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In the autumn and late summer, one encounters large numbers of people in Latvian forests who are sporting baskets. Although Latvians dub themselves a nation of ploughmen or singers, they would certainly also deserve the title of a nation of mushroom pickers.
As autumn approaches, every other Latvian locates his pen knife and a basket, dons rubber boots and heads out on to his mushrooming trails. Mushroom picking is a way to escape into nature, a great way to relax and a form of green tourism. If lucky at locating mushrooms, pickers can look forward to a cream of porcini soup or a delicious chanterelle gravy. If the pickings have been slim, there is still the joy of the tranquil walk in the woods.
Mushroom picking is popular both as a recreational activity in nature and as an event that brings together families and a sport in a certain sense: a humane mushroom hunt. Mushrooming championships and overnight mushrooming contests are held, where people come together from every region and compete in their mushroom-finding mastery.
When going mushroom picking, take with you a person who is knowledgeable about them: of the approximately 1,100 species of mushrooms found in our country, about 300 are edible, whereas 30 are poisonous. Some mushrooms are only edible when specially prepared: they must be boiled first and the first batch of water should be discarded. If not completely sure, don’t pick up a mushroom. Beginning mushroom pickers are recommended to allow their harvest to be sorted through by a more informed individual. However, do not rely on accidental acquaintances who only claim to be mushroom connoisseurs.
The best mushroom experts can be found at the Natural History Museum of Latvia, where a mushroom exhibition can be viewed every year during the mushroom season. The Museum offers exploratory excursions into forests, including ones that are specifically mushroom-themed.
When picking mushrooms, cut them off by leaving the bottom section of the stem in the ground: this will ensure the growth of more mushrooms. While doing so, you should look whether the mushroom has any worms in it; if that is the case, just leave it in the forest. Old, overgrown and decaying mushrooms are also best left behind – they can no longer be eaten. If a mushroom is not edible, do not trample or destroy it, as it is vital for the forest ecosystem. Even deathcaps, poisonous for humans, are eaten by elk for healing purposes.
When heading out to pick mushrooms, you should dress appropriately: clothes that will protect you from rain, keep your feet dry and shield you from insects (especially ticks). After a walk in the forest, it is recommended to undress and examine your body for any ticks that you might have caught. If you find one that has attached itself to the skin and you have not been vaccinated against tick-borne encephalitis, go to a doctor. Nevertheless, with a good guide, mushroom picking can bring lots of joy, natural peace and an empowering experience.