Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Avery Yale Kamila firstname.lastname@example.org
"Whoa," shouts Dan Agro, a mushroom expert who runs AgroMyco, as he spots a dead birch tree with a characteristic growth coming out of its side. "Come out here."
Mushroom expert Dan Agro, of AgroMyco, left, and Nathan Burrill harvest turkey tails on Burrill’s land in Windham.
Dan Agro gets a grip on a chaga mushroom growing on a birch tree.
Photos by Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer
MUSHROOM HUNTING GEAR
• Small brush or toothbrush
• Non-plastic bags to separate and carry your finds
• Guide books (Dan Agro uses "National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms" and "Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada" by David L. Sphar, who lives in Maine)
• Notebook and pen to record notes about locations of finds or other useful information
WALK WITH DAN AGRO
EDIBLE AND MEDICINAL URBAN MUSHROOM WALK: Agro will show participants how to locate and identify edible and medicinal mushrooms in this park in Maine's largest city.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 16
WHERE: Meet at trail head at back of Evergreen Cemetery, Stevens Avenue, Portland
HOW MUCH: $15
TO REGISTER: email@example.com or 450-4808
MORE ABOUT MUSHROOMS
AUDUBON MUSHROOM WORKSHOP: Naturalist Kirk Gentalen will explore all the fungi encountered on a walk through the property and discuss their roles in the ecosystem. Bring lunch and stay for the optional mushroom slideshow.
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 8
WHERE: Maine Audubon Gilsland Farm, Falmouth
HOW MUCH: $25 Audubon members/$35 nonmembers
TO REGISTER: 781-2330
Agro, property owner Nathan Burrill and I have been traipsing through Burrill's mossy, boulder strewn and hilly woods in Windham searching for edible and medicinal mushrooms.
After we make our way to the base of the birch tree, we gaze high above our heads at two dark, misshapen knots protruding from either side of the white bark. We all ponder the same question: is the growth the sought-after medicinal mushroom known as chaga or is it a wooden burl?
Agro hoists Burrill into the air so he can cut off a piece of the growth. When he hands over the specimen, Agro quickly pronounces it a burl.
But in the elusive and unpredictable world of mushroom hunting, one false find can quickly lead to a more fruitful discovery. Just beyond the birch tree a patch of bright orange-yellow stands out against the brown leaf litter on the forest floor.
Agro bends down and quickly pronounces the patch to not only be mushrooms but to be tasty chanterelles, typically found on high-end restaurant menus and in gourmet shops. These ones are not the most picturesque specimens, as they're a little chewed on, but they'll still make good eats.
"These are probably a week old," Agro says as he proceeds to cut off each mushroom at the base and then brushes off any dirt and debris. Once he gets them home, he'll clean them further with a paper towel, but he'll avoid rinsing them, as it makes the mushrooms too soggy.
ON THE TURKEY TAIL TRAIL
A short while later, we come across a tree trunk covered in ruffled waves of striated turkey tail mushrooms, which are prized in Asia for anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
"Turkey tail is one of the most prevalent mushrooms you'll find in this area," Agro says as he tears the mushrooms off in strips and places them in a bag.
Since turkey tails are rather tough and leathery, they are typically consumed as a tea or a broth, after boiling them to extract their beneficial properties.
Agro's interest in mushrooms began 11 years ago, when he started cultivating oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Four years later, he began foraging for wild mushrooms.
These days, he frequently leads public walks to teach others how to find and identify the bounty of edible and medicinal mushrooms lurking in the Maine woods. His next public walk takes place on Sept. 16 in Portland.
"The best way to reach more people and give them a better relationship with mushrooms is to get them out and teach them (how to forage)," Agro said. "I don't think people realize we have such a diverse amount of wild mushrooms in Maine."
While some mushroom walks focus on identifying all the fungi encountered, whether edible or not, Agro chooses to spend the bulk of the time on his walks spotting edible mushrooms and pointing out how to recognize them.
"I'm just interested in the edibles and ones that are a resource to us," Agro said.
Agro cautions that mushroom hunting is not the same as a vigorous hike through the woods. Rather, it's a slow walk where you watch where you're stepping while scanning the ground and the nearby tree trunks for signs of fungi.
He says peak mushroom foraging season in Maine starts now and typically runs through the end of October.
"It's either feast or famine a lot of the time," said Agro, who also works as a GIS mapping consultant.
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Week-old chanterelles stand out against the brown leaf litter of the forest floor.
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Turkey tail mushrooms are abundant in Maine and valued for their medicinal properties.