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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Russians lost in mushroom heaven
St Petersburg is having its best mushroom year for half a century
A bumper mushroom crop in Russia this year has pleased everyone except officials of the Emergencies Ministry in St Petersburg.

They are the ones that have to go looking for mushroom hunters who get lost in the forests near the city - a total of 121 people since 1 August.

Most missing mushroomers are found within 24 to 48 hours, although the ministry says 11 are currently unaccounted for.

"People are people, so we have to look for them come what may," said Yuri Yushin, spokesman for the Emergency Ministry's northwestern branch.

But he and others in the ministry complain that their resources could more usefully be spent dealing with forest fires and other genuine emergencies.

'Make a cup of tea'

St Petersburg is surrounded by sparsely populated marshland and forest, ideal country for mushroom hunting but also easy to get lost in.

The pull of the forest is even greater this year, because of the size of the crop - reportedly the best in the region for half a century.

Bely or Borovik (Penny bun boletus)
Opiata (honey mushroom)
Podberyozovik (Rough birch stock)
Masliak (Slippery jack)
Ryzhik (Saffron milk cap)
The discovery of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the area in recent years raises the possibility that some lost people may not just have taken a wrong turning.

The newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, reporting the disappearances, had some advice for potential mushroomers.

It said people should be aware of which direction they were travelling in, but if lost they should keep calm, build a fire and make some tea.

People could generally live for as long as a week in the forest without any great risk to their health, the article said.

National pastime

Mushroom-picking is a national pastime in Russia, with thousands of people going out into the woods every summer and autumn to gather.

Mostly mushrooms are appreciated as a nourishing pickled or fried dish or as a base for healthy soup.

But in recent years Psylocybe, or magic, mushrooms have been discovered outside St Petersburg.

Occasionally, people mistakenly eat poisonous toadstools.

Moscow health officials quoted by the Associated Press news agency say 34 people have died from eating fungi this year.

A total of 457 cases of poisoning have been reported throughout the country.


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