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Update: The Oyster Mushrooms Were Delicious

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  • Freshly Foraged Mushrooms
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup White Wine 
  • Olive Oil

Sauté until awesome 

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Mushroom Hunting Success!

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I’ve just come back from an utterly glorious hike in the Pittsfield State Forest. It was a little over four miles all together, through a nice mix of rugged terrain and rambling foot trails. Though I just intended to hike with my family, it didn’t take me long to start looking for mushrooms.

Artist’s Conk

Turkey Tails

The first picture I snapped was of a Ganodermayour run-of-the-mill Artist’s Conk, so named because you can etch drawings into them that will remain when they dry out. It was high up and pretty dried out already, so I didn’t tug it down to doodle on it. Later in the afternoon I did pry one off for this purpose, but it was pretty buggy and gross.

Also in the “not that exciting” category, some Trametes versicoloraka Turkey Tail Mushrooms.

Despite being a mycological superhero, there are some species I’m not able to identify on sight. That’s why I never feed other people stuff that grows on the ground; Even if I feel pretty safe about it, I’m just not *that* good. For example, here’s a specimen I was less sure about:

Cheesecake!

I went up to this hoping it was a jelly baby (a very cute fungus indeed), but I know now it isn’t. The waxy body and red stipe lead me to believe it’s a scarlet hood, but I didn’t collect it or take note of what kind of tree it was growing under, so that’s all just guesstimation. For those of you who don’t know, proper fungi identification requires info like gill color, spore print color, stipe (stem) color, cap color, flesh consistency, smell, taste, habitat (down to specifics like nearby trees), and sometimes even spore shape (which requires a microscope) among other things.

I was able to identify the white cheese polypore pretty easily based on scent alone. It’s so sweet! One of the foragers I originally learned from actually called it a “cheesecake polypore”, which doesn’t seem to be the norm…but I think it should be.

Russula

The award for pretty picture of the day goes to this Russulapossibly the common and extremely acrid emitica, which had the good fortune of being home to a lovely moth.

There were TONS of that genus to be found. They’re very easy to spot, with their thick gills and stipes that look and feel a lot like chalk. Lactarius can look similar, but all you have to do to a fresh one is bust it open and see if it, you know, lactates. These didn’t. Ergo, Russula.

Amanita

Lest we forget that mushrooms can be as deadly as they are beautiful, here’s an Amanita (probably a deathcap) that I found. Check out that beautiful veil remnant around the stipe! It’s a perfect specimen.

 

Last but not least, I did end up finding quite a harvest. I was hoping I’d run into a couple of Oysters, and I did!

I screamed

I love oyster mushrooms, because they can’t be confused with anything even vaguely poisonous. That, and they’re delicious. In other words, the Feltmans (Feltmen?) shall feast this evening. I plan on sauteing them with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. I haven’t had fresh oyster mushrooms since last fall, so I’m very excited.

To end this meandering, meaningless blog post, I’d like to remind you to always forage with a buddy. Mine is pictured below.

Arden Feltman, budding Naturalist

The Mysterious Case of the Melted Bottle

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In packing for my summer job as RA at a young writer’s camp (yes, I have been put in charge of people’s precious children) I transfered what was left of my nail polish remover into a smaller bottle. It was a spur of the moment decision that pretty much consisted of my finding one of those 3 oz travel bottles at the instant that I was debating whether or not I had room for nail polish remover.

It was so spur of the moment that I forgot all the chemistry I know and just poured a “volatile” chemical into a cheap plastic bottle.

This happened:

Pretty cool, right?

This remover was, of course, pretty much pure acetone. I don’t mess around with my nail polish, as you can probably tell from the delightful manicure I’m sporting in the photo above. The “gentler” and “safer” non-acetone removers are made from Ethyl acetate, which wouldn’t have melted through the plastic.

Acetone, however, can melt through both Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and Polystyrene (PS). The former is what legos are made of, and the latter can take forms like styrofoam or CD cases…or in this case cheap plastic bottles from Target.

If I wasn’t staying in a dorm right now, I would have loved to watch the chemical reaction continue over the course of a couple of days. I’m not sure if, given enough time, the acetone would have completely disolved the bottle. Does anybody have any materials science knowledge to share?

