Mushroom Foraging for Beginners
By Rory Coulter
Meet our fungi guy, Hamilton Pevek (A.K.A. “The Mushroom Whisperer”). We chat with him about mycology, how fungi support our health, why everyone should be excited about mushrooms, and how to get started foraging them.
Ned: How did you come to be a self-proclaimed “mushroom geek”?
Hamilton: It began like so many other adventures: with a plant called cannabis. I had traveled to Northern California deep in the Trinity Alps to trim ganja. I was what the locals called a “trimigrant.” I was working with a guy named Ryan who at every break went out to the forest and came back with mushrooms. Ryan took me with him one day and led me into the ecology of mycology, on an immersive treasure hunt. Ryan knew all the Latin names of the mushrooms and would translate them, so that each mushroom became a kind of short narrative. Then he would say something like: ‘Did you know the spores are released at 25,000 G’s? Hypothetically, that’s enough speed to break through the atmosphere . . . which maybe they could because spores can survive the vacuum of space!’ The hunt combined with the deliciousness combined with the mystery combined with the deep forest made for a potent intoxication. I was enamored . . . or, perhaps, I was inoculated. I bought Mushrooms Demystified, often referred to as the “mushroom bible.” Then my sister gave me Mycelium Running, which is a book about how mushrooms can save the world.
I spent the next several years teaching myself how to ID mushrooms. The Colorado mushroom season is notoriously short, maybe 6 weeks if we are lucky and the monsoon is on time. This just wasn’t enough for me and my insatiable desire to forage, so I learned how to grow them. Mycology has become a lifelong passion. Watch Gone Fungal, Hamilton’s Origin Story. >
Ned: Can you tell us more about your business, Hamilton’s Mushroom Extracts?
Hamilton: I started off in the industry as a consultant and wholesaler to other mushroom brands. I knew that these other brands were not providing the best mushrooms available because they were only looking at their bottom line. Providing the best, most pure and highest potency extracts seemed like an easy niche to fill. Fast forward to 2020: While in quarantine, I unpacked an old film project I shot 7 years before. It was the story of hunting a rare and precious mushroom that grows on caterpillars above the tree line in The Himalayas. Ophiocordyceps sinensis is considered the most expensive parasite on the planet. It is highly prized as a virility medicine. I decided that this was the best time to finish the film. This resulted in a kind of creative “joygasm.” I was making films for the sake of the craft on a subject that I deeply loved. The film just clicked together so nicely and perfectly that it felt like I was getting a message from the fungi, loud and clear: The conditions are right! The message I received was this: “Make movies about mushrooms and sell mushroom extracts to finance those films!”Perhaps you know the feeling of when an idea arrives fully formed? It cannot be ignored. I launched my own organic mushroom extract brand, risking my financial security, and going all in on an entrepreneurial endeavor. Now I am producing a documentary film series on mushrooms and their relationships with people, place and ecology – and mushrooms are paying for it!
Watch Suklal’s Hunt – A Documentary Short Film on Cordyceps >
Watch Fungos Sanitatem – True Stories of Healing with Mushrooms >
Ned: What is mycology?
Hamilton: Mycology Is the Study of Fungi!
Ned: How do fungi support our health?
Hamilton: The first medicine is going outside, walking, breathing fresh air and having a relationship with nature. Mushrooms contain beta-glucans and other active compounds. The beta-glucans are immunomodulators and anti-inflammatories. Between these two functions there are a number of beneficial impacts on our bodies and brains. That is just the beginning of their health impacts.
Ned: Why should everyone be excited about mushrooms?
Hamilton: Fungi have the potential to save us from ourselves and help reverse the climate crisis, create environmental equilibrium and show us a way into a sustainable and abundant future. “Be like fungi” they said, so I created connections and built networks. Learning how to forage them is food security. Growing them is more sustainable than other food because they use waste materials as a resource and offer a very good nutritional profile. Using them as medicine, can replace most, if not all, of our conventional pharmaceuticals. Fungi touch on all aspects of our lives and can be integrated on every level.
Ned: It’s mushroom foraging season! Can you share some mushroom foraging tips for beginners?
Hamilton: If you can, go with someone who has experience. I lead free public mushroom hikes a few times each season, and I am guiding a foray in the French Alps this year from Oct 2-8, 2022. Next is to learn one genus or one species at a time. It can be overwhelming to try and learn them all at once. Even now, 16 years after my first mushroom hunt, I am still adding new mushrooms to my repertoire every year. It's important to know that there are no general rules to eating wild mushrooms. There are lots of nuances and exceptions, so never eat anything you're not 100% sure of. Join the local mushroom club in your area, and buy the field guide for your area. Start at the beginning of the book and go slow. There is so much to learn, so enter into this experience with an open mind.
Ned: Can you share some of your favorite mushroom-related resources?
Hamilton: The best books to read on medicinal mushrooms are The Fungal Pharmacy and The Human Clinical Trials by Rober Dale Rogers. Plus Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide by Dr. Christopher Hobbs. Both these books are rooted in the research and practical applications of use and preparations. I also highly recommend Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life in which he explores the complex web of interconnectedness that fungi create for us. This is truly an inspiring book that will help any lay person get excited about the natural world. For those that want to join the fungi revolution, I recommend Radical Mycology by Peter McCoy. This is a treatise on DIY mycology, medicinal mushrooms, cultivation, and applied mycology techniques.
Check out Hamilton’s Mushroom Extracts and follow him on Instagram.