Swallow Tail Tours help demystify wild B.C. mushrooms

For Robin Kort, the start of October means mushroom-hunting season. The Vancouver-raised chef and owner of Swallow Tail Tours has been taking small groups to North Vancouver in search of mushrooms, ferns, herbs, and other edibles for the past three years. On fall weekends, the guided two-hour Wild B.C. Plants and Mushrooms Walking Tour is a popular activity that’s open to everyone.

The tour begins at a small century-old cabin in Lynn Valley. Kort, who began foraging as a child thanks to her “hippie parents”, learned most of her mushroom knowledge as a member of the Vancouver Mycological Society. Since there are over 10,000 species of mushrooms in our region alone—two, the Death Cap and Destroying Angel, that will kill you when consumed—Kort recommends spending at least one year identifying mushrooms with an expert before venturing out on your own—especially if you plan on eating anything.

There won’t be any mushroom eating on this outing, however. It’s illegal to forage for mushrooms in B.C. parks, so this tour is primarily about mushroom spotting—a difficult task in itself.

A mushroom growing in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park.

We start in a grassy area and learn about edible plants first, and I’m happy to learn that almost all ferns are edible. Along the way we spot and sample fiddleheads, sprigs of wild watercress, dandelion, and chamomile, which taste similar to those that are found in grocery stores—but fresher and more flavourful. When it’s time for mushroom hunting, Kort points out a few sprouting up beside one of the trails, and then leads us off-trail to a darker, damper, and woodsier area, where mushrooms typically grow. At first, I have a hard time spotting anything as I attempt to navigate my way around uneven patches of land, fallen trees, and prickly ferns (hiking boots or sturdy shoes are recommended), but after a few more group sightings of wooly pine spikes, oyster mushrooms, conks, and more, I begin to spot my own.

With a half-hour left on the tour, Kort guides us back to the cabin, where she has prepared a gourmet lunch that includes alder-smoked salmon wraps, concord grapes and crab apples, spruce-tip and honey tea, and a wild mushroom pâté of porcinis, chanterelles, and oyster mushrooms.

Swallow Tail’s Wild B.C. Plants and Mushrooms Walking Tour runs Sundays at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. until mid-November. Cost is $39 per person. Visit the Swallow Tail website for details and tickets.

You can follow Michelle da Silva on Twitter at twitter.com/michdas.

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