Thesis Time #5- A Foray into Science Education

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I somehow overcame my inherent fear of high schools, and protected by only a suit of business casual armor I stood in front of twenty-odd sophomores to teach them about science communication. The fact that this had been my high school, if only for a year, made me all the more nervous. This was the kind of miserably urban place where a student had to swim against the tide to succeed. I was only nineteen that morning, but I dressed to be mistaken for thirty. The thought of being mistaken for a student and treated accordingly terrified me. When I was fourteen, a security guard knocked me face-first into a wall as he rushed to break up a fight. 

 

When I saw the students, my anxiety evaporated. Here were the boys trying to keep their grades up so they could go to Florida for spring training, the girls popping bubble gum, the angry daughters of alcoholics and the struggling sons of migrant workers. They reminded me of the friends I’d left behind when I’d run from Vineland High. I wanted to leave them with something valuable. I needed to give them something I hadn’t gotten, something I’d run away looking for. 

 

My Powerpoint was bare-bones at best, but I managed to talk to them for the full forty minutes of their class about how important it was for them to understand scientific information. Scientific literacy, I pressed, wasn’t about memorizing the periodic table. Scientific literacy meant being able to understand information that was presented to you. It was about being able to process information for yourself. We don’t all need to know how a jet engine works, but we should know enough about the laws of physics to understand that magicians can’t actually make things disappear. Being scientifically literate means that you’re that much harder to fool. 

 

You all write lab reports, I said, so who can tell me what they’re for? Silence.

 

There are several acceptable answers, and “because our teacher makes us” is not one of them. Science, I explained, is a field in which results must be reproducible. If something happens once and never again, it might as well not have happened at all. The lab report is designed to allow someone who wasn’t looking over your shoulder as you performed your experiment to reproduce it on their own. Its purpose is to explain the purpose, method, procedure, and outcome of what you’ve done in the lab. 

 

Lab reports, I told the students, evolve into research papers. Those dense, scary–looking articles (not that any of these students had ever seen one) are really just high school lab reports on steroids. The purpose is still the same. A researcher needs to make others understand their research, or it doesn’t count. Did they really think that scientific discoveries just happened, and were never questioned? Yes. They did. 

 

In every class, there were at least three students who seemed fascinated, asking question after question, polite if not enraptured. There were also at least three in every group who put their heads down and fell asleep. The rest filled the entirety of the spectrum between two extremes of public education, dividing their time between my voice and their chipping nail polish, pencils digging dirt clods out of a prized pair of Nike sneakers. 

 

I told them stories about “science” articles that had been published by idiots or liars, leading thousands of readers to false conclusions. Did they understand, for example, the implications of a newspaper article claiming that vaccines could cause autism? Here was an instance where fear-mongering had sold a lot of papers and caused the deaths of innocent children. The misunderstandings could layer upon each other to the point of disaster: A reporter misreads a scientific paper, passing along a hysterical article to his editor. The editor reads what he wants to, either missing the lack of evidence or ignoring it in his rush to publish. The reader takes this information for granted, as do hundreds of other writers who cite the article as a source. Some readers take the information to heart, and decide not to vaccinate their children against diseases that they feel aren’t a threat. A parent assumes that polio no longer exists, since they’ve never known anyone with it, not understanding that this is the result of an extremely effective vaccination program. Their child contracts polio, facing life permanently disabled. Their infant cousin, under the age when the vaccine is recommended, catches the virus from them and it spreads through their nursery school, causing a dozen deaths.

 

A dramatic example of the misuse of science by the media, but not a fictional one. 

 

I pointed out how little politicians even talked about scientific issues to the press during elections. I asked them to think of popular culture that presented science, or even scientists, in a positive light. No one could name anything more recent than Bill Nye, but they were just old enough to get nostalgic over him. Until that moment, most seemed to have forgotten how much they’d once loved watching a guy in a bow-tie talk about science on TV every afternoon. 

 

I’m not proud: I looked for a good angle to use to get to them. I told jokes, I talked about science as if it was a great way to fight “the man” (which, hey, it is), and I flaunted my young-adult knowledge of their favorite shows and pop-icons. While throwing out the names of some prominent science communicators, I introduced Stephen Hawking as someone they’d probably seen on The Simpsons a few times. Sure enough, they knew who he was in that context. Did they know he was a physicist, or that he’d survived to age seventy with a disease that should have killed him by thirty? No, but they were fascinated to learn. 

 

A boy asked me if writing about aliens counted as “science writing.” However facetiously it was asked, it was an excellent question. Sure, I said, as long as some research went into the speculation. Did he know that Stephen Hawking loved talking about aliens, and time travel too? I was practically drooling at the prospect of getting him interested in something specific, but he thought I was joking. Scientists, he’d always been taught, were serious, boring people who crunched numbers and poured chemicals into test tubes all day. They didn’t use their scientific knowledge to dream about the unknown. I promised him that Stephen Hawking did more than stare at the sky and see balls of gas: He stared at the sky and saw infinite possibilities. I directed the student to the proper literature. 

