Knowledge for better food systems

Mushroom foraging culture - risk of overharvesting?

Milja Fenger's picture

Hello everyone,

I've understood that there is a rich culture of mushroom picking in much of Eastern Europe. While this may be a way to sustainably source food (no additional carbon, agricultural inputs, transport etc) I wonder whether there may also be a risk of overharvesting. There are several places across the world where concerns are expressed and policies created to manage any overharvesting risks. In Italy, for example, collection permits are needed, while in Oregon there is a limit of a gallon of mushrooms a day. There may also be certain limitations on harvesting particular endangered species. Studies in this area are far and few between (fungi conservation lagging far behind animal and plant conservation) and have contrasting outcomes. 

Does anyone know if:

  1. Overharvesting is of concern in any Eastern European countries?
  2. Policies are in place to limit mushroom picking?

Perhaps you'd like to share what your opinion on harvesting from forests. More sustainable or less? Or if you know anything else on the culture of mushroom picking, do share!

Thank you,


DanaK's picture
Submitted by DanaK (not verified) on

Hi Milja,

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this is a very good point - overpicking might certainly become of concern if it was too extensive or if damaging picking practices were used...

But as far as I know, there is no such concern in Czechia at the moment and there is no such thing as having to have a permit to go foraging (for anything really). In Czechia, anyone is free to pick berries and mushrooms nearly anywhere regardless of the owner of the forest. The only exception are national parks and areas where there is limited/forbidden access due to nature protection.

In my view, foraging is a great thing that helps enrich the national diet if done in moderation.

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But I'd be really curious to hear about the experience of others in CEE regading these questions!

Mikelis's picture
Submitted by Mikelis (not verified) on

Hi, Milja, I cannot give you an answer about mushrooms. However, I could comment on the situation with wild berries. To begin with – to my knowledge there are no limitations neither in CEE nor in Scandinavia (where there are rich berry picking traditions as well) regarding as to how much it is allowed to pick (and even if there where it would be truly hard to implement these regulations). Yet the absence of legislation on its own would not be a real problem. This becomes an issue only when there are networks of actors willing to process forest goods on an industrial scale (wild product picking for self-provisioning or to be sold in SFSC does not seem like posing a threat to forest ecosystems). My personal research in Latvia suggests that due to few opportunities in distant rural territories, berry picking is becoming an important source of income for rural inhabitants. Because of this there are possible threats of overharvesting. Processes I have observed in Latvia hold many similarities to those observed with hijacking of wild products in rain forests. If you are willing to know more – please write or you can look up my recent article where I discuss these issues in detail: - Grivins, M. 2016. A comparative study of the legal and grey wild product supply chains. Journal of Rural Studies. 45, June 2016, Pages 66-75. - Grivins, M., Tisenkopfs, T., Stojanovic, Z., Ristic, B. 2016. A comparative analysis of the social performance of global and local berry supply chains. Sustainability. 8, 532; doi:10.3390/su8060532.

Milja Fenger's picture
Submitted by Milja Fenger on

Hi Dana and Mikelis,

Thank you both for your answers. Mikelis, your results in particular are interesting, because commercialisation of particular foraging foods can certainly occur (quite suddenly sometimes!). Porcini mushrooms are such a product. In Italy, children and adults alike have been going out to earn decent money from harvesting for decades (hence the permits needed apparently). This funghi is getting more popular elswhere, also where no legislation does not exist. 

I suppose that without decent studies, it would be hard to say when pickers are right in their intuition that these forests foods are plentiful, and when they are wrong. 



Ewa Kopczynska's picture
Submitted by Ewa Kopczynska (not verified) on

I am not sure about environmental sustainability of picking wild plants and mushrooms, but for sure it plays an important social role. In Poland no permits are needed, however picking wild plants and mushrooms is limited by anti-devastation regulations. Therefore there are fees for destroying forests' undergrowth, mushroom spawn as well as for devastating poisonous mushrooms, and of course protected species. Under these conditions picking plants and mushrooms is allowed in all forests except national parks. It is widely practiced as a recreational activity, but it also improves the households' menu variety. Wild plants and mushrooms are considered to be the 'pinch of tradition', especially in ritual, ceremonial, dense-of-symbols food. At the same time mushroom- and berry-picking serve as an important source of additional, seasonal, grey income for economically deprived groups, like unemployed, elderly, youths, women etc. mainly those living in rural areas.

There is more about cultural context of mushroom picking in PL: Collecting and Learning to Identify Edible Fungi in Southeastern Poland: Age and Gender Differences", Łukasz Łuczaj and Zofia Nieroda, Ecology Of Food And Nutrition Vol. 50 , Iss. 4,2011

I believe that the case of picking wild plants in EEC is a typical case of informal eastern sustainability: based on cultural habits, historically rooted, unregulated, provisional and in fact - in the face of global processes - unstable. It works until mass changes in supply chains happen.