Finding and cooking wild Kansas edible mushrooms

We’re in the midst of mushroom season in Kansas, and they’re one of our favorite wild plants on the trail.

If you’re in Lawrence the second Saturday of every month from April to October, you can go out with the Kaw Valley Mycological Society and hunt for mushrooms. The following Wednesday, you can check out what was collected and learn more about the mushrooms of Kansas.

And if you want to head out on your own, here are 5 Kansas mushrooms you can eat with cooking recommendations.

As a disclaimer, mushrooms can be toxic and easily confused with many that look alike, and this should not be used as an authoritative identification guide. Be confident that you know what you have before biting into a wild mushroom. When in doubt, throw it out. Use a field guide, like the one published by University Press of Kansas to help you.

Morel mushroom. Photo by Michael Hodge

Morel mushroom. Photo by Michael Hodge


One of the most popular and well-known wild mushrooms in Kansas as well as one of the first of the season, morels can be found in wooded areas, particularly near creek beds and dead and dying trees. The surface will be deeply pitted and the inside will be hollow.

To cook: Clean them by soaking them in cool, slightly salty water and rinse them thoroughly.

Then saute in butter or olive oil for about 5-7 minutes. For a gourmet twist on the flavor, saute some minced garlic for a few minutes in the olive oil before adding the mushrooms.


Chanterelle. Photo by Ole Husby

Chanterelle. Photo by Ole Husby

Frequently found in forests near mature, living trees and growing out of the ground (not from the trees themselves),  these mushrooms are a uniform bright yellow or gold color with wavy tops and smell fruity – a bit like apricots. You can typically find them in Kansas from mid-June to October.

To cook: Popular with gourmet chefs around the world, chanterelles need to be carefully cleaned to remove dirt with a small brush or cloth, using water if necessary. Avoid soaking. Eaten raw, they have a peppery aftertaste and can be used in green salads, but they taste better cooked.

Saute them in butter or oil for a few minutes – they should be lightly browned and still firm and they can then be paired with sauted green beans or with scrambled eggs and chives. They’re also a good topping for grilled chicken and steak.

If you end up with a lot of chanterelles and you can’t cook them up in a few days, you can dry them in the oven (be prepared for a strong smell in the kitchen) overnight on low heat.

Maitake. Photo by Ben Harwood

Maitake. Photo by Ben Harwood

Maitake or Hen of the Woods

Growing along the base of oak trees, these mushrooms are characterized by their overlapping growth. A pale or dark brown on top and white underneath without gills, they have wide, flat fronds and you can find them in Kansas in the late summer and fall.

To cook: Take the time to thoroughly clean the mushrooms, and remove the core of the stem before cooking.

Pan roast them in olive oil for a few minutes after they turn golden brown and then add fresh rosemary and a dab of butter and some salt and pepper and cook for about another minute. Drain off any excess oil before serving them up.

They can be frozen fresh, but don’t thaw them before cooking. Toss them straight into the pan from the freezer.


Oyster. Photo by Dominic Alves

Oyster. Photo by Dominic Alves

These white or gray mushrooms grow only on trees, often on elms or willows. It has a broad, fan or oyster shaped cap and firm white flesh. They can smell a bit like anise if harvested from a tree. There are some lookalikes, so be careful. You can find them in Kansas in late October and November.

To cook: Cut off the stem and run them under water quickly to flush out any bugs or dirt in the underside crevices. These mushrooms are ideal in stir fries as they cook quickly.

Cook them in hot sesame or peanut oil with minced garlic and ginger for a few minutes, and then add some chicken broth and soy sauce and simmer for a few more minutes, and then serve over rice.

They can also be dried and stored – they dehydrate quickly. Rehydrate by soaking them in boiling water for 15 minutes.

Black trumpet. Photo by hr.icio

Black trumpet. Photo by hr.icio

Black trumpet

With a funnel like shape, these small gray and black mushrooms can be found in moss and near oak trees and other hardwood trees.  They have a fruity scent, and they are close relatives to chanterelles. Find them in Kansas through summer and early autumn.

To cook: Clean by dunking them several times in cold water and squeezing them dry.

Saute in butter and then serve them with cooked pasta and topped with parmesan cheese and fresh chives.


What are your favorite wild Kansas mushrooms? Share those along with any favorite recipes in the comments below!

Edible wild plants on the trail

While there is certainly a place for trail mix and beef jerky in your pack, a little bit of culinary adventure and variety can be found growing right alongside most trails in Kansas. With some basic botanical knowledge and common sense there are many plants that will serve as a veritable outdoor pantry for your next time on the trail. While outdoors, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sampling the following wild plants:

1. Mulberries. Planted and eaten by early settlers and Native Americans, mulberries are one of my favorite wild snacks. The sweet fruits ripen in mid-summer and the juicy purple berries make a terrific snack while on the trail. The berries can also be used for pies and jams, but they’re so good right off the tree that I’ve somehow never managed to bring home enough to preserve.

2. Sandhill plums. Commonly found in thickets throughout tallgrass and mixed-grass prairies of eastern and central Kansas, wild plums are a delight to eat during late summer. When the berries are fully ripe, the slightly tart plum fruits are also a favorite food of many species of wildlife.

Morel Mushrooms

Freshly picked morel mushrooms

3. Morel mushrooms. Morels are a highly sought after delicacy and many “mushroom hunters” scour woodlands of central and eastern Kansas in the early spring in search of the delicious morel. Morels appear around the time that redbuds bloom and are only present for a few weeks in any given area.

The distinctive wrinkled caps of the mushroom and the hollow stalk make them easy to distinguish from other species but they should not be eaten unless you are absolutely sure that they are indeed morels. While the other plants on this list can be eaten raw, these mushrooms should be cooked before consumption. Personally, I’m partial to sauteeing them in a little butter with a hint of garlic.

4. Wild rose. The beautiful wild rose grows state-wide in prairie areas of Kansas. The fruits of the wild rose are known as “rose hips” and are extremely high in Vitamin C. They ripen during August and September and can be eaten raw or made into jelly. The flower petals are also edible and make a tasty addition to a spring salad.

5. Yucca. The sharply pointed leaves of this species make it easy to identify and it is common in many areas of central and western Kansas. There are a variety of parts of the yucca plant that were consumed by Native Americans, including the flower stalk, petals, and the immature fruits. While on the trail, try the distinctive white petals for some interesting eating.

These species are common throughout Kansas and fairly easy to identify, but always make certain that you are 100% certain of the correct identification (especially with mushrooms) before eating any of these plants while on the trail. If these plants leave you wanting even more, look for additional information in Kelly Kindscher’s authoritative guidebook – Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie published by the University Press of Kansas.