 

I don’t think I changed any lives, but over the course of the day I got to teach over one hundred students something new. If half of them were listening, that’s fifty sophomores who learned something. A small and yet staggering feat in the world of science communication. 

 

That’s all I was hoping to do. At the end of every class, I played a Symphony of Science video on YouTube. The videos take clips from interviews and lectures of famous science communicators, then use auto-tune software to create music from them. In one clip, Neil DeGrasse Tyson spoke about the fact that we all contain molecules that were present at the birth of the Universe: “I know that the molecules in my body are traceable to phenomena in the cosmos. That makes me want to grab people on the street and say: ‘Have you HEARD THIS?” In the video, he shakes an imaginary person violently, shouting in excitement. I know that feeling all too well. You don’t have to know these things, but you should. I wanted to grab each and every one of those students and tell them, one on one, exactly how much the world could open up to them if they made it their business to understand science.

 

I wanted to tell them how beautiful the world looks to me now that I understand even the smallest fraction of how it works.  

 

Thesis Time #4- Journey to the Center

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 Hello, lovely readers. I’ll be posting pieces I wrote for my senior thesis for the next couple of weeks. If you’d like a PDF of the whole mess, shoot me an email. 

I did this profile as part of my application process for a fellowship to attend the 2012 AAAS meeting in Vancouver. Once I made it to the great white north, I got to write a piece that you can read on the NASW website

In a tiny liberal-arts school tucked into the mountains of Western Massachusetts, Michael Bergman is studying something he can never see, touch, or take a sample of. Unlike some researchers, he isn’t trying to change the world. In fact, he’s trying to figure out what the world’s been doing for the past 4.54 billion years or so.

Bergman, a professor of Physics at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, studies the behavior of the earth’s core. An undertaking of such magnitude would usually only take place at a larger school, one with hoards of graduate students to hire and well-funded labs to work in. At a typical research university, professors in charge of experiments won’t even teach classes. Bergman chose a different path, and has spent nearly two decades as both a teacher and researcher at a school with fewer than four hundred students, none of them above the undergraduate level. When asked about this choice, Bergman is quick to point out that he’s not at such a disadvantage.

“For one thing, I enjoy teaching,” he said in a recent interview, “and it’s important to realize that teaching classes doesn’t preclude research.” While the pace of his research is necessarily slower than those who can run six or seven projects at a time, it seems that the balance between teaching and research is one that he finds easier to maneuver than most. Bergman regularly teaches two to three classes a semester in addition to lab sections. In recent years he has taught Physics I and II, Quantum Physics, Intro to Robotics, and several advanced classes focusing on higher physics and statistics. He has also led lab sections for a seminar course on climate change, a class often taken by students without previous background in the sciences. Despite having a course load no lighter than the average Simon’s Rock teacher, he also finds the time to continue his personal research.

Bergman currently focuses on the solidification and deformation of the earth’s inner core. Seismic waves have shown us that beneath the rocky crust and thick mantle, our planet’s outer core is liquid iron. The inner core is solid, despite temperatures that may be close to the sun’s 5505 degrees Celsius, because of its incredibly high pressure (over 3.3 million atm). The inner core has the property of seismic anisotropy, or variation of seismic wavespeed with direction. When passing through the earth, seismic waves move faster from north to south than they do from east to west. Bergman studies the cause and effects of this property, which stems from the alignment of crystals in the core. The solidification of the inner core from the outer core may be the primary energy source for the fluid motion that ultimately creates the earth’s magnetic field, which we know surprisingly little about. While Bergman can’t point to any immediate or obvious applications of his research at this point, he knows the project is important in its own right.

“I found it fascinating that we didn’t know anything about how the magnetic field of the earth is generated,” Bergman said of his first experiences with geology as an undergraduate student at Columbia University. “I thought it was something worth knowing.” After earning a Ph.D. at MIT in 1992 and serving as the NATO fellow at the University of Glasgow, Bergman began his current study of fluid dynamics and magnetohydrodynamics (the study of fluids that conduct electricity, like electrolytes or plasmas) at Harvard University for a year before taking a job at Simon’s Rock. He attributes his continued support, which includes laboratory resources from Yale and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as well as fourteen years of continuous three-year grants from the National Science Foundation, to good grant writing and determination. He’s been published over a dozen times during his employment at Simon’s Rock, including twice in Nature, once in 1997 and once in 2010.

