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DISCOVER SWEDEN

How to pick mushrooms in Sweden like you’ve been doing it all your life

Summer may be drawing to close, but in Sweden there's a consolation: It's mushroom-picking time! Richard Orange discovers five things you need to know.

How to pick mushrooms in Sweden like you've been doing it all your life
Chanterelles are some of the easiest and tastiest mushrooms to pick. Photo: Audun Braastadl/NTB Scanpix/TT

This is the season when many (perhaps even most) Swedes bunk off from work early to roam their local forests, bringing back giant hauls of tasty chanterelles (kantareller), trumpet chanterelles (trattkantareller) and ceps (karljohansvamp).

If you’re in the right part of Sweden, and find a good spot, you can bring back kilos and kilos, which if dried or frozen can keep you going right through to next season. 

But for many foreigners (at least those who don’t come from similarly fungally-fixated nations), it can all seem overwhelming, meaning they miss out on one of the great joys of living in Sweden. 

To know when to go out, study the weather. If there’s been a heavy autumn downpour, that will get the mushrooms growing, with ceps showing up 3-10 days after a heavy downpour and chanterelles taking two to three weeks.

The season is now fully under way from middle Sweden and up, and the first mushrooms are just starting to appear in the Småland and Skåne regions to the south.   

The Local spoke to Patrik Björck, co-founder of the Svamp-Klapp, Sweden’s biggest Facebook mushroom forum, about how to get started. 

1. Only pick (and eat!) what you know

Many beginners tend to uproot the first mushroom they come across and then seek to identify it and see if it’s poisonous or not. Don’t do this. It’s a much better approach to study just one or two of the most common edible mushrooms beforehand and then go out looking only for them.

“Never eat anything you can’t safely identify,” Björck advises, although he stresses this is no reason to be overcautious.

“Do not be scared or intimidated by the number of different mushrooms you encounter: only about 100 of the perhaps 10,000 possible mushrooms you might see are good edibles. But only a couple of handfuls are potentially lethal.”

Chanterelles, trumpet chanterelles and ceps make a good start, and are in fact more or less all the average Swede will pick.

To start off with, stay away from the sort of white mushrooms you might find in supermarkets, as they can quite easily be confused with fungi that are very poisonous indeed. Particularly stay away from white mushrooms with white gills (I don’t dare touch them).


A Norwegian mushroom-hunter removing the root from a chanterelle. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix/TT

Chanterelles are most often found in pine woods (although you might find some under beech and oak in Skåne), and hide under fallen leaves, making them hard to spot until you get the knack for it. You’re most likely to find nothing for an hour and then stumble on a patch hiding dozens and dozens, so be patient.

They are yellow and, instead of gills, have ridges which run down the stem a bit with no defined ring dividing them.

The beauty of Chanterelles is that the only thing you can really confuse them with, the false chanterelle (narrkantarell) is only slightly unpleasant tasting and not actually poisonous.

According to Björck, there are two ways of telling the difference: “Flesh colour: Chanterelles will have white, slightly stringy, meat when cut open. False chanterelles will have orange, slightly rubbery, flesh. Scent: chanterelles are apricot-scented, false chanterelles smell of rotting wood.”


A cep, also known as a penny bun mushroom. Photo: Strobilomyces/Wikimedia Commons

The cep is the most popular of the bolete family – in Swedish sopp(ar). It’s the porcini mushroom beloved of Italians, which you can buy in delicatessens sliced and dried for risottos.

But many of the others boletes, such as the bay bolete (brunsopp), and birch bolete (tegelsopp/aspsopp) are also tasty.

The boletes are easy to identify due to the spongy tubes they have in place of gills, and their brown dimpled caps. As with chanterelles, there’s little chance of unexpectedly ending up in the emergency ward, with only one poisonous genus.

“Genus Rubroboletus are the only truly toxic boletes, albeit not lethally so,” Björck says. “You won’t die, just wish you did.”

