*Exberliner is not responsible for any mushroom-related deaths that occur as a result of this article.
That’s it, folks. Another summer down the drain; another six months of tea, Vitamin D pills and Uniqlo innerwear ahead of us. Is there any consolation for us during these dark days? For now, at least, there is: Mushrooms.
Yes, this is the time of year when the woods of Berlin and Brandenburg positively teem with fungi – and foragers. The OG Pilzsämmler, GDR vets who still remember hunting wild mushrooms to supplement their meagre supermarket offerings, have been joined by a bevy of new ‘shroomers: cottagecore types who romanticise living off the land; new-agers who believe we’re all part of the same mycelium, man; foodies for whom boring old champignons just don’t cut it anymore. If you’re one of them, or you’re just curious what all the fuss is about, here’s what you need to know.
Where to go
Google where to go mushroom foraging in Berlin, and they’ll tell you Grunewald or the Köpenick, Spandau or Tegeler forests. And sure, you can find some good stuff there… if you get up before sunrise on a weekday to beat the rush of knife-wielding, basket-clutching Germans all heading out to their special Stellen. The same applies to the better-known ‘shrooming spots in Brandenburg, especially Schönower Heide up north. My advice to newbies: plan a longish hike somewhere in Barnim, Märkische Schweiz or Höher Fläming, and collect mushrooms as you go. The further you are from any roads or public transit stops, the higher your chances of success.
Weather or not
Mushrooms thrive on moisture – if it hasn’t rained for more than a week, there won’t be many out there. On the other hand, if they get too soaked, they’re susceptible to rot, through which even the most innocuous of edible specimens might still end up making you sick, so make sure to dry off any damp mushrooms you collect on rainy days. For similar reasons, the best collection vessel to take on your ‘shroom journey is a good old-fashioned basket, or any container that gives your bounty room to breathe. Use a plastic bag, and it’ll be full of slime by the time you get home.
Making the cut
To slice, or to pluck? Even the pros don’t agree on this. Some will tell you that cutting mushrooms off near the base of the stem helps preserve the mycelium and protect future harvests. Others say the resulting stem fragment could act as a disease vector if it rots, or that leaving part of the mushroom in the ground might mean missing out on crucial identifying traits. Whatever you choose to do, bring a knife anyway:
And now, the literal life-or-death question: Which mushrooms shouldn’t you eat? The old-timers you’ll encounter in the woods will all tell you the same joke: “You can eat any mushroom – once.”
I can’t vouch for other areas of the world, but the number-one rule in Berlin-Brandenburg is: Don’t fuck with the amanitas. The vast majority of fatal mushroom poisonings that occur in Germany are the result of this genus, specifically the charming-sounding and extremely common “death cap” (Grüne Knollenblätterpilz, or Amanita phalloides) and “destroying angel” (Weisser Knollenblätterpilz, Amanita virosa). Both look innocuous and taste fine, and both contain amatoxins, just 7mg of which – half a mushroom – can obliterate your liver, causing death in a matter of days. Other amanitas, like the panther cap (Amanita pantherina) and the infamous fly agaric (Fliegenpilz, Amanita muscaria) won’t kill you unless you eat a lot of them, but could make you sick and, possibly, get you high? But I won’t be the one to tell you to try that at home.
Basically, if you want to play it safe, anything with whitish gills should be left in the ground, unless it’s the size of a dinner plate, looks shaggy, has a snakeskin pattern on the stem and smells a little like toasted milk, in which case, hooray, you’ve found a parasol (Macrolepiota procera). This has a poisonous doppelgänger overseas, but here in Berlin it’s one of the most common, and best-tasting, entry-level mushrooms.
The others, of course, are the boletes (Röhrlinge), recogniseable by having a spongy, porous surface on the underside of the cap in lieu of gills. None of these will kill you; the crimson-pored Satanspilz might make you wish you were dead, but what’re you doing eating a bright red mushroom anyway? If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a prized porcini (Steinpilz, Boletus edulis) or a bay bolete (Marone, Imleria badia). Other species might not taste as exciting, but make a fine addition to pasta.
Anything that looks like a chanterelle (Pfifferling, Cantharellus cibarius) is also a good bet; the closest döppelganger to Germans’ favourite veiny yellow ‘shroom isn’t very tasty, but won’t cause many ill effects. And then there’s the unmistakable shaggy inkcap (Schopftintling, Coprinus comatus), a delicate oblong thing which has the delightful property of dissolving into a dripping mass of black goo if you wait too long to eat it.
Speaking of which: How long do foraged mushrooms keep for? Those finicky inkcaps have to be eaten or at least cooked within hours of harvest, but others can hold out for at least a day, provided they’re placed in the fridge (or on a cool balcony) in a container with lots of airflow.
When you do use them, make sure to cook them all the way through – the bay bolete, for example, is delicious when cooked but lightly poisonous raw, and even the ones that are safe to eat raw might be harbouring parasites. Besides, pretty much all ‘shrooms taste best when sauteed in butter or olive oil. Except those giant parasol caps, which you can fry whole like a schnitzel.
Who’re you gonna call?
If you’re in doubt about a mushroom – well, you probably shouldn’t pick it, but you can also bring it to one of Berlin’s many Pilzberatungsstellen (mushroom advice centres; what a country!) to get an expert’s blessing.
-From early September through late October, the Bund-Landesgeschäftsstelle (Crellestr. 35, Schöneberg) does mushroom consultations every Tuesday between 6-6:30pm, after which armchair mycologists can sit in on meetings of PilzÖK (a state-sponsored working group on mushrooms and ecology).
-On Mondays at 6pm, the Pilzkundliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Berlin-Brandenburg e.V. examines fungi in the hall of the Stiftung Naturschutz Berlin (Potsdamer Str. 68).
-The Botanical Garden holds afternoon consultations up to three times a week during peak mushroom season; check here for this year’s hours.
If you’re willing to get pilloried by German know-it-alls, you can also post a photo of your specimen on the Pilzbestimmung thread on the site pilzforum.eu; their Berlin-Brandenburg board is also a good way to find out what’s currently in season (but don’t expect anyone to give up any locations).
And if, despite all that, you still end up eating the wrong species? Get thee to the Charité’s poison hotline: 030/19240.
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