“Luckily, this is a field where working at a slower pace is okay,” he said, shrugging off the idea that he faces a disadvantage. In addition to one postdoctoral assistant, Bergman hires several members of the Simon’s Rock student body to help him with his research each summer. Most of them are only qualified to do the simpler tasks in the lab, like measuring out samples and running repetitive tests on the mass spectrometer. These students require his constant guidance at first, but Bergman doesn’t seem to mind. “Some students are able to work with me for three or four of their years here, and with time their investment in the project grows, and they can work independently. It’s great when that happens.” When it doesn’t, Bergman just continues to do what he does best. His work might be easier at a massive research university, but Bergman wouldn’t have things change.

“Besides,” he says with a grin, “It’s just so much fun.”

Thesis Time #3- Vestiges

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Hello, lovely readers. I’ll be posting pieces I wrote for my senior thesis for the next couple of weeks. If you’d like a PDF of the whole mess, shoot me an email. 

I’m not crazy about this one, but it was my advisor’s favorite and he’s smarter than I am anyway. In the printed formatting I used horizontal lines between sections, and here I clearly do not, but I think you’ll be able to read it. 

Pain. Dull, achey, inescapable pain. For twelve hours my world has been a fever haze broken only by coke syrup doused over ice. Cloyingly sweet and blessedly cold, a momentary relief at best.

A week ago I got a cold or flu, something unpleasant but typical, but the seventh day of toast and tea turned into a night of violent heaving. I’m twelve. I get sick often, but except for regular bouts of strep throat I’ve avoided anything serious until now. I figure I’m over-reacting.

On the right side of the abdomen, nestled near the ileocecal valve (where the large and small intestines meet), the appendix sits in vestigial limbo. Its full name includes the description vermiform, from the Latin for wormlike. It does look remarkably like a worm, trailing as it does from the wide, rounded base of the colon.

For the first time I can remember, my temperature is above 100: 102. Not dangerously high for most, but my healthy body temperature rarely crawls above 97 degrees Fahrenheit. I feel profoundly unwell, almost too sick to sit up. Worse, the pain in my stomach, a pulling I’d chalked up to muscle damage from a night of vomiting, has focused itself on one throbbing point.

A vestigial structure is one that’s been rendered useless by time and evolution. Wings on a penguin are one example. Humans have the coccyx, reminiscent of a lost tail, and wisdom teeth from the days of massive herbivorious jaws. We also grow useless muscles under our ears, once used to move them beyond a party-trick wiggle, and stunted third eyelids in the form of plica semilunaris, a fold of tissue in the inner corner of the eye.

Surely the peskiest of human vestigial organs, the appendix saw its heyday come and go some two to three million years ago. Before then, our evolutionary ancestors relied solely on foraging, eating only plants and seeds. Special bacteria were needed to digest enough cellulose (plant cell wall) material for proper caloric intake. These bacteria lived in the appendix.

With time, humanoid diets transitioned to omnivorous. Eventually people began to cook, making whatever plant material they did eat much easier to digest. Soon the appendix wasn’t necessary for survival. Without death by starvation to weed out them out, wimpy, worm-like appendices became the human norm.

My mother, a physician, diagnoses me on sight and drives me straight to my doctor. He feels my belly, probing for pain in the expected areas, but a coincidence in timing has him unconvinced: I happen to have my period. He says I must be experiencing normal cramping.

If this is normal, I mutter, take me in for a hysterectomy instead.

I’m very cynical for my age.

My mother insists that it isn’t normal, and we’re sent to another doctor for a second opinion. By now I clutch my belly, whimpering with every movement. It feels as if something is trying to kill me from the inside out.

Wormlike structures, being long and skinny and not-so-regularly shaped, have a habit of getting things wedged inside of them. Being attached to the colon, which handles fecal matter, doesn’t help much. In fact, it’s a wonder more people don’t get killed by wayward appendices. After something has been wedged inside, blocking the attachment to the rest of the digestive system for awhile, mucus will build up and swell the organ. As blood vessels become strained, necrosis begins to occur. The organ dies slowly, attracting bacteria and white blood cells in turn. The white blood cells usually can’t persist against the bacteria and their toxins, so they die and produce pus. The dead appendix, full of pus and mucus, has no way to avoid bursting.

