Take a walk down one of Germany’s many forest paths in the fall and chances are good you’ll spot some mushrooms. Some are tall. Some are small. They can be brightly colored in red and orange hues or dusty brown. Many are wickedly poisonous and only a few are edible. So it’s best to leave the mushroom picking to experts.
Those brought up in the tradition of foraging for mushrooms in Germany take it very seriously. They often know of special locations where edible mushrooms burst through the soil as summer comes to an end and the cooler days of autumn arrive. Since the majority of mushrooms exist in deep root systems underground, the fruit of the fungi (the part we see above ground) usually emerge in the same locations. Some families keep these locations as closely guarded secrets and go on surreptitious mushroom harvests every fall.
Gathering mushrooms in the forest poses many dangers and only people with a trained eye should eat any mushroom picked in the wild. There are 60 deadly varieties in Central Europe. Many toxic mushrooms look like edible mushrooms and people die every year from eating poisonous varieties like the Death Cap. Even if you don’t die from eating a non-edible mushroom, you may feel like you have. Toxic mushrooms wreak havoc on your body and can cause organ failure, as happened with the author Nicholas Evans who accidentally poisoned himself, his wife and brother-in-law with deadly mushrooms picked from the forest.
But don’t let the doom-and-gloom talk dissuade you from trying some of Germany’s very edible and very delicious mushroom species in controlled situations. For those who want a taste of wild German mushrooms, the safest plan is to stop by a local farmer’s market where varieties like Steinpilze, Maronenpilze and Pfifferlinge will be on offer. In the fall, many restaurants feature special mushroom soups and sauces.
To learn more about mushroom safety, visit the German Society for Mycology homepage for details.