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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 - autumn in France also means mushroom picking. Here's what you need to know about this classic 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.

READ MORE: The rules for foraging for fruit and mushrooms in France’s forests

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 autumn

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 autumn 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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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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