Pick your mushrooms wisely, warns mycologist

Autumn is imminent -- it's almost the season for Latvia's national obsession of picking mushrooms in the woods. Avid foragers are already scouting their favorite spots but there are not that many to pick yet -- though we say that chiefly to throw you off the scent as far as our favorite mushrooming sites are concerned.

Before you set off to find ingredients for a creamy sauce, it's important that you know which ones are edible and which ones will land you in hospital or a coffin.

There's an app for that!

Latvia's national forest company has made a helpful app that can help you identify most mushrooms you find in Latvian forests.

It's useful even if you don't speak Latvian as it has Latin names of the individual species.

You can even record GPS coordinates of your finds (private) to re-visit next year. 

Find it here on AppStore and Google Play

Luckily mycologist Diāna Meiere visited with LTV 7's Zhizn' Segodnya (Life Today) and offered tips of how to find and identify edible mushrooms.

She suggests the massive forests around Riga, by Ogre and in the northern parts of Kurzeme as great places to look for mushrooms, unless of course you're a seasoned veteran who knows where to look.

There's a long-standing debate on whether it's best to cut mushrooms by the stem or to wring them out.

It's better to cut, suggests Meiere, as then you can see whether to leave it behind if it has gone bad or has worms in it.

"It's better for nature if you leave the mushroom in nature with all its spores," she says.

Mistakes can be made when picking mushrooms. Many people inadvertently pick lethal death caps, mistaking them for the similar gypsy mushrooms (Cortinarius caperatus).

"The same rule applies to them as with the other mushrooms: you simply have to know very well the mushroom you're going after," says Meiere.

"If you have any doubts about any mushroom, if you see it's different from the others - leave it in the forest. It's the only way to keep yourself and your relatives safe," the mycologist says.

One should also abstain from common practice of licking a mushroom to tell whether it's edible. The aforementioned death cap has a pleasant smell and sometimes even tastes good.

This test can only be used to tell a penny bun from the bitter bolete, which are very similar visually. The bitter bolete, which can ruin the whole sauce, has an unpleasant acrid taste.

As for where to pick them, she says obvious sources of pollution like a nearby railroad or dump may make mushrooms harmful but it's generally safe to pick mushrooms everywhere else. 

People should only pick mushrooms they can positively identify and watch out for people selling bitter boletes to unwitting mushroom freshmen on market stalls.

Meiere also names some mushrooms that are potentially hazardous but nevertheless are mistakenly thought to be edible - namely the ugly milk-cap (contains carcinogenic chemicals) and the brown roll-rim (may prompt fatal autoimmune disease).

Happy hunting -- and remember to leave some for us!

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