If you haven’t explored the coastal forest in search of fungi yet, you’re missing out. Our west coast is famous for growing some of the world’s best mushrooms.
I’m not a mushroom whisperer by any means, but most weekends this fall I’ve gotten out into the woods for some soul-soothing foraging. What I can tell you about celebrating our resident toadstools is that anyone can do it almost anywhere on Vancouver Island and it’s ridiculously fun.
Foraging for mushrooms is essentially treasure hunting in an enchanted forest! If you’re looking for an outdoor experience that doesn’t require lots of gear or physical training and that will fill you with wonder and curiosity for our home, this ought to be right up your alley.
Beautiful buttery golden chanterelles are the most prolific mushrooms near Victoria and I daresay the most delicious mushroom around these parts too. They also enjoy a long season, from early October well into December in some years. They are going off like fireworks right now. Here’s what you need to consider when you’re heading out on a hunt.
Where to go (I might be breaking foraging code here)
Imagine a time you went walking into the woods around Victoria. See the big fir and hemlock trees? See the hilly ravines (maybe a steep climb to a fresh creek) and moss-covered ground? Notice the nurse logs and needles on the forest floor? There are patches of ferns up to your knees and when you stop for a second, you realize you’re surrounded by silence. The air smells like crisp autumn earth. Have you noticed how dark it is in this forest? Don’t be scared, you’re in chanterelle country!
It’s helpful to have a vehicle to explore some of the choicest spots say around Jordan River or Shawnigan Lake but you don’t have to go very far to find deep conifer forests on Southern Vancouver Island. Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, East Sooke Regional Park and Goldstream Provincial Park can all be accessed by city transit — not a bad way to spend $2.50 if you come back to town with the mushroom mother load!
What To Bring
– Don’t forget your rain pants. Just don’t.
– Dress in layers, but save that big Cowichan sweater for after the hike or you’ll overheat tromping around in the forest.
– Do bring a knife, a phone (for pictures and navigation), a bag or basket (no plastic) and a mushroom identification flyer or book. You can get small identification flyers at almost any Victorian bookstore, but pick the water proof ones. My go-to book is All That the Rain Promises and More by David Arora.
– If you’re feeling ambitious, bring small paper bags to separate curious mushrooms from your dependably delectable chanterelles. The bags will protect them from each other until you take them home and ask your mushroom guru friend for a positive identification. (Every friend circle has one, admit it.) And this should really go without saying but for the love of fungi, don’t go eating any mushrooms you don’t recognize, mmmmkay?
How To Make the Most Of It
My favourite mushrooming moment is when I hear the delighted shrieking of my foraging partners when blankets of golden chanterelles unexpectedly bloom at their feet. It feels like striking gold. Bask in that friend, bask. Don’t worry about collecting bragging rights, you don’t want to be that sort of fungi enthusiast. Stop to look around, marvel at weird-looking mushrooms and — if you’re lucky — share the bounty with your peeps. Get out there and charge into those dark woods in all your wool-wearing, potluck-loving Victorian glory. You’ll be the most popular dinner guest of the season.