Mushrooms of California
The mushrooms of California are a world unto themselves and an easy subject to lose one’s self in, especially during the fall and winter, when soaking rains give rise to many a shroom. But if you plan to eat anything you stumble upon in the forest, you better know what you’re doing. Mushrooms are notoriously difficult to identify and the consequences can be severe. When ingested, some fungi will take you on a magical trip; some will even kill you. Others are not just edible, but delicious, nourishing, and prized delicacies of the forest.
Jump to a Mushroom
Use this menu, organized alphabetically by common name, to jump to the mushroom you’re looking for!
Black Trumpet Mushroom
There are so many reason to love black trumpets. To start, they’re utterly delicious. This spring mushroom will get you part of the way to what a truffle offers. They also dry quickly, store well, and rehydrate beautifully. They’re easy to identify (nothing else really looks like a black trumpet) and there are no toxic lookalikes to worry about.
They’re a blast to forage because while they are difficult to spot amongst the duff, once you see one, you’re likely to find many as they fruit abundantly, sometimes in large clusters and troops. It’s not out of the question to find more than a hundred under one tree and to come home with dozens of pounds if a good spot really goes off.
On California’s North Coast, black trumpets like to grow on steep, tanoak-covered hillsides. Look for mossy areas and exposed soil laden with minerals. Bring a walking stick and tread carefully, though. It’s easy to slip on this terrain, especially when it’s covered in a layer of wet oak leaves.
California King Bolete (aka Porcini)
Boletus edulis var. grandedulis
Here on the North Coast we are blessed with a beautiful flush of California king boletes a week or two after the first soaking rains, usually in November. This is the famous porcini mushroom you see in Italian dishes. It’s a blast to forage because it’s humungous and striking — larger specimens are called “barstools” and local Italian immigrants refer to them as “gambones,” which translates to “big leg.”
Here in Mendocino, King Boletes grow under bishop and shore pine, usually relatively close to the coast. They especially like to grow near trails, roads, meadows, and disturbed areas. It’s not really a mushroom you’ll find growing deep in a dense forest. Clean porcini, like the one picture above, are delicious fresh, but the flavor of these mushrooms only gets better when you dry and preserve them.
Cat’s Tongue Mushroom
The cat’s tongue mushroom gets its name from the shape of the cap as well as its texture. They’re also called jelly hogs. You’ll find them growing on branches and dead logs. While you don’t want to eat them raw, they’re edible and often candied.
California Golden Chanterelle
Chanterelle mushrooms are delicious and therefore heavily foraged. You can even find them in most specialty grocery stores and upscale markets in Northern California. They’re beautiful fungi that smell of apricots and have a firm, meaty texture and slightly sweet flavor. Overall, a very mellow mushroom. Prepare them simply to capture their delicate flavor — perhaps sautéed and folded into scrambled eggs with ham or in a simple sauce with white wine, shallots, and butter spooned atop a local grass-fed steak or a thick piece of wild California king salmon.
This is one gnarly fungi. Lobster mushrooms are not mushrooms at all, but parasitic fungi that grow on mushrooms — usually short-stalked russula. The reddish-orange crust you see is what we refer to as the lobster mushroom, but the familiar shape is the host mushroom it has engulfed. The craziest thing is these are not just edible, but highly sought after, thanks to a mild flavor reminiscent of seafood. I’ve never tried one myself. I’m a little creeped out by the fungi-on-fungi nature of the whole thing, but they sure are striking.
This distinct mushroom, which tends to grow on dead hardwood like tanoak, is considered edible and excellent for the table, though I have to confess I’ve never eaten them myself. You can see in the photo above that their name comes from the shape of the fruit bodies, which resemble oysters. This is one of the first shrooms to flush, making them a great option for foraging while you wait for the chanterelles to pop.
Pig’s Ear (aka Violet Chanterelle)
These weird-looking shrooms are purple, veiny, and resemble the ear of a pig (hence the name). They’re edible and highly prized by some gatherers. A friend gave me the one you see here, which he found while we were picking together. I took it home and sautéed it with a couple chanterelles, then folded everything into a skillet full of gooey scrambled eggs. It was delicious, but long enough ago that I don’t remember any distinct tasting notes from the Pig’s Ear mushroom, especially with chanties mixed in. But I do recall it to be a satisfying breakfast, especially after a cold morning in the woods.
Turkey Tail Mushroom
It’s not hard to see where turkey tail mushrooms get their name from. This is a widespread and common fungi, though not all specimens are as brilliantly colored as the one pictured here. You’ll often find them growing on trees and dead logs. It’s not edible, but is sometimes dried and ground up to be consumed in teas for its medicinal benefits.