British Columbia

'Don't explore, don't experiment': Mushroom expert offers safety tips for pickers

Getting lost while foraging for mushrooms poses a greater risk to pickers than poisoning, according to one expert.

Two mushroom pickers have gone missing in B.C. in recent weeks

Paul Kroeger holds up young Amanita phalloides or 'death cap' mushrooms, which can resemble puffballs or straw mushrooms. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

Getting lost while foraging for mushrooms poses a greater risk to pickers than poisoning, according to one expert.

A search is currently underway in Nanaimo for 73-year-old Bertha Hansen, who went missing on Sunday.

On the weekend, a search for another missing mushroom picker near Smithers was called off.

Stay alert

Paul Kroeger, co-founder of the Vancouver Mycological Society, spoke with On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko about how pickers can protect themselves.

He said that people often forget about the early onset of darkness in autumn, which also happens to be the best time to pick mushrooms. 

He also pointed out that pickers often focus their attention on the ground and fail to note landmarks, which can lead to getting disoriented in the woods.

Safety in numbers

"Use the buddy system," he advised, "even a sprained ankle can be life threatening if you are away from help."

Some pickers are very secretive about where they forage, but Kroeger said it is important to let people know where you are going, even in a broad sense.

For rookie pickers, Kroeger suggested starting in areas with established trail systems, like forest recreation areas where foraging is allowed, before jumping into the backcountry.

If you do get stranded in the woods, know your mushrooms before trying to survive on them.

"There are a handful of very seriously poisonous mushrooms, including Amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom," said Kroeger.

Stick with what you know

"The safe way to approach the eating of wild mushrooms is to learn a handful of reliable distinctive mushrooms, such as the chanterelle and the morel, and just stick with the ones you know," said Kroeger.

"Don't explore, don't experiment."

According to Kroeger, prime areas for picking in B.C. include the Squamish to Whistler corridor, the interior rain belt around the Shuswap region, and many parts of Vancouver Island.

With files from On The Coast and Bridgette Watson.

To hear the complete interview, click on the audio labelled Mushroom expert offers safety tips for pickers.