Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

5 Realizing the potential: prospects, actions, opportunities


The major features of wild edible fungi based on this first global assessment are:

The major benefits and features of wild edible fungi, as discussed in Chapters 2 and 4, are:


Much of the original work on edible fungi has concentrated on the mycological or scientific aspects and, although much still remains to be done, the most significant gaps in information and knowledge concern social and economic aspects of use. Little is known about collectors and collecting practices, for example, or the relative importance of wild edible fungi compared with alternative sources of food or income. Sustainable production of wild edible fungi is not only about how to maximize yields but how to balance this resource with other uses and users of forests.

Despite significant gaps in knowledge it is also important to emphasize that significant advances have been made in describing the features of commercial harvesting in different countries. There is a considerable body of published information from the United States and Canada, for example, and Chinese researchers have also provided new insights concerning the use of wild edible fungi that demonstrate their widespread importance. In central, southern and now west Africa, development projects have explored local use of wild edible fungi while national programmes in Mexico and Turkey have sustained local research programmes over a long period of time.

Now is an appropriate time to identify the most important topics that need further investigation. The following section discusses research priorities in mycology, diet, fungal ecology (mycorrhizas) and storage – how to make better use of annual production. These are key areas where more information is needed. There are many questions about how best to manage wild edible fungi and to achieve sustainable production and this topic is examined in more detail in the subsequent section. Table 25 summarizes the key issues involved and discusses them in relation to commercial harvesting and subsistence uses.

Table 25 and Table 12 attempt to develop a practical approach to management that will be of use to forest managers. The two common constraints for exploring the full potential of wild edible fungi are a poor knowledge of current activities and a lack of reliable data.


Identification of species

The tropical mycota is poorly known and concern has been expressed by scientists about the incomplete state of taxonomic knowledge (Meijer, 2001). Steady progress has been made in naming new species of macrofungi (e.g. Verbecken et al., 2000; Afyon, 1997) and while there is still much to do there is no obvious evidence that gaps in taxonomic knowledge are limiting the use of wild edible fungi. Local classifications provide a useful guide to edible and “not eaten” species (these may be poisonous or not). Scientific identifications can help to clarify the edibility of species and further information about the identification of macrofungi is always helpful.

The resistance to eating wild fungi is often based on a fear of eating poisonous mushrooms and this does limit the use of edible species and attempts to expand local markets (Lowore and Boa, 2001). Throughout southern Africa Boletus edulis is produced in pine plantations but is not eaten locally. Suitable publicity and reassurance from recognized authorities will help to overcome suspicion but concerted efforts are needed to change deep-seated suspicion of wild fungi. Efforts to promote wild edible fungi locally are best concentrated in areas where they are already eaten.

Simple local guides that illustrate useful edible species for a region are more widely needed. Comprehensive field guides are of greatest use but are more costly and complicated to produce. Guides to edible species are not in themselves sufficient: they must be supported by public campaigns that seek to reassure people about which species are safe to eat. The “recognized authorities” refers to both scientists who can identify macrofungi and local people with similar skills acquired from personal experience of what is safe to eat and with a knowledge of local traditions.

Nutritional status

The nutritional benefits of wild edible fungi have not been fully explored. The published information is of variable quality and analytical procedures need to be standardized (Breene, 1990). The range of wild species that have been analysed is still small and little is known about variation within species that occur in different countries, e.g. chanterelles and Boletus edulis. Research is needed on species that have greatest market potential and efforts should be made to highlight the nutritional properties and advantages. Many people judge the dietary value of mushrooms with little knowledge of their true properties (see Chapter 2, section on Edibility and poisonous fungi and Chapter 4, section on Nutrition and health benefits for further information).


