Foraging for Oysters
Oysters mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus; Latin for: ear on its side, oyster) make a perfect reward for the novice forager: They’re easy to spot and identify, and they taste great, too. You may be able to find cultivated oyster mushrooms at your farmers market and get a good look at them before foraging for wild ones.
When a friend wanted me to teach him to forage, we walked across the road from his property into some woods. Less than 50 feet in, oysters greeted us on a big fallen beech tree. We both grabbed double handfuls to bring home. We spent more time preparing and eating them than we spent foraging. You may not always find oysters so quickly, but they’re very common in the woods.
Most edible mushrooms grow on the ground, where they may be small, few in number, obscured by leaves and hard to find. An oyster mushroom, on the other hand, may only be a few inches across, but they often grow in clumps the size of a soccer ball. And they are up off the ground, making them among the easiest mushrooms to find, especially in winter when tree leaves no longer block your view.
Crepidotus species look somewhat similar but are smaller, more often individuals, have no stem and a brown spore print.
WHAT, WHERE & WHEN
• decomposers (or as I call them “eaters of the dead”) on live or dead deciduous trees, standing or fallen
• clustered, overlapping rows
• throughout North America
• Oysters grow year-round, even in snowy winters. In warmer weather, they grow fast, get buggy and pass their “harvest-by date” pretty quickly. They’re best harvested in cooler weather.
ID CHECKLIST ALL MUST BE CORRECT
• They project out from a tree trunk or stump.
• Caps the size of your palm up to full hand spread, sometimes larger.
• Each individual mushroom overlaps two mushrooms below it like shingles on a roof.
• The gills continue along the stem.
• Gills are white.
• The stubby stem doesn’t rise to meet the center of the cap as with most gilled mushrooms; it comes off from the side.
• Their smooth cap color ranges from bright white to gray to brown, making them standout from the darker bark of the deciduous trees they grow on.
• Spore print white to pale lilac.