosa canina (dog rose) and Rosa rugosa often produce larger hips that are easy to spot.
These bright red or orange fruits are high in vitamin C and can be used in a variety of culinary and medicinal applications. You can make rose hip tea, jams, jellies, syrups, or even add them to baked goods. To store them, you can freeze them for later use or dry them for long-term storage.
Make rosehip tea by simply steeping dried or fresh rosehips in hot water for about 5-10 minutes. You can enjoy it plain or add a bit of honey for sweetness.
When foraging, avoid damaging the rose bushes by using pruning shears or sharp scissors to snip the rose hips from the plant. Practice sustainable foraging by leaving some rose hips behind to ensure the plant’s future growth and to provide food for wildlife.
Once you’ve collected your rose hips, take them home and rinse them thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris. Trim off the ends and any remaining stem. You can also split the hips open to remove the seeds and any small hairs inside.
Persimmons are often found in the eastern and southern United States and are typically ripe for picking in late summer to early autumn.
Persimmon trees are often found in the wild, along roadsides, in woodlands, or on the edges of fields. The fruit is ready for foraging when they have fully ripened and turned soft, orange, or reddish in color. Persimmons can be very astringent when not fully ripe, causing a dry, puckering sensation in your mouth. Ripe persimmons should feel soft and yield slightly when gently squeezed.
Once you’ve collected your persimmons, you can enjoy them fresh, or use them in various culinary applications. You can eat persimmons like an apple, scoop out the pulp with a spoon, or use them in recipes like persimmon bread, pies, jams, and puddings. If you don’t plan to use the persimmons immediately, store them in the refrigerator to extend their freshness. They can also be frozen for longer-term storage.
Wild herbs and greens
Many herbs thrive in the autumn, and their flavors can intensify as the weather cools. Rosemary, thyme, sage, and mint are just a few examples. Harvest these herbs for culinary use or for drying and storing to enjoy their flavors throughout the year.
Autumn greens like dandelion, chickweed, lambsquarters, and purslane are still abundant and packed with nutrients. They make excellent additions to salads or can be cooked as side dishes. Just be sure to forage away from areas sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals.
Foraging Tips and Safety
Foraging is a rewarding and sustainable activity, but it comes with responsibilities. Here are some tips to ensure a safe and responsible foraging experience:
Always be 100% certain of what you’re harvesting. Use field guides, apps, or consult experts to correctly identify plants and mushrooms.
Harvest responsibly, taking only what you need and leaving enough behind for wildlife and future foragers. Avoid harvesting rare or endangered species.
Forage in areas that are free from pollution, pesticides, and other contaminants. Public parks, forests, and your own backyard can be great places to start.
Carry essential tools like a knife, basket, gloves, and reusable bags for collecting and transporting your finds.
Be mindful of the specific seasons for different foraged items. Timing can significantly affect flavor and quality.
Check local regulations and permissions for foraging, as some areas may have restrictions.
As you venture into the fall landscape, remember to prioritize safety, sustainability, and responsible foraging practices. With a little knowledge and a keen eye, you can savor the unique tastes of autumn while developing a deeper connection with the natural world. Happy foraging!