The American Matsutake Mushroom

A hiker recently saw me armed with a pick and shovel and asked if I was mining for gold. I was just doing some trail maintenance with no intention of looking for literal gold in these hills, but I am aware of another kind of “gold” found here, the American matsutake mushroom.

The matsutake is one of the most highly sought after mushrooms because of its strong, spicy aroma. Its smell is described by many as a cross between cinnamon candy and stinky socks, but don’t let that unsavory illustration deter you from enjoying the delicious treat.

These mushrooms are especially prized in Japan, which is why many of us know them as matsutake, meaning pine mushroom in Japanese. Pine mushrooms foraged in the Pacific Northwest commonly make their way to Japan because its demand is so high, sometimes selling for over $500 per pound. See what I mean by “gold?”

Pine mushrooms are known to grow in the Alderbrook Woods, but they can be tricky to find and identify. They often barely show a peep out of the thick organic ground mat, and there are many look-alikes, including the extremely toxic Amanita smithiana, so remember to never “munch on a hunch.” But once you smell and taste a pine mushroom, you definitely won’t forget.

They are called pine mushrooms because they like to grow near pines, but they are also known to grow around many other trees. Another way to track them down is by finding spots where Allotropa virgata grows, which is a parasitic plant also known as sugarstick that feeds on the matsutake fungi. Look back through our previous blog posts to learn more about the odd yet beautiful sugarstick.

Good luck on your foraging adventures. If you end up empty handed, always remember that “life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved” or mushroom to be found ~ Winnie the Pooh.