MISSOULA - May is a popular time for mushroom hunters to visit the woods of Montana, looking for Morels, a rare and valuable fungi.
Frequently selling for more than $30 per pound, the mushroom is prized for its unique umami flavor.
Social media pages, some with more than 15,000 members, show off their treasures found in the woods.
River Aloia — who has foraged Western Montana for 20 years — is a professional baker and uses her forest finds as inspiration for her desserts.
“People who don’t go in the forest don’t know how valuable it is," Aloia said. "There’s so much you can eat out in the woods.”
Stopping to search under cottonwood trees on Kelly Island Thursday, Aloia said that success isn't measured in pounds of food, but in quality time.
“Even if you get rained on and don’t find a thing, you still spent time in the woods.”
Others do measure success by the pound. Commercial foragers pick clean burned areas of national forests. Allowing up to 20 gallons of mushrooms per season, the USFS considers morels a managed forest product.
Lolo National Forest offers these guidelines for potential foragers:
- Mushrooms - may be gathered in quantities up to 5 gallons without a permit. Quantities greater than 5 gallons require a free use permit. All mushrooms shall be split in half lengthwise prior to leaving the site.
- Huckleberries - may be gathered in quantities up to 10 gallons for free without a permit.
- Boughs – may be gathered in quantities up to 100lbs for free without a permit. Please limit collections to utility corridors and along road cut/fill slopes.
- Beargrass – may be gathered in quantities up to 20lbs for free without a permit.
- Transplants - please contact your local Ranger District to obtain a free use permit.
- Post and Pole – charge permits are required and can be obtained by contacting your local Ranger District.
Aloia said the number of foragers she finds in the woods is growing, and cites social media groups for the change.
"You can just take a picture of a plant or mushroom post it to a group, and within five minutes you have an answer," Aloia said. "Can I eat this, well yeah you can eat it!”
A warning to potential mushroom hunters, never eat a plant you can't identify, and call your local ranger district offices with questions about forests near you.