Tony Shields has been fascinated with mushrooms for as long as he can remember.
As a kid, the Edmonton, Alberta-based Shields recalls asking him mom for a mushroom-growing kit from the local garden center—even though such kits were scarce at the time.
These days, Shields’s fungi obsession has turned into FreshCap Mushrooms, which he runs with his wife, Tegan. It’s a venture that sells ‘shroom supplements that are sourced with help from fellow mushroom growers. It also acts as a hub to pass on knowledge to people curious about growing mushrooms at home.
We spoke to Shields about some of the most eye-catching mushrooms he’s shared via Instagram, why mushrooms can be beneficial for dogs, plus some key dos and don’ts to remember when you’re out foraging for fungi.
The First Step To Growing Mushrooms At Home
If you’ve been contemplating growing some mushrooms at home, Shields strongly advises beginning with a mushroom-growing kit.
“It’s basically just a pre-made fruiting block,” he says. “All you have to do is cut open the bag and keep it humid. Once you do that, you should have a pretty good idea of how mushrooms grow and hopefully get inspired to grow more.”
Shields also recommends starting out with Oyster or Lion’s Mane mushrooms.
Expanding Your Mushroom Collection
The next stage in your mushroom-growing adventure is to pick up some “pre-made grain spawn.” Shields says this “will allow you to grow mushrooms on a larger scale, on straw or hardwood sawdust.”
After that, Shields says most people “start making their own grain spawn, building a mushroom lab and learning how to propagate and store mushroom cultures. This requires some pretty serious equipment and dedication to the hobby, but from there the possibilities are endless!”
The Unique Super Power Of Mushrooms
“Some mushrooms have been revered for their health benefits for hundreds of years,” says Shields. “But the important thing to remember is that not all mushrooms are created equal. To be called a medicinal mushroom is a pretty high bar to pass.”
Shields adds that, in general, medicinal mushrooms “are known to support our immune system and, in turn, our health.”
But specific medicinal mushrooms can also posses what he calls “a unique super power.” He says Cordcyceps are often used by athletes for “increased energy and endurance,” while Lion’s Mane helps improve focus and mental clarity. Turkey Tail “is high in fungal beta-d glucans and is used to boost immunity.”
Why Dogs Love Mushrooms
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What amazing foraging buddies @tommyandchaga ??? Great find poochies! . . . ? @tommyandchaga . . . #yellowmorels #blackmorels #springersrule #projectupland #morchellaelata #africanbaskets #opinelknife #foragingdog #mushroomknife #mushroomdog #workinggundogs #workingspringers #uplandgundog #morchellaesculenta #dogsofinstagram
“Dogs can benefit from medicinal mushrooms in many of the same ways that humans do,” says Shields.
“We found that many people were actually using our Freshcap Mushrooms extract powders by sprinkling it on their dog’s kibble. Primarily, mushrooms are used to support immune function and overall health. Dogs may also benefit from allergy relief, increased energy and digestive support.”
Behold The Wrinkled Peach Mushroom!
When it comes to striking mushrooms, Shields points to the Rhodotus Palmatus as one of the most attention-grabbing ones out there. Colloquially known as the Wrinkled Peach, these rare mushrooms aren’t actually considered safe to eat—but Shields says “it was the beauty, rarity and serendipity of finding it that was special for me.”
He adds that Pink and Yellow Oyster mushrooms are also reliable attention grabbers: “They are so vividly colored they almost look unnatural. They are certainly head-turners at the farmers market!”
A Word On Foraging
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You have to look close to find these tiny gems in the forest. Chlorociboria aeruginascens. Good find @freshcaptony . . . #mycology #mushroomsofinstagram #mushrooms #fungi #mushroom #wildlife #nature #naturephotography #shrooms #fantasticfungi #fungusamongus #naturephotography #naturelover #mushroomphotography
Finally, if you feel the calling to saunter off on a mushroom-foraging mission, Shields cites an old saying as some sagely advice: “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
“The bottom line is, no meal is worth dying for,” he says. “Do not eat a mushroom unless you are 100 percent sure of its identity. Hook up with your local mycological society and go on some group forays to learn the species in your area. Learn about the poisonous ones as well as the edible ones so you can be confident in your abilities.”
Check out more of FreshCap Mushrooms at Instagram.