Wild about Mushrooms

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— After the little drizzle of a Steamboat Springs rainstorm, an earth-growing fungus emerges from the Colorado forests, taking the shape of a mutated flower or bulb.

As you walk down a slippery path toward the shady areas of the forest, you may find yourself stomping around a natural garden of wild mushrooms.

But watch where you step and look out for what you pick you could be killing a five-star gourmet mushroom or picking up one of the rare deadly mushrooms left in Colorado.

With the abundance of wild mushroom "hunters" in Steamboat, Gillian Pierce wanted to give mycology enthusiasts the educated experience of a non-hallucinogenic field trip to areas of the Yampa Valley to pick wild mushrooms with experts.

Pierce, activities coordinator at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus, contacted Dr. Emanual Salzman to travel to Steamboat to educate people on the various mushrooms in the Colorado forests, as well as which are good, edible and poisonous.

Olive Morton, director of community education at CMC, said she had to look up the meaning up mycology if she wanted to put on a non-credit mushroom workshop.

"I realized we had a state mycological society and these people are really into it. They're really serious. I think I will try to fit it into my schedule," Morton said of attending the class.

Mycology is the scientific study of fungi.

After participants have identified and collected their wild fungi, they will cook and feast upon them.

Salzman said many times people add things to mushrooms that take away from the natural flavor, but simply sautg them will send a natural and pungent aroma through any household.

"The store-bought mushrooms are relatively without flavors," Salzman said, adding that's why amateur cooks add spices, herbs and other flavors to them.

But when mushroom hunting, many people can mistake an edible, cookable mushroom that mirrors a poisonous fungus.

Salzman, who works in radiology, said the deadly poisonous mushrooms look so unappetizing that no one had died in Colorado from a poisonous mushroom. However, if by chance someone mistakes an edible one for a poisonous one, usually gastrointestinal upset usually occurs (i.e. diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, etc.).

But if you don't see edible or poisonous mushrooms growing in groups near a tree, but sporadically in cow manure or elsewhere, you could be stumbling upon illegal, psychedelic mushrooms.

Salzman said hallucinogenic mushrooms don't grow in Colorado unless they are cultivated.

"It's not easy to identify these mushrooms because they've dried. It's a little risky," Salzman said. "A lot of people enjoy them a great deal. But they usually grow wild in the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf Coast and in pastures and meadows on the Atlantic southeast."

To avoid hallucinogenic or poisonous mushrooms, Salzman said it's important to be able to identify mushrooms.

So, when Pierce contacted Salzman, former president of the Colorado Mycological Society, he was thrilled to know the five-star gourmet wild mushroom King Bolete or Boletus Edulis could be found in the Routt National Forest.

"We've hunted for mushrooms all over Europe and in the U.S.; these are very sought-after," Salzman said.

Salzman said Americans are very backward in enjoying the mushroom that is very prolific in the forest of the Rocky Mountains. He said it's because our British ancestors were very fearful of mushrooms and we inherited that fear through generations.

Of the thousands of wild mushrooms around the world, most of which are inedible, a dozen or so are poisonous, a fair amount are edible and a few are five-star.

Salzman said because mycology simply is a growing interest, there's no way he'd ever be able to name them all.

But he does know the difference between a honey fungus and a false honey fungus, a chanterelle and a false chanterelle one is edible, the other is poisonous.

Salzman said chanterelles have a very unique and fruity aroma like that of apricots.

The symbiotic relationship that wild mushrooms have with trees occurs during the mushroom season, which usually runs from late July to the early frost in late September.

"Mushrooms need rain and cool weather nights. So, we're hoping weather temperatures will remain that way. Has it been raining?" Salzman asked.

Salzman said he and the few experts that will accompany him to Steamboat are not positive of the wild mushroom locations in Steamboat but within the next week hopefully will get some ideas from avid mushroom hunters.

Morton said she grew up 12 miles west of Steamboat and remembers the abundance of wild mushrooms growing near her barn.

"We always had lots of mushrooms. You get a barn, damp in the corners and there they were. We never did eat them," Morton said. "With all the rain, that's going to bring them out in any damp place shady, warm and humid."

After those who attend the class and field trip collect their species of mushrooms for the day, they will reconvene to have a cook and taste party.

"We hope to find the Bolete. Oh, yes, I know they're there," Salzman said.

"When the conditions are right, they'll be there."

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