These include the Satan’s bolete (djävulssopp), which will make you very sick but is only found in Sweden on Gotland and Öland, and the false Satan’s bolete, which is rare but can be found in eastern Sweden at Drottningholm in Stockholm, Sparreholm in Södermanland, Linköping in Östergötland and Öland.

“To keep away from these, avoid boletes with a grey cap colour and red pores, since that combo only is found in that genus,” Björck advises.

You should also watch out for the very bitter but not actually poisonous bitter bolete (gallsopp), which you can identify by the pinkish pores, and the black web on the stem.


The Devil’s bolete. Would you really eat this anyway? Photo: Archenzo/Wikimedia Commons

2. Find your spot

The best forests to hunt for mushrooms in are old-growth forests, ideally a mix of pine or fir with a deciduous tree such as birch, oak or beech. But Björck stresses that you can still find ceps and chanterelles in commercial spruce and pine plantations.

If you ask around, you can normally find out which local forests are deemed decent for mushroom-picking, but you will still need to spend a long time walking around until you stumble upon a really good spot. When you do, note it down, because it will probably still be producing in a few weeks, and then again next year.

If you can convince a friendly Swede to show you some of their best spots, it will save you a huge amount of trial and error, but it would have to be a very friendly Swede indeed, as most guard theirs with their lives.

Often, local nature reserves organise fungal forays, which might be a way of accessing local knowledge.

It also pays to get away from well-trodden paths and at least a few hundred metres away from the nearest car park. Some take bicycles so they can go deep down narrow forest paths. 


The trumpet chanterelle is quite common in Sweden, and is smaller and darker than the normal chanterelle. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

3. Get a book

Probably the most popular Swedish book is Lilla Svampboken, the little mushroom book, by Pelle Holmberg and Hans Marklund. It’s small enough to stick in your anorak pocket and has more than enough mushrooms in it to get you started.

I’m a big fan of the River Cottage Handbook No.1 for Mushrooms, by John Wright, which is amusingly written, full of information, and has good photos and drawings. It’s more oriented to the UK, which works for Skåne where I live, but would be more of an issue the further north in Sweden you get. It includes lots of field mushrooms few Swedes would touch, giving you a competitive edge.

Mushroom forums like Svamp-Klapp are also very useful, and the members will quickly identify anything you pick. But you need to upload good pictures, showing the mushroom from various angles, gills, stem and so on.

Swedish speakers can also look at Björck’s YouTube channel Svamp för Alla, which is super geeky but very useful.


From left, a chantarelle, trumpet chantarelle, penny bun mushroom/cep and another chantarelle. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

4. What to bring? 

Björck recommends travelling light. “Bring only useful things. All you really need to carry is a good basket, a knife, your phone. And of course a snack or beverage; forest fika is always a spiffing idea.” 

You might want to decouple from technology during your mushroom hunting, but a phone is very useful for tracking your location, and noting down where you find good spots, and also for photographing what you find and getting help identifying it on Svampguiden or Svamp-Klapp. 

Baskets are better than buckets, as the mushrooms are less likely to get slimy. I sometimes bring two – one for mushrooms I know are edible, and one for ones I picked out of curiosity (ignoring advice no 1 above). You can get good ones at Biltema, Ikea, and Åhlens, among other places. 

Opinel knives are good for harvesting mushrooms, but more or less any knife will do.


Bring a basket. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix/TT

5. Be a snob and don’t lay waste to the forest

Björck says it pays to be be picky. “Dragging home maggot-infested corpses isn’t very productive. Only pick the perfect specimen. Leave the rest to the critters already inhabiting them. The forest are vast, and there are many more mushrooms in them than you ever could pick, so discretion is strongly advised.” 

Many Swedes leave the root of the mushrooms, believing that this will help them grow back, but as mushrooms are just the fruiting bodies of vast underground networks, in reality leaving the root doesn’t make any difference at all.  

You should, however, avoid ripping up every mushroom you see then throwing it away when you decide it might be poisonous.

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DISCOVER SWEDEN

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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