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Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide by Liv Sisson

The fungi of Aotearoa are fascinating, freaky and fantastical! They feature brilliant hues, alien textures, and unique personalities that often can’t be found anywhere else. Each fungus has a story to tell, and this book is a collection of those stories.

After such a glowing introduction, who could resist reading Liv Sisson’s Fungi of Aotearoa, a Curious Forager’s Field Guide? And then, head outdoors to discover some of the charismatic, delicious, shocking and useful fungi to be found in Aotearoa for yourself.

In the first part of her book Liv Sisson delves into what fungi are. She describes the role they have played in shaping the world as we know it, how essential they are to life itself, and how they are playing an important role in modern medical and environmental research. She writes in a very accessible way and this section of her book really deepened my appreciation and understanding of fungi.

Aotearoa is home to 22,000 species (that’s our mycologists’ best guess, there may well be many more fungi to be discovered.) In her field guide over 130 species are featured, organized into the key groups of fungi to be found in Aotearoa. For each its common, scientific, and where possible Māori name is provided, its distribution, peak season, and size as well as a short description and some fun facts.

Alongside each is a beautiful full/half-page coloured photograph so you can easily identify it.

Fungi are everywhere. So, anyone who sets out on a foraging walk should have no trouble spotting some, although it might take a while for one’s eyes to adjust to being a fungi spotter.

Before setting out on a foraging walk, she provides useful information on how to forage safely and to also be respectful of the environment. Top tips from some of the most experienced foragers in Aotearoa, including the legendary Peter Langlands, on how to keep yourself safe are listed.

Go small at first, she suggests, before venturing further. Look in your own backyard, or a corner of a local park. Visit often during the year and watch it change. Over the different seasons new fungi will appear.

When you come across new-to-you fungi keep a record of your finds by taking some photographs. Then, when you get home, use your photos to cross-reference with the field guide section of this book, or you could share them with a naturalist if you need help getting an accurate ID.

There is an art to taking a good pic of fungi and to help budding fungi photographers she has included advice from Paula Vigus who is an award-winning New Zealand fungi photographer (her photos are featured throughout this book) on how to take good fungi photos which are really useful.

I personally have great memories of going on a fungi photography workshop with a well-known NZ photographer. It was a magical experience discovering fungi in the forest and learning how to photograph them.

Mushrooms, we should be eating more of them as they are highly nutritious. Some mushrooms contain up to 40 % protein by weight. They contain no or very little cholesterol, are gluten and sodium free, are low in fat and sugar and offer us loads of vitamins and minerals.

But before harvesting, preparing, preserving, and enjoying them Liv cautions us to identify them first as there are some deadly poisonous mushrooms in Aotearoa.

When cooking edible fungi her approach is to keep it simple and let the mushroom be the hero ingredient.

I was intrigued to find that are so many different edible varieties that can be turned into a delectable meal and am keen to try some. You can smoke Slippery Jacks and then add them to a risotto, or slice Hakeke thinly for a tasty salad served with sesame oil, chili and coriander. And you can cut giant puffballs into steaks, brush them with a glaze of miso, soy and honey, and grill on each side for 1-2 minutes.

If you have not been out foraging yet you will surely be tempted to do soon after reading the inspirational words at the end of her book. Foraging for Liv is a time to connect with her senses, and provides many moments of magic, mystery, and enchantment.

Fungi, she writes, remind us that we’re all connected, and part of a beautiful tangled web of life. They have the power to wow us, inspire us, and heal us. Paying attention to fungi is nothing short of radical!

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Penguin Books


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