Fall is the perfect time to forage fruits, seeds, and nuts, all of which are available in abundant quantities. Autumn days provide an enormous bounty for foragers and wildcrafters because it is the harvest season.
HERBS: Some herbs are cold hardy and can be harvested in the fall before a hard freeze. Always make a positive identification of any new medicinal herb, using at least 3 references, before foraging an herb for the first time. Many medicinal herbs reach their peak potency in the fall months. Herbs to harvest in fall include: Chickweed, Comfrey, Gingko Biloba golden leaves, Mullein, Mustard, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, and Yarrow.
MUSHROOMS: The first and most important rule when foraging mushrooms is to get to know a few species well, using a field guide. A quality guide should contain the following subheadings: description, edibility, season, habitat, range and look-alikes. Fall mushrooms have different flavors and textures.
Mushrooms to harvest in fall include:
Pear-Shaped and Giant Puffball Mushrooms: are one of the most recognizable of fall fungi. They grow from July through November in most North American softwood and hardwood forests, and grow in scattered-to-dense clusters on decaying logs and debris.
Hen of the Woods: appears in wet Septembers through mild and moist Novembers. It can be found from Canada to Louisiana, throughout the Midwest and in coastal woodlands, near trees and stumps. They often appear in the same location year after year. They blend well with fallen leaves, but their size gives them away. A single mushroom of this variety can reach 20 inches in diameter and weigh 100 pounds.
Chicken Mushrooms: can be found on the stumps, trunks and logs of deciduous and coniferous trees in blazing orange-red or orange-yellow colors. Pay careful attention here, as the chicken mushroom bears a close resemblance to many nonedible types. Be careful not to succumb to the addictive smell. It's tempting to eat them raw but don't. Uncooked, this variety causes indigestion.
Fried-Chicken Mushrooms: are very different from the Chicken Mushroom, and have a gray to yellowish-brown cap, with white gills and a stalk. They are found in dense clusters on the ground near decaying trees or in grassy areas thru out most of North America, during the months of June through October. Their edibility is rated “good, with caution”, because the poisonous sulfur tuft mushroom is a close look-alike. The tuft’s smell is flat, bitter, and tangy.
Oyster Mushrooms: are widely dispersed throughout North American dry river and creek bottoms. Willow or other softwood trees are prime places to search for the oyster fungi. It is prolific in the fall, but under favorable conditions can appear year-round. They grow in mild winter weather, freeze before aging, and can be chopped free from dead wood and thawed.
Honey mushrooms: are also called “button mushrooms,”. They have a one to four-inch yellow-brown cap and stalk with a whitish ring directly under the cap. It's similar in shape and taste to many commercially raised mushrooms. They appear in hardwood forests August through November, and logged-out timbers are the best places to find these delectable fungi.
Mushroom Foraging Safety:
If on-the-spot identification of a harvested mushroom is not possible, separate it from the rest of the harvest.
Ask an expert or field guide to verify the edibility of the suspect fungi.
Do not consume wild mushrooms raw. They are indigestible when uncooked.
Soak and rinse the mushrooms thoroughly to remove any residue.
If side effects follow the consumption of mushrooms, contact a doctor!
If susceptible to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, pay attention to its presence!
Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a hat to discourage ticks.
Don't walk through heavily wooded terrain after dark.