We are officially in picking season, which means a good time to forage some incredible wild foods. And not just berries, but also our dearest fungi. The Finnish mushroom season extends roughly from early May to late November, but most of the best edible mushrooms collected are from late summer to early autumn. So, that means we should grab a basket and go.
Mushrooms mainly grow in forests, but they can also be found in gardens, parks, pastures, and lawns. The Everyman's Rights law provides people in Finland unparalleled opportunities to explore nature. Nearly 90 % of Finland's surface area falls under the law and can be used for the recreational enjoyment of the great outdoors.
Everyman's Rights also apply to visitors from abroad. It does not require the landowner's permission or the payment of any fees. Anyone may freely pick wild berries, mushrooms, and plants, except for a few species protected under environmental laws. It also applies to the commercial gathering of these foods. In this way, businesses as food processors and nature tour operators are protected, as Tuomas Lilleberg from Ninjosanto says. "The law definitely maintains the habit and lowers the threshold for picking, and that's also why I started my business. Finns have only recently moved to cities from the countryside so the heritage of using natural resources is still strongly in our memory and culture."
It goes without saying you should be aware of the poisonous varieties. About 50 species are known to be toxic, and at least five of them are deadly or dangerously poisonous. Therefore, it's crucial to collect mushrooms for consumption only if you recognize them as edible species. Some of the most common, most toxic mushrooms include the destroying angel, gyromitra, angel of death, deadly webcap, brown roll-rim, and funeral bell.
And as many mushrooms absorb heavy metals and can store radioactive elements, they should not be collected near heavily trafficked roads and industrial or polluted areas. In fact, the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident can still be detected in Finnish foods. In 2019, tested mushrooms contained levels of radioactive cesium that exceeded the recommended maximum, but are clear to eat after cooking.
Besides the "heaviness," mushrooms are a light and nutritious food. They are rich in essential minerals, proteins, vitamins, fiber, and are low in fat. In the wild, mushrooms are especially rich in potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, and vitamins A and B. So, what should I look for in the wild? Take a note: false morels, chanterelles, funnel chanterelles, boletes, brittlegills, morels, honey mushrooms, hedgehogs, and milkcaps.
But what should I do if I can't go wild? Well, worry no more! Cultivated mushrooms are also delicious! Kaiteki is a family business with 30 years of experience growing the Japanese variety shiitake and steadily reaching Finnish homes. "Shiitake is not a minor product. It starts to be more mainstream year after year. Also, environmental values are rising. Our production process is environmentally friendly and respects nature, even though the whole process is well controlled inside cultivation," says Juha Mikkola, director of the company.
Also, with the growth of plant-based "meats", mushrooms are becoming an important factor for vegan recipes. It makes foods tastier, savorier, and also adds a "meaty" texture. But for Juha Mikkola, it's not a clash between carnivores and vegans, but a change in how people eat, being more aware of what is consumed. "I would rather see an increase in healthy and environmentally conscious consumption. We want to be a responsible, ethical, and sustainable player in the mushroom sector."
So, as we are now in warmer seasons, and lots of varieties of mushrooms - wild or cultivated - are ready to be picked by our fingertips, get your recipe book, some loved ones, and see how fun-gi it is (wild puns are allowed).
Photo: Nick Fewings on Unsplash