“NOTHING makes you more of a hypochondriac than being a mushroom forager,” according to local mushroom educator, Natasha Vorogushin.

Ms Vorogushin has been practising the art of mushroom foraging for many years and teaching foraging and cooking on multiple occasions.

She conducted courses and talks with MYCommunity Applied Mycology, a not-for-profit she founded, and String and Salt in Warragul for five to six years. Now, she runs courses with her own company, Tash Can Cook.

“I run my workshops very differently from how I taught them through String and Salt, as that was more of their structure and formula. Now that I am running my workshops, I mainly focus on education and just teaching people how to identify mushrooms,” Ms Vorogushin said.

“I teach about mushroom biology, so I go through all the details of the parts of the natural mushroom. Without knowing that, it’s tough to identify and learn how to specify different features of different mushrooms. Afterwards, I like to take people out for a little walk and see what we find out there.”

Through the classes and workshops, Ms Vorogushin talks about how there is always a chance of misidentification while foraging, the different things to look out for, and the many different ways to confirm a mushroom’s identity.

Some things to look out for include:

  • Smell;
  • Colour change in a scratch test;
  • The texture of the cap (smooth, scales, hairy, warts);
  • The environment they are in;
  • The gills underneath the mushroom (spacing, how they are attached to the stem), and;

The stem itself (hollow, is it brittle, and has a skirt – a thin film that covers the gills when the mushroom is still immature and as it matures and the cap opens up, that film falls off.

Ms Vorogushin said a rule of thumb when foraging is to throw it out if in doubt and that you need to be 100 per cent sure that what you are looking at is edible. She also said that foraging can be quite scary because you can accidentally hurt someone, but once you have familiarised yourself and cross-checked with your sources, it does become easier.

“When I first started, I was also terrified because I didn’t want to hurt myself in the process. So, it took me a long time even to pick up the courage to eat anything I found, even though I could see very clearly what I found resembled 100 per cent of what was represented online through field books, photos and trusted colleagues and other mycologists online,” she said.

“There are about 30 different edible species of mushroom out there that can be foraged for. Online recourses, Facebook groups (such as the Australian Wide Mushroom Hunters), and field guides are all handy recourses for you to cross-reference with what you see out there compared to online.”

The mushroom foraging season is as early as the start of March through to the end of July, depending on seasonal weather, according to Ms Vorogushin, which is when she runs her classes.

Ms Vorogushin’s classes are run all around Gippsland, mainly in the Baw Baw and Latrobe Valley regions.

For more information, visit the TashCanCook Facebook page.