In appendicitis, the bursting of the organ produces a sharp spike in pain levels before, surprisingly enough, a period of relief. This eye of the storm can occur for a few hours before the released bacteria make their way to the stomach lining, causing a dangerous infection called peritonitis.

Another office, another man telling me I just have bad cramps. Still, he agrees that it’s better to be safe than sorry. My surgery is confirmed and I’m brought in through the recovery room so I can be slipped in between scheduled procedures. The doctor who’ll be performing my appendectomy isn’t even on call, but that doesn’t faze me. I’m a doctor’s kid. I know the entry codes for the back door of the ER.

My sister is away at camp, and my mother calls her so she can speak to me. She’s sobbing. I shouldn’t be surprised, because this is the girl who cried when I crushed my finger in a car door in third grade. Still, her hysteria reminds me for a moment that this is my first time going under for surgery. Anything could happen. My mother asks me if I’m scared, but I tell her I just want it to stop hurting.

Everyone else in the room has already been treated. Their families are hugging them in relief and joy. We’re the only ones that have to pretend we’re not saying goodbye.

Two to four hours after an appendix bursts, the peritoneum—the membrane surrounding the abdominal cavity—turns from the slick greyish color of health to a dull surface. It weeps a fluid that grows thicker over time. As the body becomes full of more dead and infected tissue, the immune system reacts to excess.

I am amazed that being wheeled back to the operating room is exactly like it always looks in movies. One door opens onto a sterile white hallway, then another, then another. They lift me onto the table and do the final surgical prep. The last five minutes before I go under will be lost to the effects of the Propofol being injected into my arm. Doctors call it “The milk of amnesia” for good reason.

Laporoscopic surgery, considered minimally invasive, usually requires three incisions of about a centimeter in length. The abdomen is inflated with carbon dioxide, creating a dome under which the surgery can take place without touching abdominal wall.

A camera is inserted through the largest incision, projecting the surgical site onto a screen placed in the operating room. The remaining incisions are used as entry points for a multi-pronged tool. Using the image on the screen for guidance, a surgical team will sever the appendix from the large intestine and remove it. It isn’t uncommon for the appendix to burst on the operating table, but at this stage massive doses of antibiotics will prevent a spread of the infection.

I wake up to my surgeon telling me that my appendix was really infected, as if there can be degrees of such a thing. I guess he means that it was totally necrotic and close to bursting, which is a scary thought. How is it that I’ve survived the death of one of my organs? It seems so strange.

That night, my mother braids my hair and I beg for food. A nurse brings me a ham sandwich and a waste pan, telling me I shouldn’t expect to keep anything down two hours post-op.

I eat, the first step in bringing my body back to a healthy equilibrium. I fall asleep. In the morning, all will be well.

Thesis Time #2: Foragers

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Hello, lovely readers. I’ll be posting pieces I wrote for my senior thesis for the next couple of weeks. If you’d like a PDF of the whole mess, shoot me an email. 


Foragers

 

 

They walk among us unnoticed, a band of modern men and women who forage in the woods for fungi. . . for fun. A common practice in many Slavic countries, so-called “Mushroom Hunting” is seeing a rise in popularity across the United States. Dressed warmly to fight the chill of an early fall morning, mushroom hunters gather with likeminded individuals or venture out alone into wooded hills and empty fields to practice their craft. Standard procedure requires a wicker basket tucked under the arm, but the modernist can replace this with a more sophisticated receptacle if he wishes.

The value of fungi as a renewable resource is anything but news. Five thousand years ago, Otzi the Ice Man had a Fomes formentarius and Piptoporus betulinus with him when perished in the Alps. The former, aptly named tinder fungus, was used for starting fires. He carried a birch polypore for its antimicrobial properties: A wound dressed with the mushroom atop it will heal faster, with less risk of infection. Even in Otzi’s day, man knew the value of mushroom hunting.

While the increase of agriculture and urbanization caused a decline in the practice, it became a culturally significant activity in the Soviet Union when many, even city dwellers, were starving to death under Stalin’s policies. Families began to venture into the woods to forage, and they quickly found that mushrooms were the most plentiful resource to be found. At that time, mushroom hunting became competitive because of how much the foraging could help a starving family: One did well to hide their biggest harvests, and physical brawls breaking out over a good haul weren’t uncommon. Today, a knowledge and love of fungi is an integral part of the culture of the Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, and what was once a desperate attempt to survive has evolved into a national past-time.