The links between wild edible fungi and tree hosts are well known for economically important species such as Boletus edulis and Tuber spp. Cantharellus spp. form mycorrhizae with many tree species in tropical countries. There is an expanding body of information about many other edible fungus–tree associations but this has not been assembled in the form of a database, for example, that would allow for predictive searches. The search for matsutake in Asia was assisted by a knowledge of its tree hosts (Namgyel, 2000) and this approach would assist in prospecting for other wild edible fungi. Knowledge about the mycorrhizal partners of edible species of Amanita, Lactarius and Russula is steadily increasing (e.g. Verbecken and Buyck, 2002).

There are potentially large areas of miombo woodland in Malawi which are not accessible to local collectors working on foot, and a better knowledge of which edible mycorrhizal species grow with which trees would help to identify productive areas. In general terms, a database of mycorrhizal associations, linking edible species to tree hosts would help planners and forest managers. The database would need to indicate how well the association had been established. Physical links between macrofungi and trees were relatively simple to trace during one short exercise in Malawi (Plate 2) and published work has already confirmed associations. Even statements such as “found growing in association with” would assist attempts to identify areas where wild edible fungi might occur.


Wild edible fungi often have a short period during which they can be eaten. They then either rot or shrivel up. They can be preserved in a variety of ways and used at a later date. Some species are readily dried and the flavour of Boletus edulis is enhanced by this process (Plate 5). Chanterelles have a longer viable period than many other wild edible species and this enhances their marketability. Truffles also store well, but many other edible fungi are highly perishable. In China, edible fungi are commonly preserved in brine and sold in caskets (Plate 8). They are also exported in this form to Italy.

The technology for preserving wild edible fungi is simple but may require capital investment. Drying mushrooms is more suited to subsistence users and simple methods used in Malawi – dried fungi are stored in natural containers made with dried leaves of Uapaca kirkiana, a native tree – have wider applications (Plate 6).

Preserving edible fungi in brine also has wider applications and substantially increases the use and value of wild edible fungi in China. The success of this approach depends on having the equipment and raw materials to carry out the preservation process, but it is important to determine first whether edible fungi in brine are acceptable to the intended market. There is no experience of this method in Africa in rural communities, for example, and market research is needed before contemplating preservation in brine on a wide scale.

Although some wild fungi are dried in southern Africa (Plate 6), there is scope for expanding this approach. If suitable drying methods are not already used, others could be adapted from other areas of agriculture (e.g. drying seeds). It is important in all these efforts to increase the supply of wild edible fungi that they first concentrate on regions where they are already popular and, second, that any new storage methods are developed jointly with local communities.


The main objective of managing wild edible fungi is to ensure sustainable production. This is achieved by examining their biology, ecology and patterns of use in relation to other uses of forests and the groups of people involved (Chapter 3). Table 12 outlines the key topics that need to be addressed. Table 25 offers a structured approach towards achieving sustainable production of wild edible fungi and forests.

The key to success is having a sound knowledge of what people do in the forest and why, and assessing the relative importance and priority of benefits obtained (products and services) and related activities. When planning projects or initiatives specifically on wild edible fungi, the objectives of forest management need to be clearly stated: production forests are managed for different purposes compared to protected forests.

The starting point for any management plan is, however, the wild edible fungi themselves. Reliable data are needed on yields and productivity. Recent advice on NWFP inventory methods suggests how this information might be obtained (FAO, 2001a). Lists of species are needed together with information on their relative importance to local people.

Sustainable use of wild edible fungi depends on minimizing the impact of harvesting procedures on the fungus resource and the forest. At the same time, information about other forest uses should be gathered. Some uses of a forest may be incompatible and adjustments to their management might be required.

Balancing the needs of forest users in developing countries is often complicated because the pressures on forest resources are great and users have a weak voice in deciding management objectives. User groups must be able to express their needs and feel that their opinions have been taken into account.


Information needs and issues concerning sustainable use of wild edible fungi




    Species: which ones are collected

    The range is small and well known. Buyers may require confirmation of species: there are many more tropical species of chanterelles than exist in Europe. Boletus edulis from China has a very different flavour to those from Europe.

