The Lithuanians Are Mushroom Picking Right Now

It's that time of year when many participate in a delicious national pastime.

boletus mushrooms in Lithuania
Boletus mushrooms.

Lithuania Travel

If you were to wander into a Lithuanian forest today, you might see people hunched over, looking closely at the ground, perhaps with baskets tied to their backs. They are treasure hunters, seeking the delicate and decadent mushrooms that sprout up at this time of year. 

This activity is so popular that mushroom hunting has jokingly been called Lithuania's national sport. Families gather to do it together, returning to favorite picking spots and teaching children how to differentiate the edible species from the poisonous ones. 

They seek many of the 400 edible mushroom species that grow in the country, including the usual favorites—king boletes, chanterelles, birch boletes, orange oak boletes, red pine mushrooms, honey fungus, leccinum, and russulas, among others. Boletes are so popular, in fact, that their name is synonymous with the generic word for "mushroom" in Lithuanian.

chanterelle mushrooms in Lithuania

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The region of Dzūkija is where most mushrooms grow, and it draws foragers from afar who wish to attend the region's annual Varėna Mushroom Festival. This year marks the festival's 25th anniversary and it offers expert foragers the chance to show off their skills at mushroom collecting. 

The abundant harvest features prominently in national cuisine. One source says, "Mushrooms are boiled, baked or dried. Butter-fried chanterelles with onions served with boiled potatoes is one of the easiest and most popular dishes." Southern Dzūkian cuisine uses mushrooms in its traditional Christmas Eve dinner, which always includes a dense mushroom broth known as "rasalas".

Any surplus is dried in stone ovens and saved for use throughout the year. Mushrooms are often sold along the roadsides for foragers who may not have had as much luck as they'd hoped, so one need never return home empty-handed.

Meižis hiking trail in Lithuania
Meižis hiking trail.

Lithuania Travel

Mushroom picking is a harvesting activity that gets less attention than fruit and vegetable picking and preserving. Fewer people do it, likely because of increased urbanization and distance (both physical and psychological) from the forests that produce mushrooms, as well as a reasonable fear of misidentifying species and potentially having to deal with serious repercussions.

But there's something so wonderfully appealing about it, this ancient act of collecting delicious food that emerges right from the forest floor. It is gratifying to know that there are still places on Earth where those ancient traditions continue, where knowledge is passed on to the next generation and the food itself is valued and celebrated.

You may not be in Lithuania this fall (you're lucky if you are!), but if you do feel inspired to seek mushrooms have a rainfall in your own nearby forest, be sure to familiarize yourself with what's safe to pick and what's not. Better yet, venture out with a knowledgeable guide who can teach you. To help pass the time, here's a joke you can share with them. "A hat on a leg. What is it?" The answer, of course, is a mushroom.