August 29, 2012

Natural Foodie: Fun guy seeks fungi

Mushroom geek Dan Agro is passionate in his pursuit of chagas, chanterelles and turkey tails.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Mushroom expert Dan Agro, of AgroMyco, left, and Nathan Burrill harvest turkey tails on Burrill’s land in Windham.

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Dan Agro gets a grip on a chaga mushroom growing on a birch tree.

Photos by Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

Additional Photos Below

MUSHROOM HUNTING GEAR

Small brush or toothbrush

Knife

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: dan.agro4@gmail.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

After keeping some of the mushrooms he finds and grows for his own meals, Agro sells the rest to local chefs or barters them for other goods with members of the Portland Maine Permaculture Meetup, which hosts a monthly swap event.

 

GROW YOUR OWN

Agro also collects spores from edible wild Maine mushrooms and offers them to people who want to cultivate native fungi on their own property.

"I recently got a reishi species onto a petri dish," Agro said.

When asked why mushrooms offer health benefits, Agro said, "pretty much all mushrooms have immune systems. When we consume them, they impart some of that immunity to us."

But in order to receive immune benefits, the mushrooms must be picked in an active growth stage when their immune function is at its highest level. In order for our bodies to absorb the immune qualities and nutrition from mushrooms, the fungi must be cooked first.

"All mushrooms are comprised of chitin, and chitin doesn't get broken down until we cook it," Agro said. "Cooking is a very important thing for all mushrooms. You don't get any mushroom benefits from mushrooms if they're raw."

So while those raw button mushrooms may look pretty on your salad, they have about the same nutritional benefits of wood chips.

To develop wild mushroom foraging skills, Agro said "the key is getting out there and spending as much time in the woods as possible."

For Agro, and no doubt many mushroom hunters, he said "until I find it, touch it and see it, my brain doesn't really connect with it. Once you have six or seven mushrooms you're comfortable with, you'll generally find something when you go out. You're just not sure what it will be."

Proving mushroom hunting's unpredictably, Agro's sharp eyes spotted a chaga growth on a birch tree, when we were making our way out of the woods.

As he broke the chaga mushroom off in pieces, revealing its yellowish-brown center beneath the blackish outer skin, Agro said, "It's probably been on there for 15 years."

By now, the chaga is dried and ready to be transformed into a medicinal tea.

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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Additional Photos

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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.

 


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