Beginners Guide to Mushroom Foraging 

Picking wild edible mushrooms is fun and rewarding, but it has its dangers too.

If you want to learn how to get started foraging for wild edible mushrooms, this guide will help you find and forage mushrooms safely. 

This page includes information that is specific to Vancouver Island and British Columbia, so consult local guides and resources for your area. 

Also, check out our information on the best mushroom guide books and easiest mushrooms for beginner foragers

Note: This page contains affiliate links. If you use them, I could earn a commission. Thanks!

Hands holding edible mushrooms, including pigs ears, hedgehog, winter chanterelles and bear's tooth.

How To Start Mushroom Foraging

Note: No matter how good, every mushroom book is incomplete and likely to contain some errors. Conflicting or outdated information is relatively common. So, check more than one source. 

These are some of the best guide books for identifying and foraging wild mushrooms in British Columbia 👇   

Mushroom Foraging Groups & Communities

Connecting with a community of like-minded enthusiasts and experts is important for foraging mushrooms safely and effectively. 

If you live in British Columbia, or Vancouver Island, here are some suggestions: 

For a complete list of mycological clubs in North America.

Mushroom Foraging Kit

What to Bring When Hunting Mushrooms

Hunting for mushrooms often requires hiking old roads and forest trails. As such, make sure you bring all the regular outdoor gear for enjoying the great outdoors: rain jacket, water, emergency items, etc. 

Looking for mushrooms also involves some extra challenges. First, you'll likely have to do some bushwhacking, and second, you'll be doing so while collecting and carrying some new treasures as you go. 

Here are some recommended items, or items you might find useful.

Equipment and Gear for Hunting Mushrooms:

If you're in a rush, your essential foraging kit should include: A bag, a book, and a knife. 

Below are some foraging kit items that I like to use...

A typical hawkbill knife

There are "mushroom knives" with curved blades and attached brushes. However, these tend to be a bit small, so I pack a larger knife and brush as separate items. 

The type of knife shape I prefer is known as a "hawkbill". 

They are variously listed as wire-stripping, flooring, or pruning knives - so you know they're versatile! 

Garmin Etrex 10 GPS unit

Getting lost is perhaps the biggest danger in foraging. So, it always helps to carry some kind of navigational aid., whether it be a phone, map, or GPS device. 

The eTrex 10 (left) is Garmin's entry-level unit with limited capacity and map detail. With its default base map, the eTrex 10 is mostly intended for tracking coordinates and routes. 

However, if you look it up online, there is a way to install a more detailed map.  

Mushroom hunters use many kinds of containers. It all depends on how much you're collecting and why.   

In general, you'll want a container that has structure and is breathable. Like the traditional basket (right).

Synthetic mesh bags are another type of item you could try. For example: 

I haven't tried all of these - but they should give you an idea of what to look for.  

A foraging basket on a forest floor

Woven baskets, the traditional option

A good guide book is essential. However, packing one on a trip is another matter. You have to factor in the extra weight and the potential wear and tear on the book. Check out the link on the right to read more about the best mushroom books for British Columbia.

Above: My recommendation

Closeup of a small fly agaric mushroom in the undergrowth

How To Pick Mushrooms Safely

Mushroom Foraging Can Be Dangerous...

Although relatively rare, British Columbia is home to some of the deadliest mushrooms in the world. 

Many non-deadly mushrooms can cause severe gastro-intestinal upset. 

Even choice edible mushrooms can trigger unpredictable reactions, or accumulate contaminants from their environments. 

There are no simple tricks for identifying poisonous mushrooms.

That's the bad news. The good news is that British Columbia and Vancouver Island are also home to many of the world's most sought-after edible mushrooms. Many of them can be easy to identify, if you pay attention to the right characteristics.

Furthermore, there are zero mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest that are poisonous to the touch. 

However, every season, stories emerge of injuries, near-deaths, or deaths as a result of mushroom foraging. These are almost never caused directly by the mushrooms themselves, but rather by outdoor-related accidents and mishaps. 

The best way to stay safe when foraging for mushrooms is to practice the safety measures often associated with camping or hiking.  Make sure to let someone know where you're going and when you plan to return, and prepare to spend the night in the woods if you have to. Do this even if you're going out with a buddy or a group. 

Walking through a forest foraging for mushrooms

Common Dangers in Vancouver Island's Forests

The most dangerous part of mushroom foraging isn't the mushrooms, it's the foraging. Here are the top dangers to watch out for:

How Do You Identify A Poisonous Mushroom?

Are there poisonous mushrooms in British Columbia? There sure are! Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to identify any and all poisonous mushrooms. Undertake identification with care and diligence, and learn how to identify the most common poisonous mushrooms, as well as the edible ones.

To avoid being poisoned, keep the following points in mind:

The top reasons why people misidentify or ingest poisonous mushrooms 

How to Identify Edible Mushrooms

As a beginner, stay  away from small brown mushrooms and white-gilled mushrooms. Also, avoid mushrooms that are overly bug-eaten, smelly, or clearly rotten, or ones that are growing in potentially contaminated areas, like roadsides or industrial sites. 

How to make a spore print: Place a mushroom cap on a piece of paper with the gills facing down, moisten the cap, place a bowl over it, and wait. 

Safe Mushroom Foraging - Tips For Beginners

Some easy-to-identify edible mushrooms

Looking for more "easy" mushrooms to get started? Read our list of 6 mushrooms that are great if you're learning and new to foraging

Sauteing oyster mushrooms in a pan

Cooking & Eating Mushrooms Safely

When collecting a mushroom, check it for bugs, slugs, mold, or rot. Some bugs can be dealt with (this is up to your own taste), but they may indicate rot or could make you sick. 

Check again when you get home. Small worms can often hide in mushrooms. 

Clean your mushrooms and cook them well. 

If you have never eaten a type of mushroom before, eat only a small piece to start with. Wait some hours to check for a reaction. You may have an unexpected reaction, even to an otherwise widely eaten mushroom.

Save a small sample and set it aside. This could aid in identification should you become ill

Some mushrooms must be cooked before being eaten (like morels) and should be cooked in a well-ventilated space to avoid inhaling their toxic fumes (again, morels).

Avoid mushrooms growing in potentially toxic or contaminated areas, including roadsides, industrial facilities, or dump sites. 

Mushroom Picking Etiquette

Tread carefully and try not to disturb the forest floor as you forage.

Leave beautiful mushrooms growing next to a path for others to enjoy. If you do pick them, throw the castoffs into the bush. 

Bring an extra bag to collect any litter you find (or produce). 

Where Can You Harvest Mushrooms in British Columbia

Handfuls of slippery jack bolete mushrooms

A Summary: How To Forage For Mushrooms

Want to start foraging but concerned about the risks? Here's what you should do: