Can you pick the edible mushroom?

French mushroom show at Le Grand Bornand, France
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.


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I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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5 comments on “Can you pick the edible mushroom?
  1. Tory says:

    I haven’t gone mushrooming – yet! I really want to after my neighbour arrived with a huge 1.5 kg bag full of cépes which were incredible. We had them on the BBQ when some Aussie friends were over and the following night in a bosciola – heaven! I also have a big bag of what started as stock in the freezer – it was so amazing I decided not to through out the mushroom bits and veggies – I’m going to blitz it and add some cream for cepe soup! I saw them for sale in our local shop for €17 / kg so I think well worth learning to look for at least your favourite – the above neighbour said she would take me to show me where to find them. If I’m ever the slightest bit in doubt I’ll check with the pharmacy as you have mentioned above – what a great system! Imagine going into Amcal with your bag of mushrooms to be checked LOL!

    • Wendy says:

      hah! Yeah, the stunned look on the Amcal chemist’s face when you ask for mushroom advice. “Errrr, what?!” Sounds like you’ve got a generous neighbour — many of the locals here like to keep their favourite mushroom spots a secret!

  2. Rosemary K says:

    Ah, you are depriving yourself of a great pleasure by not going mushroom picking! It is very easy to distinguish boletus, girolles, chanterelles, lépiotes and trompettes de la mort. BTW, you should never put good and doubtful mushrooms in the same basket. If the doubtful ones are poisonous, the whole basket will be contaminated. The pharmacist should immediately confiscate all the mushrooms in the same container as a poisonous one! One day, we were in a pharmacy and someone brought in some mushrooms. We helped the pharmacist identify them (she was wrong as it turned out and the mushrooms were fine). I have written a few posts on my blog explaining correct identification of the “easy” varieties. Yesterday, we found some that we brought home in a separate bag to identify but we’re still not sure exactly what they are.

    • Wendy says:

      Ah, so you need to know the good from the bad at time of picking (or have separate bags for each variety you pick I guess). Your story about the pharmacist is why I’m not keen on picking and eating wild mushrooms. I do love seeing all sorts of mushrooms in the forest, but I’ll probably stick to blackberries and raspberries unless I’ve got a mushroom guru (like yourself!) with me for at least the first outing. A local friend served me a mushroom feast with ones he’d picked in the forest and every mouthful felt like Russian roulette! Of course, I was fine. 🙂

  3. Lesley says:

    Nanny always said that you should not pick (and eat) anything that is below dog leg height!

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

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