A good way to start mushroom picking safely is to attend a mushroom picker course. Mushroom picker courses usually last 2-3 hours and you will learn 2-4 mushrooms and their possible look-a-likes. Some courses are aimed for just learning the mushrooms, some are aimed for obtaining ‘kauppasienipoimija’ card, a certificate which proofs that person has been trained to pick and prepare certain mushrooms classified as ‘commercially sold’. Certificates can be given only by trained mushroom advisors (‘kauppasienineuvoja’ or ‘keruutuoteneuvoja’) or trained inspectors (‘keruutuotetarkastaja’), who verify the quality of nature products such as berries, mushrooms and wild herbs. You must be minimum 15 years old in order to get the card.
Finland has an Act for mushroom selling, which relies on the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira’s list of recommended mushrooms. Evira also gives guidance on how some of the mushrooms need to be prepared. If you intend to sell mushrooms e.g. to restaurants or grocery shops, you will very likely be asked to provide mushroom picker card as a proof of sufficient knowledge on the mushrooms. This is part of the shops’ and restaurants’ internal safety controls. After all, there are thousands of different mushrooms growing in Finland, of which some are deadly toxic. Therefore it’s very important, that only the edible and easily recognizable mushrooms are offered for sale or used in preparing food.
The structure and content of the mushroom picking courses can vary depending on the organizer, aim of the course and the attendees (mainly the level of their experience). Commercial mushroom picker course usually starts with short theory part, that briefly explains the basic things about mushrooms such as
- structure of a mushroom
- where to safely pick mushrooms
- how to pick the mushrooms and how to clean them
- basic preparation guides for cooking
- basic rules about selling mushrooms and related tax exempts
- emergency first aid in case of reactions to mushrooms.
Usually during the same day or previous day the trainer goes to the forest to seek for the mushrooms in order to make sure, that attendees have enough mushrooms available for training purposes (this is usually the most time consuming part of the course preparations). Trainer then selects the most suitable available mushrooms and presents real examples to the training participants.
Once the theory part is covered and attendees know what kind of mushrooms to search for, the group breaks to search for the mushrooms for 10-15 minutes. All mushrooms are brought together and inspected by the trainer. In case there are any wrong mushrooms among the harvest, those are pointed out and removed. Also the quality of the mushrooms is checked and quality deficiencies are explained. After that, a second round of picking is done. On the second round there cannot be any wrong mushrooms and the quality should be on required level. If these criteria is met, attendees will receive their cards with the relevant mushrooms marked. The trainer will keep a record of the people trained, their picker ID number (given by the trainer) and the mushrooms trained. Once you have the card, you can get further marks on the card by evidencing your knowledge to any mushroom advisor or inspector (so you can learn independently too if you like, as you already have the basic knowledge).
2 – 4 mushrooms may not sound like a lot, but the aim always is that when you attend the course, you will be then able to independently safely pick those mushrooms. If you are a beginner, learning more than that in couple of hours may get confusing. It’s better to learn 1 – 2 really well, than 10 poorly. You can steadily build your mushroom knowledge over time and depending on your taste preferences. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your calling and one day become advisor or inspector yourself?