Given the state of science and technology today, one might wonder why foraging is still necessary; couldn’t these mushrooms be commercially farmed? It turns out that for many varieties this will never be the case.

“There are two general categories of edible mushrooms,” Connie explained. “One group is called saprophytes, and these are mushrooms that will grow on decaying matter. They are our grocery-store button mushrooms, shiitakes, and Grifola frondosa, which is the “hen of the woods.” Their life cycle is such that they feed on decaying matter, and these by and large are the ones for which breakthroughs in cultivation have occurred.

“The other—and probably the sexiest—mushroom category is mycorrhiza. This means that their fungal networks grow underground in a marriage with a tree; the tree and the mushroom have a symbiotic relationship. In the case of a chanterelle, for example, the fungal body is interwoven—in my area—with the roots of an oak tree. If you are in Nova Scotia, it could be a jack pine; they have different tree hosts depending on where you are.

“But they cannot grow without a tree host. The same is true with porcini and black trumpets; these things need a tree that they depend on, and the tree actually depends on them. Foresters have learned the hard way that when they clear-cut a place, they actually kill off all the underground mycelia too. When they go back and plant trees, the trees do not thrive. It took a mycologist [a scientist specializing in the study of fungi] to show them the truth of the matter, and now they plant all of these trees with a mycorrhizal partner. That fungal body is what breaks down a lot of nutrients that the tree cannot access on its own. The mushroom is feeding the tree and the tree is feeding the mushroom body. The tree provides carbohydrates and water from the roots deep in the ground, and the mushroom is breaking down and making various nutrients available to the tree.

“So it’s a win-win situation, and they cannot cultivate it. Perhaps forever these wild mushrooms will come only from standing forests.”