The Golden Chanterelle: A Forest Jewel Worth Exploring

The Golden Chanterelle: A Forest Jewel Worth Exploring

In case you haven’t heard, it’s been a wet summer here in New England. The deluge is setting the stage for a major mushroom bloom and we are excited to be part of it! Among the wild, gourmet edible mushrooms like black trumpets, chicken of the woods, and hen of the woods, foragers look forward to filling their baskets with those tiny golden treasures of shady forests; the chanterelles. This large group of closely related species are some of the most easily identifiable, delicious, and ecologically important mushrooms out there, so let’s get to know them a little better.

Description

The Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) boasts an unmistakable appearance. Three to four inches tall and wide with an equal-length, wavy cap and trumpet-like shape, not to mention its vibrant yellow color and apricot-like aroma, distinguish this famed fungi from its muted forested surroundings. Texture-wise, you can peel a Chanterelle in strips from cap to stem like string cheese. Notable for its lack of true gills, Chanterelles possess intricate, forking folds that run partially down the stem. These descriptive details distinguish chanterelles from their main poisonous look-alike, the Jack O’Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens)."Jacks" as they are known have true gills that hang in neat rows under the cap and grow in clusters like oyster mushrooms from dead trees and stumps, while chanterelles grow singly or in loose associations directly from the forest floor. False Chanterelles (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) are visually similar as well and tend to inhabit the same forests but are a deeper orange hue and possess true gills like Jacks rather than the intricate, lumpy folds of chanterelles. Scaly Vase Chanterelles (Turbinellus floccosus) are another look alike that will cause stomach upset, but are orange-pink above with large, brown scales topping a deeper, more exaggerated vase-shaped fruiting body.

Ecology & Distribution

Chanterelles are ectomycorrhizal, meaning they form symbiotic relationships with trees. Specifically, their mycelium naturally colonize the outside tips of pine, fir, spruce, hemlock, and oak tree roots, scavenging water and minerals from the soil in exchange for sugars produced during photosynthesis in the canopy. Chanterelles help create and sustain healthy forests wherever they grow, so look for them in the understory of their favorite trees hidden among moss and leaf litter, along woodland streams and in natural depressions where water lingers. It is not uncommon to find them near other edible mushroom species like Black Trumpet (Craterellus fallax), Red Chanterelle (C. cinnabarinus) and Hedgehog Mushroom (Hydnum repandum). Chanterelles literally pepper the globe, with numerous species present across North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. New England has several kinds including Smooth (C. lateritius), Yellowfoot (C. tubaeformis) and the Golden (C. cibarius) which serves as the “type species” and a known edible mushroom in Europe since at least 1581. In fact, the chanterelle genus Cantharellus comes from the Greek word Kantharos, which was a kind of cup used during rituals in ancient times and resembles the unique shape of the mushroom.

Harvesting

Due to their mycorrhizal habits, chanterelles are extremely challenging to cultivate and attempting to replicate their preferred growing conditions would be time consuming and costly. Thankfully, they are common and abundant where their symbiotic tree partners are found and annual harvests can be made from the same patches year after year during periods of hot, dry weather interspersed with soaking rains. Chanterelles fruit from early July to October here in Maine and across the Northeast and Midwest, from August to November in California and into March in the Pacific Northwest. In Europe, August through November is the typical timeframe for harvest. While studies have shown that over-harvesting does not lead to local extinctions of the mushroom, individual states and countries occasionally impose harvest limits. The global market for chanterelles is estimated to be $1.4 Billion annually, with Germany and France the largest European importers of the mushroom and Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, and Latvia the biggest exporters.

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