Although some people think that mushrooms are more typical of northern countries, there are plenty growing wild in Andalucía. When November, with its frequent rains and lower temperatures arrives, wild fungi appear in Andalusian forests. With help of an app created by the Andalusian mycology guide Tomás Hermoso and his site in English, you can identify the best mushrooms to eat and the most important ones not to pick.
Tomás, once you described Huelva province as the most important mycological area in Europe...
Yes. The mountain region of the most western province of Andalucía is really the most important in Europe for mycology. There are roughly 800 types of wild fungi in Huelva, especially in the Sierra de Aracena. Most of them are colourful, exotic-looking and even endemic.
Besides Huelva province, are there other areas where you can find wild mushrooms in Andalucía?
About ten places in Andalucía are especially known for an abundance of mushrooms. Pinares de Aznalcázar in Seville province and the Sierra Morena in Cordoba both attract mushroom hunters. In the heart of Parque de Los Alcornocales in Cadiz province, among cork and oak trees, you can find yellow and twisted chanterelles that are appreciated for their special taste. In Jaén province a visit to the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas natural park is a must. In this protected space you need permission to pick mushrooms. Malaga province boasts three mushroom zones - the Serranía de Ronda with its Spanish fir forests; the Sierra de las Nieves; and the Alhama, Tejeda and Almijara sierras that border on Granada province. However, in terms of variety and quantity, I would name Huelva province with its Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche natural park as the capital of the Andalusian 'fungi kingdom'.
If there is a kingdom, there must be a king...
Exactly. The local king was identified long time ago. Caesar's Mushroom. Amanita caesarea was first described by Italian mycologist Giovanni Antonio Scopoli in 1772 as Agaricus caesareus. The common name comes from it being a favourite of the Roman emperors. However, in Andalucía this most beautiful (in my opinion) mushroom is better known as tana, oronja or yolk. It is very abundant mostly in the mountains of Huelva, though you can find it closer to the Costa del Sol, in the Alcornocales natural park.
Now mushrooming is easier due to your invention, the app...
Before you go to the forest on your own to collect mushrooms, it is vital to be able to distinguish species. That's why six years ago I created the app Setamania Setas, which helps anyone to know which mushrooms are edible and which are poisonous. I started to create it from scratch, without knowing how to programme or any notion of the world of applications. I was just full of enthusiasm. The app has a catalogue with more than 300 fully detailed and photographed species of the most important mushrooms in the Iberian Peninsula.
What distinguishes Setamania Setas from other apps?
I included an interactive game that helps to learn the scientific names of the different species of mushrooms. It is also important to learn best ways to collect mushrooms and fungi without harming the forest. I give all sorts of tips and share my experiences not only in the app but also on my site Setamania.com that is also in English. I must stress: never rely on only one source for mushroom identification; and never eat anything unless you are 100 per cent sure it is edible.
The first time I would prefer to be accompanied by a professional guide...
It is wise to. They say there are no golden rules for distinguishing between poisonous and edible mushrooms. I have devoted all my life to mushrooms and fungi and I have a qualification as a mycology guide, a branch of biology dealing with fungi. Did you know that mycologists directly focus on taxonomy and genetics, as well as many other characteristics of this group of organisms?
So it relates to medicine as well?
Since ancient times, Eastern cultures have been enthusiastic about edible fungi, both in culinary and health contexts. Mushrooms are low in calories and fat. They contain a modest amount of fibre and are rich in antioxidants, including a number of B vitamins. In traditional Chinese medicine, woody species such as reishi are often prescribed with the goal of enhancing concentration, memory and mental clarity. Besides reishi, lion's mane and chaga also have medicinal benefits. Unsurprisingly, fungi are gaining popularity in the wellness world in Western countries.
During the pandemic I read that fungi were believed to increase the demand for all manner of so-called organic immunity elixirs.
Although wellness-minded Americans are warming to mushrooms, they don't cure Covid-19. However, mushrooms can provide a host of other benefits, from serving as an aphrodisiac to bolstering one's defences to toxins. That's why fungi and mushrooms are described as 'nature's miniature pharmaceutical factories'. I guess the British scientist Alexander Fleming agreed with that. The first antibacterial drug was based on the mushroom Penicillium ascomycetous fungi. Penicillin still helps in treating the consequences of the current virus.
Moreover, mushroom hunting itself can be therapeutic...
Exactly. Mushrooms are not only a delicious dish, but searching for them is healthy and fun. This old practice is popular throughout most of Europe, Australia, Japan, Korea, even in some parts of the Middle East and India, as well as in the temperate regions of Canada and the USA. Mushroom foraging is especially popular in my hometown Villablanca too. The local 'army' of mushroom-hunters includes expats who live there and in neighbouring villages. The season for mushrooms starts in November and lasts till March. Even if foreigners don't speak Spanish, my wife goes with us and helps me with interpreting. So we don't get lost either in forests or in translation.