Safe and sustainable mushroom foraging

Mushrooms are beautiful and mysterious organisms that live mostly as a mycelial mat in the soil. The functional structure we see growing above ground is the reproductive, spongy structure that grows by soaking up water and disperses spores. Mushroom hunting is a beloved autumn activity in France, one that without the proper knowledge can be dangerous  and also destructive to future harvesting.
The etiquette of mushroom picking 

That there are (or should be) common sense rules when it comes to the harvesting of food resources in the wild, we don't only mean that when it comes to identifying edible mushrooms some knowledge is required. It also means leaving something for the next person that comes along... A courtesy that runs so much deeper than what's right in front of us.

In 1833, the British economist William Forster Lloyd wrote about the 'Tragedy of the Commons', a citation that to this day is used quite often in relation to environmental science and sustainable development.

Having access to a common hunting ground such as the ocean for fishing, the beach for foot-fishing, or the forest for foraging, can lead to problems that affect the environment far into the future.

This is why there are rules and regulations to follow e.g. France has a weight limit for harvesting scallops and whelks (among other fruits de mer) per outing of pêche à pied.

By acting in one's own self-interest we're not only depleting the shared resource, we're also in danger of damaging a valuable eco-system.

When picking mushrooms this is the proper etiquette, in France or elsewhere:

  • Over picking harms the health of the underlying mycelium and future generations of the mushroom species.
  • Respect the spores by collecting only mature mushrooms as they may have already released their spores.
  • Use mesh bags or baskets to collect mushrooms. As you walk through the woods, the mushrooms can continue to drop their spores. Definitely don't use plastic bags.
  • Don't trample the baby mushrooms. Often we wear heavy boots for adventuring through the forest. Tread lightly and pay attention to what's underfoot. Note: trampling impacts the rest of the season, but not future harvests.
  • Teach your children and grandchildren.
  • Cutting vs. pulling. If you trim the mushrooms right where you pick them, consider spreading the  trimmings around a bit to encourage more patches forming.
  • Respect the life-cycles of mushrooms. Leave the old, dirty and buggy specimens to complete their task.
  • Harvest only enough to feed yourself and your family for one meal.

    According to French law, where can you pick mushrooms? 

    French law for picking wild mushrooms is based on the provisions of the Forest Code and of  the Environmental Code.

    State forest – mushrooms growing in a forest that is property of the state i.e. covered by the forestry regime, collection is tolerated up to 5 kilos. Exceeding this pre-set quantity is a violation of the law subject to a fine ranging from € 750 to € 45,000 and 3 years imprisonment.

    Communal forest mushrooms growing in a forest that is property of a commune, the inhabitants of the commune are authorized to collect.

    Private forest – (or land) unlike game (which belongs to everybody) wild mushrooms growing on private property automatically belong to the owner of the property.

    To forage for mushrooms in a private forest, permission by the owner is required. Without it is considered theft, subject to fines and/or imprisonment.

    Forests where you can pick wild mushrooms in the Vendée:

    • Parc de Pierre-Brune (Mervent)
    • Bois des Girondins
    • La forêt d'Aiznay
    • La forêt d'Olonne
    • La forêt de l'Hébergement
    • La forêt de Mervent

    When in doubt, please check the prefectural and municipal decrees at your local townhall (mairie).

    About mushroom poisoning –

    France counts around 3000 varieties of mushrooms, of which only a dozen or so are edible. The government reports around 1000 mushroom poisonings per year, sadly some of them are fatal.

    There is often a fine line distinguishing the edible species from the toxic ones. The consequences of eating toxic mushrooms can include horrible digestive disorders, kidney complications, and even lead to such severe liver damage that it may require a liver transplant.  

    Mushrooms safe to eat include include Girolles or Chanterelles,  Cèpes, Morilles, Bolets, Chanterelles, and the Truffle.

    These days, in addition to books there are any number of apps that can be used to help recognize the misc. types of mushrooms.

    As a general golden rule, identifying a wild mushroom over the internet is extremely difficult. Certainly, it's a terrible idea to accept help from strangers online. If you don't recognize it, don't touch it.

    If you really can't resist, the website of the French Ministry   recommends keeping some of the harvesting for identification.

    Symptoms associated with the consumption of toxic mushrooms include tremors, dizziness, visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, etc.) They can appear up to 12hrs after consumption.

    For suspected mushroom poisoning in the Vendée, call #15, or contact the nearest poison control center, Centre anti-poison d’Angers : 02 41 48 21 21. 

    While not as adventurous, if you want wild mushrooms with your steak, there's always the option to purchase them at the grocery store or at market.

    Recommendations by the Ministère des Solidarités et de la Santé
    • "Pick up only mushrooms that you know perfectly well: some highly poisonous mushrooms look a lot like edible species. Poisonous mushrooms can grow where you picked edible mushrooms another year."
    • "If there is the slightest doubt about the condition or identification of one of the mushrooms harvested, do not consume the harvest before having it checked by a specialist in the field. Pharmacists or mycology associations and societies in your area can be consulted."
    • "Pick only the specimens in good condition and remove the entire fungus: stem and cap, in order to allow identification."
    • "Do not pick mushrooms near potentially polluted sites: roadsides, industrial areas, landfills."
    • "Separate the collected mushrooms by species to avoid mixing pieces of poisonous mushrooms with edible mushrooms."
    • "Place the mushrooms, separating the species, in a box, cardboard box or basket, but never in a plastic bag which accelerates rotting."
      • "Store the mushrooms, avoiding contact with other foods in the refrigerator (max. 4 ° C) and consume them within two days after picking."
      • "Consume mushrooms in reasonable quantities after sufficient cooking and never consume raw wild mushrooms."
      • "Never feed the mushrooms you have picked to young children."
      • "Do not consume a mushroom identified by means of a mushroom recognition application on a smartphone, due to the high risk of error."

      Sources -

      • French regulation
        • Environmental code: articles R.412-8, R. 412-9 and R.415-3
        • Forest code: articles L. 163-11 and R.163-5
        • Penal code: articles 311-3, 311-4, 311-13, 311-14 and 311-16

      Reading materials & Useful websites -

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