With the U.S. economy seeing hard times and our ecological health at a questionable low, more and more American citizens are seeking out ways to make their living more sustainable. Foraging is the very epitome of sustainable eating, and it stretches the mushroom hunter’s diet while also being kind to the earth. Mushrooms, as we know them, are only the fruiting body of massive fungal networks. The mushroom hunter need never worry that they might be destroying their food source by harvesting it, because the bit they pick to consume is comparable to the very tip of a gigantic iceberg. Mycellium, the cobweb-like tissue that builds all of a mushroom’s structures, remains underground, shooting out in all directions like an intricate network of nerve pathways. The largest known mushroom, which lives in a national forest in Oregon, covers at least 2,200 acres under the surface of the Earth. Fungi, which are actually more closely related to animals than plants (their cell walls are made of chitin, the same polymer that makes up exoskeletons in insects and crustaceans), can provide sustainable food, medicine, and countless other supplies to the dedicated forager.

Most Americans are most familiar with Agaricus biporus, the species that produces both the common button mushroom (when young) and the portobello mushroom. Clever marketing presents the latter as a fancier variety, but the truth is that originally they were impossible to sell. Once a button mushroom was full grown, it’s fruiting body having bloomed into a flatter capped, brown specimen with peeling skin, no one would have them. Now they’re usually marked up in price! Of course, the mushroom hunter isn’t limited to what their grocer is pushing in the sale flyer. Morchella mushrooms, known as morels and often found in backyards that border woods, can be prepared stuffed with sausage or walnuts for fancy finger food, or dipped in buttermilk and breading and fried. Pleurotus ostrestus, aptly named the oyster mushroom, grows like velvety versions of its namesake up the bark of an autumn tree. These are best in chowders and risottos, adding texture and a sweet taste. Genus Laetiporus is called Chicken of the Woods, and that’s no mistake. The hearty orange shelf fungus becomes juicy and tender when cooked, and is especially delicious when sauteed with lemon. The chanterelle, Cantharellus cibarius, is said to look like a golden flower sprouting up in the middle of the woods. It can be prepared in a traditional Russian style, cooked in fresh bacon drippings with onion and sour cream. For most species of mushroom, the preparation is limited only to the chef’s imagination.

The table is an obvious destination for the mushroom, but one venture into the forest can yield everything from preservable snacks to art materials. The genus Ganoderma, for example, which grows like woody little shelves on the sides of trees, contains the Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum). Artist’s Conk is unique in that its underside, while still fresh, can be drawn on using a stick or blade. The images will be preserved when the mushroom dries. Also members of the same genus are G. lucidum and G. tsugae, commonly referred to as reishi mushrooms in Japan and lingzhi mushrooms in China. reishi are known for their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. While their tough texture makes them basically inedible, they’re easily brewed into tea. In many countries where mushroom hunting is culturally significant, cancer patients will drink a daily dose of this tea to support their health while they undergo conventional treatment. For winter treats, the mushroom hunter can dry or pickle any of their edible catches: While this sometimes changes the flavor, it can often be for the better. A good mushroom guide will indicate which species can be improved by drying. Even mushrooms that are poisonous, wormy, or otherwise undesirable can be used with a little creativity. Trametes versicolor, or Turkey Tails, grow on trees all over the Northern United States. Grinding them up into a watery pulp provides a base for making paper. Such paper, or any wool or other textile, can even be dyed with easy to find mushrooms. Tapinella atrotomentos, or Velvet-Footed Pax, produces a mossy, gray-green shade. Hypholoma fasciculare, known as Sulfur Tufts, dye wool a pale yellow reminiscent of sunshine. Cortinarius semisanguineus resembles a “little brown mushroom” or LBM, so called for the difficulty in distinguishing them from all of the other LBMs, but their red gills make an incredibly vibrant dye, with shades ranging from bright orange to blood red. All of these dyeing mushrooms happen to be inedible, but just as many delicious mushrooms can also have a place in the dye pot.

The best way to start learning about fungi and how to forage for them is to find a group of enthusiasts. Americans seem to have an almost universal distrust of mushrooms that don’t come sealed in plastic, so attending a meeting of Mushroom Hunters can be a bit of a culture shock. Far from fearing wild fungi, these hunters are confident in their ability to harvest the edible and discard the poisonous. They gather in groups, sharing knowledge and experience, until each individual has an arsenal of known species that they can pick and consume safely. At some meetings, members will lay their hauls out and identify them together, allowing for some added security before anything is consumed. Mushroom Hunters form a unique community, their meetings a place where one can find a history and ecology lesson, a great hike, and a delicious meal all in one day.