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Mushroom & Berry Picking

Cherries

Cherries are a favorite of wildlife and people alike.  Black bears will often climb cherry trees to get at the sweet berries.

  • A Word of Caution

    Gathering wild edibles can be very satisfying and delicious work. Just remember, be sure of what you are picking. There are several varieties of mushrooms and berries that are toxic and can kill or make you very ill. If you are unfamiliar with a plant always reference a trusted resource. Books are great resources and are helpful when making an identification. Reference more than one book before you eat a new berry or mushroom and pay attention to the entire plant. If you are identifying a berry remember to look at the leaves, stems, fruit and overall structure of the plant. If you are identifying a mushroom look at the top, bottom, stem, and how the two connect. Check the surrounding area and if it is a tree mushroom what type of tree is it growing on? All of these things can be clues to identifying the mushroom. Also look for other mushrooms that may look similar in your field guide to be certain that it couldn’t be anything else. If you are not 100% sure don’t eat it and don’t feed it to anyone else. The first time you eat any wild edible eat only a small amount to see how it will affect you. Remember that some plants, like the ground cherry, are edible only at a certain stage of growth or with special preparation. If you eat them at the wrong time they are toxic. Be safe and enjoy your wild harvest.

  • Berries

    Blueberries in the palm of a hand.

    There are many varieties of berries available for picking at the refuge. By far the most popular berries are blueberries, raspberries and huckleberries. Other wild edibles include wild strawberries, dewberries, bunchberries, cranberries, wintergreen, common chokecherries, mulberries, pin cherries, serviceberries, and sand cherries. There are several other varieties of edible berries as well. This is not an exhaustive list of the edible berries found on the refuge. Remember if a guidebook says something is edible it does not mean it tastes good!

  • Mushrooms

    Bolete Mushroom

    The refuge has a wide variety of mushrooms available for picking, the most popular being the morel. The bookstore in the Visitor Center has a wonderful selection of books that share a variety of edible mushrooms. Remember that different mushrooms come out at different times of the year. Different varieties of edible mushrooms may be found throughout the spring, summer and fall. 

    There is a mushroom in our woods that some locals eat known as the beefsteak mushroom. Its scientific name is Gyromitra esculenta and it is just one of the many false morel mushrooms worldwide. While false morels look similar to the edible morel mushroom they are in fact poisonous, especially when eaten raw. Some sources will tell you that if you parboil the mushroom they will then become edible, but should you really take the chance? After all, not all the toxins are removed by this process. Also, if you breathe the vapors produced while preparing these mushrooms they can also make you sick.

    In and around the Great Lakes and Scandinavia some consider these mushrooms a delicacy. There are, in fact, some people that eat them and seem to have no ill effects. This is not a good idea however, because these mushrooms contain a toxin called monomethyl hydrazine (MMH), the same stuff used in rocket fuel. This compound causes vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, and possibly death among a whole host of other unpleasant side effects. MMH is also a known carcinogen, so those who dine on these mushrooms are taking two risks each time they take a bite.

    Each individual mushroom varies in the amount of the MMH toxin it contains. Some may contain a small amount, while others a lethal dose. It is somewhat like playing Russian Roulette. Death from eating these mushrooms is rare and most people that become ill from eating them will eventually recover.

    Of course every person has to decide for themselves what to eat and what not to eat. Why risk it? Those who choose to eat this mushroom should not invite others to join in this dangerous dining.

  • Morel Mushroom

    Morel Mushroom

    Identification Tips:

    • Seems pitted or ridged inwards
    • Stem and cap are both completely hollow from top to bottom
    • Can range in color yellowish to gray
    • Uniform in shape
    • Cap is attached to stem
     

  • False Morel "Beefstake" Mushroom

    False Morel Mushroom

    DO NOT EAT!

    Identification Tips:

    • Seems wavy or lobed outwards
    • May have a squashed appearance
    • Inside is not completely hollow
    • Can appear in many colors from a dark red to yellowish
    • Cap is not attached to the stem

Page Photo Credits — Cherries - Mary Taylor/USFWS, Blueberries - Mike McCarthy/USFWS, Bolete Mushroom - Dale Maxson/USFWS, Morel Mushroom - Sara Giles/USFWS, False Morel Mushroom - Sara Giles/USFWS
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2014
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