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Intel on morels

It’s morel season, which means you can couple a hike in the beauty of nature with gathering these prized fungi. But first, it helps to know what you’re doing out there.

Bashira Muhammad and Elva Manquera, both of Zoom Out Mycology, will give instructional, five-hour hikes on gathering morels beginning at 9 a.m. Saturdays, May 11 and 18, at Northwest Nature Shop, 154 Oak St. Participants can carpool to the woods from there. Cost is $30. Register at the store or by calling 541-482-3241.

The hikes include instruction on fungal ecology, the role of fungi in the health of the forest floor, sustainable harvest practices, and the value of fungi in nutrition, health and immunity, they say.

Mushrooms long have been considered plants, simply because they grow out of the ground, but now are recognized as a third kingdom, after plants and animals, says Muhammad.

“That alone leads to a lot of fascination” about the myco-creatures, she says.

A large amount of “cute superstition,” such as fairy rings, has grown up around mushrooms, says Muhammad, but the fast-growing science around them, such as the way they communicate chemically, is even more fascinating.

Manquera and Muhammad seek to open doors for people who want to learn to grow mushrooms, and they offer a free 15-minute consultation.

They sell grow kits of 2-foot-long logs inoculated with mycelium that, when kept wet and cool, will produce mushrooms. Manquera and Muhammad also teach classes at area nurseries. Logs cost $35. They also make and sell mushroom-based teas with flavors such as mint.

Mushrooms are part of the movement toward food security, species biodiversity and bioremediation, which is the use of microorganisms or other forms of life to consume and break down environmental pollutants. Mushrooms build soil and thus enhance the idea of sustainability, Muhammad and Manquera say. Mushrooms can be a good replacement for meat, a choice that also lessens climate change.

“Mushrooms are one answer to the question: ‘How can I contribute to a more sustainable future?’” says Muhammad.

Morels are unpredictable and are easier to hunt than to grow, says Manquera. “You just have to scout them out. You can’t grow them. It’s more exciting that way.”

Other desirable mushrooms to be found in the wild include oyster mushrooms and, in the fall, lion’s mane and chanterelle.

Muhammad taught Rutger’s University Master Gardeners in training about fungi, and maintained the gardens of Roosevelt-Vanderbilt Estate National Historic Site.

Muhammad was in an exchange program from William Paterson University in New Jersey to Southern Oregon University, where she studied geography. She saw an inspiring talk at SOU by famed mycologist Paul Stamets of Seattle, and since then has studied soil sciences and mycology at the New York Botanical Garden.

Muhammad and Manquera lecture at SOU and ScienceWorks and offer a summer camp for myco-learning. Details are at www.zoomoutmycology.com.

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Bashira Muhammad, left, and Elva Manquera of Zoom Out Mycology show a mushroom log inoculated with mycelium that makes it possible to grow mushrooms at home. John Darling photo