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A Practical Guide to Ethical Foraging

Foraging has become more and more popular over the years and with more people exploring the forests and foraging areas the more impact there is on the environment. All too often, new foragers get the ‘treasure hunt’ bug and obsessively collect everything they can find. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the excitement that comes with finding something you’ve been working so hard to find and that excitement can all too often lead to an obsession once you’ve figured out the tricks behind finding what you’re looking for. To not get carried away it’s important to make sure to follow a few simple guidelines when out looking for mushrooms (and other foraged goodies too).

Foraging ethically essentially revolves around being respectful and making sure you don’t destroy a resource and the environment that you forage in. You want to make sure that you can return to your foraging spots each year knowing that the mushrooms that grow there pop up again each year and that you are confident that your impact on the environment is kept at a minimum. This not only benefits your successes each year but also keeps you mindful of the environment you explore.   

To avoid getting carried away, it’s important to follow these few simple guidelines when you’re out looking for mushrooms. Although foraging for food encompasses both plants and mushrooms, we are focussing on mushrooms here. That is not to say that these principles can’t be applied to foraging for plant foods as well!

Ethical Foraging Guidelines

Following these few simple guidelines goes a long way to reducing your impact on the environment and at the same time ensuring that you can return each year to forage from the same area sustainably.

Tread Lightly

Whilst it’s great fun to go out foraging in large groups, it’s far better for the environment to stick to smaller groups so that you don’t disturb it too much. Foraging for mushrooms is 90% of the time off-trail, so pick your way carefully through the bush and be mindful of where you step. A small amount of awareness goes a long way to making sure you don’t make a negative impact.

Use a Wicker Basket or Cloth Bag

Mushrooms reproduce by spreading their spores. Using a woven basket is widely regarded as the best way to collect mushrooms as spores are able to be dispersed into the environment while you walk. A cloth bag works well too but isn’t as effective as a wicker basket.

Never use a plastic bag as this will both damage your mushrooms and inhibit the spreading of spores whilst you forage.

Take Only What You Need

All too often, foragers will take everything they find, leaving nothing for nature’s mushroom consumers, for the next person, or to decompose. It’s beneficial to the environment to leave some behind to drop their spores and decompose.

Don’t Harvest Too Young Or Too Old

It’s best to let young mushrooms mature to the point where they drop at least some of their spores before they are harvested, and to leave older mushrooms to finish dropping their spores and decompose in situ, allowing nature to run its course. Morels for instance lend well to allowing a good amount of spore-dropping before harvest, as more mature mushrooms are still very much desirable for human consumption. Porcini on the other hand are tastiest when they are young, before any spores have been dropped, so in this case it would be best to leave older porcini’s to finish dropping their spores and decompose.

To Cut Or Not To Cut

That is the question… There is wide debate on whether to cut your mushrooms in the ground or pull them. There is no hard evidence for or against either method. We prefer to pull rather than cut in order to maximize the mushrooms we harvest, whilst resting easy that we are not damaging the hidden mycelial network underground.

Don’t Share Your Foraging Spots

Part of the beauty of foraging is the treasure hunt – figuring out the intricacies of each species, what seasons they like, what weather conditions initiate their fruiting, what habitats they favour, and how to spot them when camouflaged. Over time you figure out each species and learn exactly when and where to look. This process takes a lot of hard work and telling others the location of your foraging spots takes away some of the treasure hunt magic. More importantly though, it can quickly make a quiet spot not so quiet, and the influx of people to the area inevitably becomes damaging to the environment.

Lead By Example

Foraging is becoming increasingly popular, and more and more people are dipping their toes into a fascinating new world, with many more wanting to join but not quite knowing where to start. Inevitably as you become more experienced, people will be looking to you for advice. This is a great opportunity to lead by example and be willing to teach and pass on best practice methods and guidance. This doesn’t mean you have to give away your spots! You can share your experience in identifying mushrooms, offer guidance on what weather patterns to look out for, or which host trees certain mycorrhizal species will grow under, and various other sage bits of advice you may have to share!

Obey The Law

Don’t forage on land where foraging is restricted without a permit (that’s poaching). And if you want to forage on private land, always get permission first.

Go The Extra Mile

Take the time and effort to teach new foragers good habits and the basics of best practice.

Also, litter is unfortunately almost everywhere, and a little effort in picking up any litter that you come across goes a long way towards maintaining and nurturing the beauty of our natural environment.

There are more than likely more aspects to consider, and as we learn (never stop learning!) we’ll update these guidelines.

A Note on “Commercial Foraging”

Although we at Mushroom Network offer our followers a few of the products that we forage for ourselves, we do not view this as ‘commercial foraging’ (which can be viewed as harvesting as many mushrooms as possible to be sold on to restaurants and the general public).

Each season we have a limited excess of the porcini and morels that we forage for family and friends, and we love to make these available to those who are not able for one reason or another to forage for themselves, to those who don’t want to forage, and to those who are still learning to forage but are keen to taste these wild delicacies.

We have spent years finding our mushroom hunting grounds, away from the most popular spots, and we passionately lead by example, following the guidelines we have provided in this article and striving always to consider and respect the environment.  

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