Foraging

It was a big storm that felled the big tree. Lashing rain, blinding lightning, and the crash of thunder coupled with the roar and smash of the tree falling ... weird how such a spot of peaceful rest was born in such chaos.

When it stood, it was just another tree among many that belonged in my favorite forest. It wasn’t until it fell that it was noticed, like so many things in life. It was off the long trail a bit at a perfect spot to sit and rest. The large trunk was comfortable, as wild seating goes, and so it became a place to sit, eat a small snack and drink a bit of water.

For a forest to survive, the nutrients locked up in trees must be returned to the soil when they fall. The job of breaking down the tough wood falls to mushrooms, whose unique chemistry allows them to digest the wood, converting it into something other plants can then use to power their own growth.

Eventually even the largest tree, under the constant work of mushrooms, is reduced to a small mound of rich soil.

“My” tree first showed signs of mushrooms about three years after it fell. Small, flat, fan-shaped mushrooms of multicolored bands started appearing on its surface. These were actually the spore-producing part of the fungi, indicating the wood itself was infused with the fine mycelium, which makes up the main but hidden body of fungi.

These spore bodies, looking like tiny tails of turkeys, indicated the fungi had grown large enough to begin reproducing. Trametes versicolor mushrooms had claimed another tree.

Based on their shape and colorful banding, these mushrooms have earned the common name of “turkey tails.” Their partial disk rarely grows more than two inches across and stays thin, their thickness remains about that of the cardboard used in cereal boxes.

The bands on the topside of the mushroom display any number of colors, red, brown, blue, green and orange, and, if examined closely, one will notice the bands alternate between smooth and velvety in texture.

The underside of the turkey tail is a continuous, off-white color covered with microscopic pores just visible to the naked eye. A magnifying glass brings these pores into clear focus. The fan of the mushroom is attached to the wood along a thin edge no thicker than the mushroom itself.

Though appearance of the turkey tails indicates the eventual disappearance of my resting point, they were greeted with happiness. As the weather turns cool with the arrival of fall, a hot mug of turkey tail mushroom tea gives a wild and warming bonus to the rest.

Eight to 10 of the fans, each about the size of a quarter, are carefully cut from the tree with a sharp pocket knife and then diced up into 1/8-inch sized pieces. These bits are dropped into a cup of water and boiled for about 10 minutes.

A bit of cool water is added to the mug to reduce the temperature to a safe level, and the tea is poured from the pot into a mug, straining out the mushroom bits with a clean bandana. A touch of salt is added make the mushroom flavor pop even more.

Like with any foraging, one needs to be very familiar with the structural features of the plants and fungi harvested to avoid accidentally picking the wrong thing. While there aren’t any poisonous mimics to turkey tail mushrooms, there are several mimics that don’t produce much flavor.

A good book on mushroom identification is a great addition for your pack or at the very least stuff up on turkey tails and its mimics on foragingtexas.com. The reward of your effort is a peaceful rest in the wild, taking some of that wild into yourself. Hard to beat that.