    Hall et al., 2003: general introduction

    The range of species is much greater though not all are of equal importance. Local names can be helpful in overcoming difficulties in naming species. Note the importance of confirming that edible fungi are actually eaten (“food”).

    De Kesel, Codjia and Yorou, 2002: Benin

    Collectors: who are they

    These may be local or from outside. Conflicts occur within and between groups depending on the value of species being collected. The importance of income earned by collectors should be established.

    Härkönen, 1998: ethnic groups in Finland

    Mostly for subsistence uses though note collecting for a hobby in the North. Subsistence users vary greatly in social and economic characteristics and this will require careful study.

    McLain, Christensen and Shannon, 1998: USALowore and Boa, 2001: Malawi

    Harvests: how much and impact

    The lure of high prices may lead to the use of harmful methods (both deliberately and unknowingly). Compulsory training exists in the United States and truffle collectors must pass an exam in Italy before being allowed to buy a permit.

    Ivancevic, 1997: Yugoslavia

    Harvests are usually small-scale and according to de facto rules established by communities. Data are needed to determine the relative value of collections to rural people. Information on this topic is generally weak.

    Malyi, 1987: Belarus

    Regulation: use of permits

    Permits are sold in several countries but may prove difficult to monitor. Schemes may need modification and a review of experiences in other countries could be helpful.

    Pilz et al., 1999: wild edible fungi, USA

    The concerns are less about the amounts collected than the general presence of collectors in protected forests, leading to concerns about damage to forests and increased risk of fires in some places (USA).

    Villarreal and Perez-Moreno, 1989: Mexico

    Access: who has rights for collecting

    Commercial harvesting often prompts a closer inspection of who owns or has rights of access to sites. State- or community-run forests are more difficult to manage compared to private plantations.

    Yeh, 2000: matsutake in China

    The low intensity use associated with personal collections is rarely an issue compared to general concerns about extraction of NWFP from protected forests and conservation areas.

    Singh and Rawat, 2000: morels from India

    Trade: who buys and sells

    There is a strong imperative for trading systems to develop in a fair and effective manner. Intermediaries are frequently thought to exploit collectors but they also provide credit, a dependable chain for selling and ensure that products get to the market.

    Namgyel, 2000: Bhutan

    Markets in southern Africa are small and by the road and this limits the amounts sold. Local trading is often low-key and relatively straightforward.

    Lowore and Boa, 2001: Malawi

    Yields and productivity: amounts

    The potential threat posed by unsustainable harvests must be determined from an accurate knowledge of yields and productivity data over several years.

    Kujala, 1988: Finland

    Yields help to assess the potential for commercialization in local markets.

    Vladyshevskiy, Laletin and Vladyshevskiy, 2000: Russian Federation

    Markets: amounts traded, exports

    China has a substantial ”internal” export market with large amounts flowing from forest to major cities. Elsewhere exports are to Europe and North America. An awareness of relative labour costs determines market opportunities. export data from several countries

    Market surveys are a useful method for estimating how much is collected locally. They also help to demonstrate the potential for expanding local sales.

    Montoya-Esquivel et al., 2001: Mexico; Boa et al., 2000: Malawi

    Forest users: who are they and the relative importance of WEF collections

    The collection of high value species may be the main output from a forest and therefore management objectives should be set accordingly.

    Tedder, Mitchell and Farran, 2000: Canada

    Rapid appraisal methods have greatly increased knowledge of forest users. Careful analysis of wild edible fungi use is needed – general reports of forest users may not report such practices.

    Campbell, 1996: miombo, southern Africa

    Forest management: relative importance of wood versus non-wood forest products and specifically wild edible fungi

    A careful examination of forestry objectives with an analysis of major products and services is needed to plan effectively for multiple use.

    Alexander et al., 2002: USA

    Low intensity use presents few immediate threats to production forests though a wider knowledge of WEF collecting may alter this current perception.

