In the peace of the forest, I feel the soft carpet of moss yield slightly under my boots. I stop and take in the silence. Just a gentle wind rustles through the treetops, and all is so quiet I can hear my thoughts in the stillness. It feels good to take a deep breath of the clean air; there's a reason they say the woods are the lungs of our planet.
I scan my surroundings but see no mushrooms this time. I continue walking, toward a copse of spruce that looks promising. I reach the trees but still can't see any mushrooms... but wait, is that one tiny chanterelle cap hiding in the moss and grasses? Yes, it is! I look up and see millions more! I can't help but smile.
Clean treasures from nature
The short and sweet summers full of light and vast clean woods infuse the mushrooms of the North with a special delicious aroma. In fact, Finnish mushrooms have been gaining praise from refined taste buds the world over. For example, ceps, or penny buns, are imported in great numbers to delight Italian connoisseurs.
Providing mushrooms to the shops and kitchens of various countries is a good source of income for people living in the countryside. But for most, hunting for mushrooms is simply 'what one does' in the summer and autumn, an activity whose essential element, apart from bringing home the mushrooms, is to spend time in the vast expanses of nature. The mushroom period runs from early July all the way to October–November, or the arrival of the first snow. The abundance of the crop depends on the spring and summer weather: mushrooms like rain.
In Finland, mushrooming, alongside berry-picking and fishing with a rod and line, are part of 'everyman's right', which allows anybody – even a foreigner – to go into the woods and pick berries or mushrooms there as long as no harm is done to the woods. However, you'd better leave the courtyards and gardens alone. Also prohibited is lighting open fires without the landowner's permission, but you may use a small barbecue or camping cooker.
A diverse world with 'griping' and 'bearded' mushrooms
Mushrooms grow in clean nature, but there is no need to go far to find them in Finland. Pristine nature isn't far away even in a city such as Helsinki. For example, Nuuksio National Park is less than 40 kilometres from the Helsinki city centre. It attracts visitors year-round, and in the autumn it is yet another good place to search for mushrooms.
It's easy to find and pick mushrooms. Just wear suitable clothing and good shoes, and bring a basket and a knife that helps you harvest the mushrooms neatly. It is also vital to pick only mushrooms that you are certain are edible, because some are very poisonous (and not all are safe, or tasty, raw). There are plenty of good books on mushrooms, with pictures and descriptions that make it easy to recognise various species. These books are also fun reading even if you never enter the woods, some for their beautiful pictures but also because the mushrooms' popular names will make you chuckle: would you normally want to eat a 'sheep's head', 'wood blewit', 'bearded milkcap', or 'griping toadstool'?
Mushrooming from Helsinki Airport?
By car, it takes less than 40 minutes to reach Nuuksio National Park from Helsinki Airport, and if you would like to reach more northerly woods, you can fly to Lapland in under an hour.
Text: Sami Laakso
Photo: Jaska Poikonen