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FRANCE EXPLAINED

What you need to know for safe and enjoyable mushroom picking in France

As well as colourful leaves, wine harvests and cooler temperatures - fall in France also means mushroom picking. Here's what you need to know about this classic autumn activity, and the unexpected dangers to look out for.

What you need to know for safe and enjoyable mushroom picking in France
Photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP

There are few things nicer than tucking into a huge mushroom omelette with fungi that you have foraged for yourself in the woodland. But although this activity is very popular in France, there are a few things you need to know before you get started.

The law

It’s not legal to just wander into any woodland and start picking, so first you need to know who owns the land.

According to French law (Article 547 of the Code Civil to be precise) mushrooms legally belong to the owner of the land. So if the land is private, you need an invitation from the landowner before you pick. Entering private land without an invitation is trespassing, and could land you in court.

If you don’t know a friendly landowner, it’s best to keep to public spaces such as national parks and woodland owned by local authorities and open to the public.

If you live an area where there is a lot of mushroom picking, the Préfecture might have passed extra rules to protect local habitations such as limiting how many mushrooms you can pick per day (the standard limit is 2kg). People who exceed these limits can be prosecuted.

There could also be limits on the days that you can pick and the type of mushrooms that can be picked, so check with your local préfecture before you go.

Some dedicated French mushroom pickers have their own favoured spots to go. If you’re on public land there’s nothing to legally prevent you picking in any area you want, but it might be good manners to cede to the old boy who tells you that has been ‘his’ spot since General de Gaulle was a boy. 

READ ALSO Nine delicious seasonal French dishes to try this fall

Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP

Guidelines

There are also several guidelines for mushroom pickers to help them to preserve the natural habitat and make sure the mushrooms grow again next year. In some areas, préfectures have coded these into rules.

  • Season – depending on the region, the mushroom season is usually from late August until the end of September.
  • Size – mushrooms should only be picked once they are full size, to allow them to release spores before they are picked
  • Tools – you should use a knife to slice through the stem of the mushroom so as not to damage the root. No other tools should be used and mushrooms should not be dug up
  • Basket – mushrooms should be carried in a wicker basket or open container to allow the spores to fall out and help with propagation.

Safety

There are approximately 3,000 species of mushroom found in France, but only a few of these are edible. Some of the non-edible ones are poisonous and every year there are around 30 deaths in France of people who have eaten the wrong type of mushroom.

So make sure you know the type of mushrooms you are looking for before you head out.

All pharmacies in France offer a ‘mushroom checking’ service, so you can take your haul in and make sure that they are safe to eat.

If you experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions, tachycardia or kidney infection after eating mushrooms, then immediately either go to a hospital emergency department or call an ambulance on 15. Ideally take with you the remains of what you have been eating and do not try to treat yourself such as making yourself vomit. 

Hunters

The fall also marks the start of the hunting season in France, which brings with it its own danger. If you are in a secluded or wooded area between September and February, you need to keep an eye out for hunters – every year in France people are accidentally shot in woodland.

Keep an eye out for la chasse signs, which mean that hunting is happening in the area.

READ ALSO How to get through the French hunting season without being shot

Lost

Also bear in mind that it’s easy to get lost in woodland. France has some very sparsely populated areas with huge forests that are not easy to navigate if you don’t know the area. Don’t be one of the people who need to call rescue services after getting lost while hunting for mushrooms.

Markets

And if all that sounds a bit complicated with too much of a risk of a risk of death, there’s always the market. During mushroom season you will see stalls piled high with fungi foraged from local woodland which are both delicious and safe.

For more information, head to the Société Mycologique de France.

Member comments

  1. Have a decent compass along with a good book, in French, about mushrooms and wear something colorful or just buy them in a shop.

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POLITICS

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

Bikini, topless, swimsuit, wetsuit, burkini - what women wear to go swimming in France is apparently the business of the Interior Minister. Here's why.

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women's swimwear?

It’s a row that erupts regularly in France – the use of the ‘burkini’ swimsuit for women – but this year there is an added wrinkle thanks to the country’s new anti-separatism law.

What has happened?

Local authorities in Grenoble, eastern France, have updated the rules on swimwear in municipal pools.

French pools typically have strict rules on what you can wear, which are set by the local authority.

For women the rule is generally a one-piece swimsuit or bikini, but not a monokini – the term in France for wearing bikini bottoms only, or going topless. For men it’s Speedos and not baggy swim-shorts and many areas also stipulate a swimming cap for both sexes.

These rules typically apply only to local-authority run pools, if you’re in a privately-owned pool such as one attached to a hotel, spa or campsite then it’s up to the owners to decide the rules and if you’re lucky enough to have a private pool then obviously you can wear (or not wear) what you want.

READ ALSO Why are the French so obsessed with Speedos?

Now authorities in Grenoble have decided to relax their rules and allow baggy swim shorts for men while women can go topless (monokini) or wear the full-cover swimsuit known as the ‘burkini’. This is essentially a swimsuit that has arms and legs, similar in shape to a wetsuit but made of lighter fabric, while some types also have a head covering.

Is this a problem?

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear has caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move.

Those against it insist that it’s not about comfy swimwear, it’s about laïcité – that is, the French secularism rules that also outlaw the wearing of religious clothing such as the Muslim headscarf and the Jewish kippah in State spaces such as schools and government offices.

READ ALSO Laïcité: How does France’s secularism law work?

The burkini is predominantly worn by Muslim women, although some non-Muslim women also prefer it because it’s more modest and – for outdoor pools – provides better sun protection. 

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC.

Is this France’s first burkini row?

Definitely not, the modest swimsuit has been causing a stir for some years now.

In 2016 several towns in the south of France attempted to ban the burkini on their beaches. This went all the way to the Constitutional Court, which ruled that such a ban was unconstitutional, and the State cannot dictate what people wear on the beach.

The situation in municipal pools is slightly different in that local authorities can make their own rules under local bylaws. Most pools don’t explicitly ban the burkini, but instead list what is acceptable – and that’s usually either a one-piece swimsuit or a bikini. These decisions are taken on hygiene, not religious, grounds.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear, which seems to have passed unnoticed until the Grenoble row erupted.

Why is the Interior Minister getting involved?

What’s different about the latest row is the direct involvement of the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. He appears to have no objection to topless swimming in Grenoble, but he is very upset about women covering up when going for a dip.

No, he’s not some kind of creepy beauty pageant judge from the 1970s – he’s upset about laïcité.

Darmanin called the decision “an unacceptable provocation” that is “contrary to our values”.

He has ordered the local Préfet to open a review of the decision, and later announced that prosecutors had opened an inquiry into Alliance Citoyenne, a group that supports the wearing of burkinis in pools.

And the reason that he gets to intervene directly on the issue of local swimming pools rules is France’s ‘anti-separatism’ law that was passed in 2020.

This wide-ranging law covers all sorts of issues from radical preaching in mosques to home-schooling, but it also bans local councils from agreeing to ‘religious demands’ and among its provisions it allows the Interior Minister to intervene directly on certain issues.

So far this power has been used mostly to deal with extremism in mosques, several of which have been closed down for short periods while extremist preachers were removed.

Darmanin’s foray into women’s swimwear seems to represent an extension of the use of these powers. 

Is this all because there is an election coming up?

Parliamentary elections are coming up in June and the political temperature is rising. It’s certainly noticeable that in Darmanin’s initial tweet about the matter he referred to Grenoble mayor Eric Piolle as a “supporter of Mélenchon”, although Piolle is actually a member of the Green party.

Mélenchon and his alliance of leftist parties are currently the main rival for Macron’s LREM at the parliamentary elections. 

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