    Lund, Pajari and Korhonen, 1998: boreal and cold temperate forests

    Biodiversity: conservation status of wild edible fungi and other plants

    Conservation concerns must address the needs of all forest users, including commercial collections. These cause particular concern because of perceived losses and damage causes. Issues can only be resolved with good and reliable data and a sound understanding of what people do and why.

    Perini, 1998: Europe

    A major concern in tropical countries is the poorly described mycota. Studies are currently hampered by a lack of suitably trained taxonomists. A knowledge of ectomycorrhizal associations would help in identifying production of wild edible fungi – as happens with Tuber spp. in Europe.

    Tibiletti and Zambonelli, 1999: Italy



There are sometimes unrealistic expectations about money to be earned from exporting wild edible fungi. Much depends on the cost of labour and access to markets. Exports from North America have suffered because harvesting wild edible fungi is cheaper in eastern Europe and transport costs are less. The timing of fruiting seasons will affect the prices that can be achieved. When fruiting seasons overlap in different countries, supplies of common edible species (e.g. chanterelles) will increase and prices will drop. There are yearly fluctuations in production, which are difficult to predict, and fluctuating prices paid for species creates uncertainty and a potentially unstable marketplace.

This is not to say that successful export businesses cannot be sustained, but it requires careful planning, the ability to withstand the ebb and flow of the market place and timely delivery of a good quality product. That is why initiatives to expand local markets are a better way to commercialize wild edible fungi. They will still require attention to detail (getting produce to market quickly) but the potential challenges are smaller and more manageable, thus increasing the chances of success.

Evidence of this comes from local markets in southern Africa and Mexico that have developed out of local initiatives, often with little or no assistance from governments or development projects. The role of researchers and NGOs in these circumstances is to build on existing trading systems and identify where minor changes might lead to major improvements. The following example illustrates the potential of this simple approach.

In Mzimba region in the north of Malawi, women walk long distances in order to meet traders, who buy enthusiastically when the opportunity arises. The strong local demand for wild edible fungi guarantees good market prices yet only a small number of collectors sell their produce directly. More commonly, they sell to the traders who sell in the market at twice the price. Efforts are now being made to encourage more collectors to sell directly and to arrange trading points closer to the collectors’ homes, thus increasing the amounts they can supply to local markets (Lowore, Munthali and Boa, 2002).


Product quality and its importance for trade

The roadside sellers of WEF in Malawi are aware that customers will pay more for species that are fresh and presented in an attractive manner. They clean fruiting bodies and select which ones are placed at the tops of piles on their stalls, but on the whole they spend relatively little time in these actions. The differences in money earned are small. The most important thing is to get the WEF as quickly as they can from forest to stall.

As the value of the species increases so too does the increased price that collectors and traders can expect to be paid. The differences in quality between matsutake arriving from China and the Republic of Korea in Japan is immediately apparent to anyone comparing boxes. The specimens from the Republic of Korea are less damaged, neatly displayed and in prime condition, thus satisfying the discerning needs of the Japanese customers who will be prepared to pay top prices.

Getting fresh specimens to market is a considerable challenge. The physical appearance of fruiting bodies is obviously important and customer preferences must be observed. Some species discolour if the gills or cap are damaged and they must be handled with care. The buyers have to make sure that fruiting bodies are not infested with insects – some collectors try to hide these at the bottom of trays but such tricks rarely go undetected for long. Depending on the soil where the fungi grow, some preliminary cleaning of gills and gaps may be needed to remove particles. Sparassis crispa and other species with honeycomb caps readily accumulate grit, which is difficult to remove.

Picking fruiting bodies at the correct stage of development is important. As they mature some species become woody and much less desirable while others, such as Coprinus comatus, quickly dissolve or rot away. The simple consequence for collectors is that inferior specimens are graded lower and are worth less. All things being equal, some provenances of Boletus edulis have different taste characteristics. Knowledgeable buyers in Italy can identify the country of origin by smelling the dried fruiting bodies. This in turn determines the price that the buyers will pay for a particular market.

