Treasure hunting in the Finnish forest

It’s late September, and we’re breathing the fresh, earthy fragrances of autumn in a forest just west of the Finnish capital. We’re tagging along with a mushroom picker who compares her hobby to searching for treasure in the woods.

“It’s like saying hello to old friends,” says Anna-Kaisa Asuja when she bends down to look at some mushrooms that have popped up in her familiar mushroom hunting grounds in Espoo.

In the autumn, the woodlands are rich with mushrooms, available free for anyone to pick (see the box below for more info about “every person’s right” in Finland). Just weeks earlier, people were gathering bilberries here, and although that time has passed, lingonberries (a relative of the cranberry) are still in season.

Mushroom mindfulness

Various mushrooms are on a table in front of a basket.

Two of the most common and tastiest mushrooms are golden chanterelles (the smaller ones in this picture) and porcini.Photo: Jussi Nukari/Lehtikuva

The nearest forest is only 300 metres from her door, even though her home is also just a 20-minute drive from central Helsinki. Nearby, people are walking, jogging and cycling along well-maintained forest paths. Asuja also likes to jog here, and to ski when there’s snow, but during August and September, she focuses on a hobby that she likes to call “mushroom mindfulness.”

For her, picking wild mushrooms amounts to much more than gathering fresh ingredients for her kitchen. It’s a multisensory pleasure packed with shapes, colours, textures and aromas. For a busy mother of three, a 90-minute walk in the forest also provides some time to think her own thoughts.

“Above all, it’s the joy of exploring, a bit like treasure hunting,” Asuja says. “I scan the ground for the types of mushroom that are appearing. And it doesn’t matter if I return home with an empty basket.”

Photogenic fungi

Fingers are holding a single chanterelle mushroom.

If you look closely, there are patterns and textures on mushrooms such as this golden chanterelle.Photo: Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva

To appreciate what she finds and to learn about different types of mushrooms, she takes photos of them and compares them with pictures others have posted on the internet. Online groups have taken her passion for mushrooms to another level.

She gently pushes the soft beds of moss to one side, to reveal groups of funnel chanterelles. “These are still babies.”

She will enjoy them in a soup, or on some crunchy toast, fried with onions and butter, seasoned with salt and pepper. Other mushroom delicacies in her kitchen are bruschetta, pasta and risotto.

Eager to explore

Two people walk along a forest path.

Picking mushrooms or berries is partly about fresh air and a walk in the woods, regardless of how much you harvest. These hikers are discovering Seitseminen National Park, about 75 kilometres (45 miles) north of the city of Tampere.Photo: Laura Vanzo/Visit Tampere

Asuja is relaxed, but also excited to greet the first funnel chanterelles of the season: “I’m filled with gratitude for all the things the forest offers us.”

She recounts how she was recently roaming the woods with a couple of friends, one of them 80 years old.

“There were some rocky hills to climb,” she says. “I was thinking that I want to be that fit and eager to explore when I’m 80.”

By Minna Takkunen, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2022