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Mushrooms grow in autumn during periods of rain and have been part of the human diet since prehistoric times. Chanterelles, boletes and cultivated mushrooms may nonetheless be grown and sold all year round. In Switzerland, mushroom-gathering is mainly a leisure activity, governed by a strict legal framework designed to protect the environment. The pink-tipped coral mushroom thus appears on the list of vulnerable species whose gathering is regulated.
CC-BY / Jason Hollinger - Pink-tipped coral mushroom

A tasty treat

As part of the hunter-gatherer’s diet, mushrooms have been harvested since prehistoric times. Their consumption gradually became part of our eating habits and remains constant to this day.

During Antiquity, although mushrooms were still gathered, the Greeks and Romans began to cultivate them. In the Middle Ages, the poor and the clergy gathered them for different reasons: a subsistence food for the former, for medicinal purposes for the latter. The bland-tasting species were left to the peasants, while the most flavoursome ones appeared on the lords’ tables.

Nowadays, in industrialised countries, mushroom-gathering is mainly a leisure activity. The species that can be grown on a large scale are available in shops all year round: chanterelles, boletes and cultivated mushrooms, known as ‘champignons de Paris’, are the most popular. Some of the mushrooms that cannot be cultivated are now considered vulnerable and appear on red lists in some countries, including Switzerland. Such species have become vulnerable owing to the deterioration of their habitat (deforestation, chemical alteration of the soil), caused by the combined effects of natural elements and human intervention. Such is the case with the pink-tipped coral mushroom (known as ‘cauliflower coral’) and Verpa bohemica (early morel), considered a delicate edible fungus. Listed as vulnerable, these mushrooms are rare species whose population on Swiss territory does not exceed 1000 and which only occupy a limited area.

To be gathered in moderation

In autumn, the mushroom caps peep through the soil and mushroom-lovers can start to gather the edible species... provided they know how to tell them apart.

In Switzerland, gathering mushrooms is not allowed in nature reserves. Furthermore, each canton has its own regulations on this subject. In the canton of Vaud, the maximum permitted amount is equivalent to what a family would consume, and the prefect’s permission is required for commercial mushroom-gathering. In addition, the cantonal law on the protection of flora prohibits the gathering of around 60 species. Other cantons forbid gathering more than 2 kg per day and do not allow organised gathering trips. The canton of Zurich does not place any restrictions on the gathering of honey fungus, as this fungus destroys the trees on which it grows parasitically in the forest, but nonetheless recommends consuming it in moderation as ingesting it may cause benign but uncomfortable side effects.

However, not all edible mushrooms are harmless. Given that their metabolism enables them to quickly assimilate the trace elements present in the soil, they are a good indicator of the health of their environment. Thus, edible mushrooms found in polluted areas like road verges or urban environments should be avoided.

The pink-tipped coral mushroom or ‘cauliflower coral’

The pink-tipped coral mushroom looks like coral. This fungus is formed of a wide, thick, fleshy stem with pinkish, forked ramifications. As it grows, its flesh becomes firmer, giving it a tough consistency. The young specimens of this odourless coral mushroom have a fruity, sweet flavour, while older specimens taste similar to sauerkraut. Although this mushroom can have laxative effects, it is nonetheless sold in countries where it is not on the list of protected species (North Africa, Australia, Japan, Russia, etc.) and is eaten cooked, marinated or dried.