The most spectacular difference in the financial outcomes of product quality is shown by the dramatically different amounts of money earned by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea on exports of matsutake. Despite exporting only 264 tonnes over five years, compared to 888 tonnes from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea earned nearly 15 percent more (Tables 22 and 23).

Sources: Lowore and Boa (2001), author’s observations and Zambonelli (2002, personal communication: Truffles, and collecting porcini in Italy)


There are possibilities for expanding the cultivation of edible fungi. Larger-scale methods are unsuited to local communities that lack the money to establish such businesses. Smaller-scale approaches (“backyard cultivation”) are described in Stamets (2000) and widely used throughout China. These have a greater potential for rural people who cultivate paddy-straw as part of integrated farming systems in Viet Nam, for example.


The increased interest and importance of NWFP have helped to raise the profile of wild edible fungi worldwide. Well-publicized commercial harvesting in North America since the 1990s and the expansion of exports from eastern Europe and China have raised awareness of wild edible fungi and there is now a substantial and significant trade from developing to developed countries. A growing interest in medicinal mushrooms has attracted commercial interests, though there has always been a strong demand in Asia for Ganoderma and other key species.

The expansion in commercial harvesting and international trade has led to widespread concern about overharvesting and damage to fungal resources and to forests. There is a danger of restricting commercial harvesting without examining available data or identifying the need to collect data to answer important questions about impact and sustainability. A recent attempt to restrict collections of matsutake in the United States was rejected following a closer look at this resource and its current pattern of use (Mushroom, the Journal of Wild Mushrooming, 2002).

The concerns regarding subsistence uses in developing countries are more generally about sustainable use of natural resources. The key to developing wild edible fungi as either a local food or source of income is to examine the different aspects of use and harvesting and to learn more about local practices and community needs.

There has been much enthusiasm for NWFP-based development, particularly in protected forests. Some caution is needed in assessing the potential benefits of this strategy and three commonly held beliefs require closer investigation (Belcher, 2002):

There is better than expected evidence to support the first two points for wild edible fungi while noting the need for more data and better information. It is less clear whether commercial harvests help to protect forests. The mycorrhizal associations of key wild edible fungi do, however, emphasize the unique role they play in maintaining tree health.

The global trade in wild edible (ectomycorrhizal) fungi has been estimated at US$2 billion (Hall et al., 2003). The true value, however, includes the value of wild edible fungi to the millions of rural people around the world who gain benefits from eating them (food they would otherwise have to buy or go without) and money from collecting.

There are compelling reasons for expecting a brighter future for wild edible fungi: they maintain the health of forests; they are a valuable source of nutrition and income. New initiatives should concentrate on expanded use and benefits in areas that already have a strong tradition of wild edible fungi. Export opportunities also exist but are inherently more risky.

During the preparation of this book information on wild edible and wild useful fungi was stored in a simple database. This has been extensively updated and modified with the assistance of Dr Paul Kirk of CABI Bioscience and can be queried over the Internet ( Summary information on over 2 600 species is available and the original records from over 1 000 references and lists published around the world can be viewed. This new Web site also provides a simple means for checking valid and preferred names of WEF species.



All photos by Eric Boa except Cordyceps sinensis photos by Warren Priest.

9.1 Packaging for Phallus impudicus.

9.2 Dried Phallus impudicus.

9.3 Dried morels, bought in Belgium.

9.4 Dried Cantharellus cibarius for sale in Hungary.

9.5 Fresh Hydnum repandum (left – note spines, sans gills) and Hypsizygus tessulatus for sale in a UK supermarket.

9.6 (Ganoderma, dried, sold for medicinal purposes. Singapore.

9.8 Cleaning chongcao in Kangding, China in preparation for selling.

9.7 Shops advertise chongcao (Cordyceps sinensis) – the orange “sticks” on the left – in Xining, China.

Sources of advice and information

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page