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Mushroom foraging in Les Houches

A day out enjoying the prettiness of the valley forests in autumn

featured in Activity reviews Author Ana Hernández, Chamonix Editor Updated

Ever since the leaves started to turn yellow, I've been looking forward to checking out what kind of mushrooms can be found in the valley. I started foraging mushrooms when I was a little girl, and I can safely identify a fair amount of species which are good to eat in Galicia, the very humid region in north-west Spain where I come from, so I was really excited to see if any of them grew here.

A couple of weekends ago, I went back to Spain for a friend's wedding. While I was getting ready for the party my partner, who had stayed back in Les Houches, sent me a picture of a big pile of red pine mushrooms (Lactarius Deliciosus) on our kitchen counter which he had picked up while on his morning run. That was it, mushrooms were finally here and I was more than ready to survey the local varieties!

So, last Saturday we set out under the warm morning sun up a trail in Les Houches around... well, good foragers never tell their secret spots. Anyway, mushroom picking is the perfect activity for mild autumn days. You are forced to walk slowly because your eyes are always looking down to the ground, so you have time to calmly soak up the amazing colours and scents of the forest while the temperature is perfect to be outdoors.

I was expecting to find lots of red pine mushrooms, which grow under conifers and have a distinctive bright orange milk, and that was exactly what we came across. We also spotted some boletus, mainly of the bay boletes kind (Boletus Badius) but also a young porcino (Boletus Edulis) which was delicious raw with some salt and olive oil. There were also lots of inedible and even poisonous varieties, like the pretty fly agaric (Amanita Muscaria), or the panther cap (Amanita Pantherina) both very dangerous species. So remember to be extremely careful if you attempt mushroom foraging in the valley.

After almost three hours scanning every inch of the forest, and a snack break or two, we got home with a nice amount of mushrooms which we then turned into a delicious pasta, together with some olive oil and garlic. Not only a fun morning, but also a productive one!

In order to be a good forager, you need a basket (never use plastic bags, they don't let spores out so you can't help new mushrooms grow) and a knife. Trends change quite often regarding the way you should pick mushrooms from the soil, but experts currently recommend using the blade as a lever to lift the root and then removing the earthy bit. A small brush is also useful to clean up some of the dirt from the mushrooms before putting them in your basket.

NB. Bear in mind that mushroom foraging can be a dangerous activity. Always go with an expert and never eat a mushroom unless you're absolutely positive that it's edible. Alternatively, you can go to a pharmacy and ask them to identify whether they're safe to eat.


Map of the surrounding area