Le Grand Bornand recently hosted a mushroom show. There were mushrooms all over the place, including the two pictured above. The toxic varieties often look ridiculously similar to the edible ones. In the photo above, the mushrooms on the left are edible. The ones on the right are not. To an untrained eye, the only difference was a slight difference in colour, and if the two varieties hadn’t been side by side, I would have found it impossible to distinguish the two. These two aren’t even in the same family of mushrooms (see the number in the top left corner of the cards: if they match, they’re the same family). This is the primary reason I’ve never picked mushrooms here in the French Alps!
Each mushroom had a card next to it, showing its name, its family and whether or not it’s edible. There was an indexing area where each mushroom type had its own card, stored in alphabetic order. Something else shown on the photo above is a number in the top right corner of each card. The toxic mushroom on the right has the number 3,573. This is part of a mushroom index of more than 5,000 mushroom types. Away from the tables of mushrooms was another area where visitors could to look up any of the carefully-maintained (and often hand-written) cards, in alphabetic order, for details of any mushroom type.
Mushroom aficionados were on hand to answer any questions about mushroom types, but they’re obviously not always on your doorstep after you’ve collected wild mushrooms that may or may not be edible. Not to worry: in France, you can take forest mushrooms into your local pharmacy and ask them for advice. Pharmacists in France are trained to identify mushroom types. However, some pharmacists may have forgotten over the years, especially if they work in urban areas where their customers don’t go mushrooming.
Meanwhile, here in the Alps, the mushroom varieties are abundant. Below is just one of the tables showing a couple of mushroom families. The pharmacists here probably know their stuff, but I think I’ll stick to buying the ones at the market all the same.