Hannah Kivikoski has been a nature enthusiast and animal lover since childhood. She explored the American outdoors with her mother, driving and camping across the country. Now, with her husband, two sons, one dog, three cats, four chickens, one bunny, and a bucket of worms, she works on introducing nature into her suburban NH neighborhood. She is known as the mushroom lady by some, and the wild gardener by others.
When I was a little girl, and my mom and I would venture into the woods, I was always fascinated by the fungi. All of those beautiful mushrooms scattered alongside the trail; different colors, different levels of decay, different sizes, and shapes. We would make a game out of how many each of us could find. Three years ago, I received an email from Prescott Hill Farm in Laconia, NH – they were offering a mushroom walk, or “foray” led by New Hampshire Mushroom Company. I was so excited that there was finally an opportunity for me to learn, in a tangible way, more about these beautiful trailside fungi.
Mushrooms are as familiar as they are alien. I for one am taken by their mystery, and the sheer variety of this beautiful kingdom. After my first foray with Eric Milligan, founder of NH Mushroom Company, I became increasingly aware of how very little I knew about mushrooms. Eric taught us that mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of mitochondria, threadlike organisms, that I cannot pretend to fully understand. He taught us that mushrooms are misunderstood, understudied, and remain an enigma to even mycologists. He, however, was able to identify all the mushrooms that our group found during the foray, giving us both the common and scientific name. To say the least, it was incredibly impressive.
I have been lucky enough to go on four forays with NH Mushroom Company. Each time I have learned new things and built upon my previous knowledge. I have grown ever so slightly more confident in my own mushroom identification skills. This summer was a challenging year for mushroom hunters. The “flash drought”, as Eric called it, caused many mushrooms to decide not to bloom. It was not optimal breeding ground for their spores, and so they will remain unseen for another year. With this said, on my most recent mushroom walk, we were able to find Hericium americium, Lion’s Mane mushroom. This is a choice, edible mushroom, also scientifically proven to have incredible healing properties. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and stimulate nerve growth, helping people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, and anxiety, just to name a few. A popular recipe for Lion’s Mane mushroom, is a “faux” crab cake. With a taste and texture similar to fresh crab, a vegetarian does not have to miss a thing, and can enjoy this alternative protein.
Earlier in this year’s mushroom season, right in my own backyard, my son and I found Chicken of the Woods, or Laetporus sulfurous. This mushroom is aptly name for its similarities to chicken. It is a polypore mushroom, growing on the side of oak trees or stumps. It can be prepared just as one would prepare chicken. We fried ours, and ate them in chicken sandwiches. Even my husband, who is moderately afraid of my foraged feasts, enjoyed this find.
There is so much to learn about the wonderful world of mushrooms, but Eric encourages his pupils not to be discouraged by the vastness of the realm. There are some excellent books and identification guides to be purchased, specific to our area. I would urge anyone interested in mushroom hunting to try a foray with NH Mushroom Company. There is a lot of information about mushrooms, but as with anything, make sure that you are paying attention to the right sources. Never eat anything without being one hundred percent positive what it is, “When in doubt, throw it out!” There is so much to enjoy in our NH woods, let the fungus among us be yet another.
Thank you, Hannah, for your fun and educational post! We loved learning about this topic. – Rachel