Autumn, mushroom picking season
Mid-October is upon us, and autumn is already well on its way… glorious golden colours abound in the countryside. A real feast for the senses: bright yellows, oranges, rich reds and browns so pleasing to the eye. The earthy and musty scent of moss and mushrooms floating in the air. Finally, the crisp crunch of wellies shuffling through fallen leaves is such a delightful sound.
Mild, rainy days alternate with crisp sunny ones, creating the perfect conditions for mushroom picking. ‘Tis the season for mushroom picking in France! Sadly, we are now back in the UK for a few months, and feeling a bit unsure about the whole mushroom picking etiquette in this country. Back in France, la “cueillette des champignons” is virtually a national sport, and now the season is upon us, French aficionados will be wandering through woodland, their eyes firmly fixed on the ground.
Legislation surrounding “la chasse aux champignons”
First and foremost, there are fairly strict rules to follow when mushroom picking in France. It is important to bear in mind that all French forests belong to someone: 3/4 are private and the rest is State property or belongs to territorial communities, managed by the Office National des Forêts. Hence, it is necessary to ask for the owner’s permission before setting off with a pretty basket ready to be filled! If picking mushrooms without previous permission, you can expect a fine of up to 150 euros. However, picking mushrooms for personal consumption is mostly allowed in state owned forests, also known as “forêts domaniales”.
The etiquette of mushroom picking in France
Mushroom picking definitely isn’t as simple as it may seem. There are guidelines to follow, for example picking only the amount needed for family consumption and avoiding trampling all over the woods, destroying mushrooms in the process. A good mushroom picker should pick mushrooms gently, cutting the foot with a knife above ground level (partly to avoid collecting too much soil in the process!). Only pick sustainable mushroom varieties, and transport them in a basket without mixing them up. The use of plastic bags is definitely a bad idea: as mushrooms contain 95% water, they are therefore delicate. Eating them could lead to serious illness if mouldy. Also, keeping the mushroom whole will help its identification if need be.
Where and how to get started?
As a complete beginner, it can be daunting to know where and how to get started. As mushroom picking in France is serious business, do not expect fellow pickers to show you their secret places. Here is a little tip: the best way is actually to look up rather than down! Take a look at the trees surrounding you: some mushroom varieties, such as les cèpes and girolles, tend to grow around oak trees, hazelnut trees, beech trees or even pine trees, which they protect against disease. Searching among those varieties will most certainly help. On the other hand, if you are walking through a maple forest, forget it, you will be wasting your time. Another clue: if you see a long line of cars parked at the edge of a forest, either they are there for the view, or more likely than not, they are fellow mushroom pickers!
What happens if I eat a poisonous mushroom?
A good mushroom picker is expected to be able to recognize edible mushrooms. Among the thousands of species of wild mushrooms that grow in France, around 50 are poisonous. Therefore, if in any doubt it is highly advisable to consult with a pharmacist who will be more than happy to help. Symptoms can vary depending on the toxins contained in the mushroom: vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, eyesight problems, sweating, dizziness…. If one of the symptoms appears, call 15 or a “Centre anti-poison”. Generally, these symptoms can appear between 15 minutes and 3 hours after eating, but the actual intoxication can start later, between 12 and 48 hours afterwards in more severe cases.
For those interested in more info (in French), the Futura Planète website makes for good reading. Also please feel free to share your experiences in the woodlands, either in France or in the UK. We would love to hear from you.