Marie-France Gévry, MSc in Biology, major in mycology
Member of the Association pour la commercialisation des produits forestiers non-ligneux (ACPFNL)
Picking mushrooms is a wonderful pastime that combines discoveries, the great outdoors and gourmet pleasures. For outdoor enthusiasts, this fun and captivating activity naturally goes together with hiking, hunting, fishing and even birdwatching. “Hunting the wild mushroom” is an excellent excuse for a walk in the woods, or a way to discover nature from a whole new angle.
Myco-tourism: mushrooms for all!
Picking mushrooms has become more popular in Quebec in the past five years. It’s an accessible activity that definitely requires basic knowledge to identify the different species, but on the other hand it calls for very little equipment. It is practised almost everywhere in the province, from Abitibi to the North Shore, sometimes as a business and sometimes just for fun. In fact a whole new form of tourism is springing up: mushroom tourism, or myco-tourism.
This new form of gourmet, experience tourism is generating significant spinoff in certain regions, where dozens of groups visit to enjoy the experience of picking wild mushrooms. It’s an outdoor activity that fits in perfectly with other regional tourist attractions, and adds a sort of “authentic” appeal to a vacation. There are different places offering this option, in many parks and resorts.
Campgrounds: the perfect place to learn
Some campgrounds let their campers collect mushrooms growing on their grounds, while others officially forbid it. It’s best to ask before heading into the woods. If the campground allows it, mushroom picking makes for an enjoyable late afternoon activity to add some zest to the evening meal. With a bit of butter in the pan, a dish of fresh chanterelles or boletes makes a simple meal feel like a feast in a fancy restaurant!
The art of picking mushrooms
You don’t become a mushroom picker overnight. Not all wild mushrooms are edible, and it takes a knowledgeable picker to choose the right ones. There are a number of poisonous species in Quebec that can cause serious indigestion; some are even fatal. It can be difficult for a beginner to identify the safe ones, as many species look much the same. However, there are introductory sessions held all over Quebec, offered by small businesses or mycology clubs, allowing adventurous spirits to learn the basics of this gourmet pastime in complete safety.
Experienced pickers who can identify wild mushroom species must also respect picking ethics. To ensure that mushrooms continue to flourish in the wild, don’t trample mushroom patches and take only a few specimens from a patch (leave at least 1/10 of the patch standing). To make sure your harvest is healthy and uncontaminated, it’s also important to store them in a cool place soon after they are picked, and to avoid any contact with undesirable products when transporting them (cigarette smoke, gas fumes, etc.).
Some species, like boletes, are relatively easy to identify and can be good starting points for novice pickers. But always remember: when in doubt, leave it alone!
An introduction to mushroom picking:
Guide pour l’identification des champignons comestibles du Lac-Saint-Jean (French only)