The Southern Dzūkian mushroom picking tradition is a system of knowledge, beliefs, and customs of the forest management activities. It forms and maintains the special and respectful relationship that Dzūkai have with their environment, i.e., the forest. There even is a saying that “Dzūkians are born with the mushroom picking skill”.
Mushroom eating in Lithuania was discussed in written texts as early as the 14th century. The importance of mushrooms grew in the context of fasting, which was introduced with Christianity. An especially strong mushroom picking tradition was formed in Varėna – the land of the Southern Dzūkai. This skill was determined by a favourable natural environment, a direct economic advantage to the residents, and the expansion of the trading market in the 19th century.
Dzūkai pick mushrooms from April until the first snow, and they collect the mushrooms into pine wood chip baskets worn on their shoulders. At the end of the season there is a tradition to say “goodbye” to one’s own best spots as well as the forest by symbolically breaking a pine branch. Most mushroom pickers still dry mushrooms in stone ovens, while in the past it was done in bunkers with dryers specifically built for to dry mushrooms. It is believed that mushrooms are God’s dew gifted to people. Dzūkai have various rituals to ensure success in finding mushrooms, and the generic word “mushroom” is only used for boletus, assigning them a great importance. The traditional Southern Dzūkian cuisine would be impossible without mushrooms, especially during the Christmas Eve dinner – a mushroom rasalas (dense broth) or mushroom “ears” is a must. Such mushrooms as fly agarics, false morels, Chaga mushrooms are still used today in traditional medicine.
The skills, habits, locations, and picking techniques are passed down in families from generation to generation: young children are taught to find and recognise mushrooms, while the older ones are trained on the subtleties of the activity and are introduced to the family-kept secret locations rich with mushrooms.
Even though Southern Dzūkai take advantage of the forest, they do not forget to take care of it as well as respect and protect it. They do this while enjoying their activity, which maintains a strong bond both within the community members and between people and nature.
Photograph of the women picking mushrooms
Submitter – Directorate of Dzūkija National Park and Čepkeliai State Nature Reserve, 2020
Tradition bearers – Communities of Marcinkonys, Margionys, Musteika, Zervynos, Žiūrai, Mančiagirė, Puvočiai, Darželiai, Mardasavas, Kabeliai villages, residents of Lynežeris, Kapiniškis, Dubininkas, Paūliai, Trakiškiai, Trasnykas, Grybaulia, Šklėriai, Daržinėliai, Ašašnykai, Kašėtos, Katra villages