When considering the abundance of treasures Mother Nature has bestowed upon the Pacific Northwest, fungi may not be the first of such natural resources to come to mind.
However, according to Daniel Winkler, mushroom expert and author of “Field Guides to Edible Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest and California,” and “Amazon Mushrooms,” co-authored with Larry Evans, the region is ripe with these nutritious organisms.
Winkler will be returning to Whidbey to give talks at island libraries next week. He will be presenting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6 at the Coupeville Library and at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7 at the Oak Harbor Library. During the presentation, entitled “Choice Edible Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest and Beyond,” Winkler will discuss the best varieties to seek while foraging for wild mushrooms in the region.
Winkler will also be participating in the annual Puget Sound Mycological Society Wild Mushroom Show Oct. 10 and 11 at Bellevue College.
Winkler’s fascination with mushrooms blossomed at an early age. While growing up in Munich, Germany, he and his family frequently ventured into the Alps to hunt for fungi. He has since foraged in locations worldwide, including Tibet, home of the rare Yartsa Gunbu cordyceps, a pound of which sells for about $4,000.
In several parts of Asia and continental Europe, Winkler said, foraging is a family tradition, with mushrooms heralded as delicious and superb health supplements with anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Mushrooms also contain high amounts of vitamin D, according to www.ars.usda.gov, and certain varieties are being tested for use in cancer treatment and prevention.
Even the act of foraging may produce remarkable health benefits, Winkler said, citing a recent study conducted by Japanese researchers which found spending time in the forest decreases stress indicators and strengthens the immune system.
“Part of it is just finding treasures and being out in nature,” Winkler said of “mushroaming.”
In the Pacific Northwest, Winkler said the most common and well-liked edible mushroom is the chanterelle, also known as the “golden chanterelle” or “egg mushroom.”
“We are one of the best chanterelle picking areas on the globe,” he said. “That’s our bread and butter mushroom.”
Winkler noted that this variety is now available for purchase at many grocery stores as well as Pike Place Market in Seattle.
This golden variety can be found most often where Douglas firs or hemlocks grow, Winkler said.
“It’s good to know your trees,” he added.
Due to its maritime climate and comparatively mild winters, Winkler said, western Washington and the islands of Puget Sound will likely experience an extended foraging season. This in spite of the drought and overall climate change, he added, which has impacted fungi growth, making foraging opportunities unpredictable in many regions.
As for the best place in the world to forage for fungi: “Wherever there are mushrooms fruiting, you’re in the right place,” Winkler said.
For more information on Winkler’s work and mushrooms in general, visit mushroaming.com