Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
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The Hericium is a fairly safe woods mushroom for the beginner. There are four or five kinds in North America, but it doesn't matter which one for the purposes of eating - all four are safe and good to eat. It looks like a white grouping of icicles. I have read they taste like crab meat, I don't know, I've never had crab, but I can tell you that a good fresh one cooked properly is very good. Again, the first time you eat any new food, especially mushrooms, only eat a little to be sure you are not allergic to it.
The rules for picking are: Harvest only when very white in color. As they get older, the color changes to a tan or yellowish hue of white. When immature, they can be a pinkish hue. Carefully look for bugs or small slugs on them.
When cooking, rinse them well, slice and recheck for bugs or slugs, and fry in oil with onion and/or garlic until a light golden brown appears in thinner areas or on the tips of each "icicle". One thing to be aware of; they absorb water like a sponge, so if you do rinse it - and you should - after you slice it, place the slices on dry paper towel or a clean tea towel and press with another on top to soak out the water. It will just cook better.
Below, I've listed the ones I know of. There is disagreement on what should be called what, and the differences can be hard to distinguish in the woods. As long as you recognize it as a Hericium, it is fine to eat. By looking at pictures of the different ones, you will at least know the range of shapes it can take.
Growing this mushroom at home:
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Hericium Mushroom page.
- Lion's Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus). Other names for it are: Old Man's Beard, Bearded Tooth Mushroom, Hedgehog Mushroom, Satyr's Beard, Bearded Hedgehog Mushroom, Pom Pom mushroom, or Bearded Tooth Fungus. Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- Bear's Head (Hericium abietis). Known also as the Western Coral Hedgehog. Some sources say it is a Western North American species only, some say it is all across North America. Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- Comb Hericium (Hericium ramosum). This one is more spread out in a branching growth habit. Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- Hericium americanum. Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- Hericium coralloides. Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- Cap Morphology: There is no cap
- Spore Bearing Surface: Icicle like teeth
- Gill Attachment (how the Spore Bearing Surface is attached to the Stipe or Stem): Not applicable
- Spore print: White
- Stipe (Stalk): No stipe
- Partial Veil: Not applicable
- Season: Late summer and fall
- Habitat: On living or dead wood. I don't often see it on living wood, most often coming off the sides or ends of fallen tree trunks.
- Notes: This is a category busting mushroom, so the above ways of describing most mushrooms do not apply very well. As long as you realize it is a single lump to a branched network of icicle like downward facing teeth and white on living or dead wood you will be able to know one when you see it.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
This Hericium was found growing from a sugar maple log in a woods in mid October after a spell of cool weather and rain. I can't think of anything else that looks like a Hericium. Make sure it is very white in color - as it gets older it takes on a yellowish, or tan color. On eat the very white ones. When you slice it, carefully look for any kind of bug or slug eating at it.
This Hericium was growing from a sugar maple stump in mid October after cool weather and rain. The bits of dark spots you see on it are just leaf and bark litter that will wash off. There are spider webs on this one, so cleaning is essential before cooking.
Before Gathering and Eating any Wild Mushroom READ THE FOLLOWING:
This is a difficult subject to approach. I've been studying mushrooms in the wild for about 30 years and they often still surprise and confuse me when identifying.
The problem for a site like this, is that 100% correct identification is absolutely necessary, but hard to do for many mushrooms - even with years of experience, let alone a newcomer to the subject. Best to have someone with genuine expertise show you. If that is not possible, please do much research on the web or with books, preferably both. Do not trust a single source of information - EVER. I have found mistakes on the web, and have even corrected errors on Wikipedia myself. You need confirmation from multiple sources. If you are serious about the subject, one book I highly recommend is "Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi by David Arora". I bought the 1986 edition in 1987 and that is what got me started seriously learning about mushrooms. David Arora is from the west coast, but what he says about east coast mushrooms matches with my experience. There are pictures, and very well thought out step by step identification sequences.
Another book which is very good, and a great guide to carry with you on gathering expeditions is "The Audubon Society Field Guild to North American Mushrooms".
Before you gather anything, you must know the most dangerous mushroom of Eastern North American - it can mean your life if you don't. It is the Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera). There is another Destroying Angel on the west coast, the Amanita ocreata. Please take me seriously with this, the Destroying Angels not only kill, but they kill you slowly & painfully. Don't rely on taste, people who have eaten them said, before they died, they were very good tasting. I don't think there is anything, other than maybe the Water Hemlock plant, that kills with such pain and suffering. Look them up, read about them here - KNOW THEM.
I suggest only five mushrooms for the wild food gatherer & mushroom novice to start off with. The Chanterelle, Morel, Hericium, and the Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball. The Morel, and Giant Puffball can often be found in urban environments. The Chanterelle, Hericium, Morel and Sulphur Shelf in the woods. The Giant Puffball can be often found in grassy areas in the country. I have seen the Sulphur Shelf in the city on rare occasions on the side of dying trees. These five are relatively straight forward to identify correctly, and do not have deadly poisonous close look-alikes - although there may be similar looking mushrooms that could make you sick - very sick, so always take identification very seriously. Also, these are not mushrooms you can usually buy in the local grocery store. Until fairly recently, Morels could not be grown in artificial environments.
The Morel is a spring season mushroom, Chanterelle, Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball is a summer to fall mushroom, and the Hericium is a late summer to fall mushroom, so this gives a fairly large window of time to enjoy them. PLEASE take it very slowly, do a lot of research, look at many pictures, and learn how to identify the edible ones from mushrooms that look like them - STEP by STEP with each aspect of the mushroom. Remember, though I do my best to help you identify them, this is not a dedicated identification guide, you do need to learn more than I provide.
And by the way, be careful of what other people pick. Some people go by simple rules of identification that they have learned from others that don't hold up. They may have been lucky so far, but if you eat what others have picked, you had better hope they know what they are doing. Know what you are picking, don't use simple rules except for one: If you are not absolutely, 100% sure, with each and every aspect of the mushroom, do not eat it.
Learn to take a spore print. Put a mushroom cap on white and black paper, and cover with a cup or bowl and after a couple of hours take off the cup, carefully lift up the cap and you should see a spore print. The color of the spores is an important aspect of identification. Go to the spore print link, where you will see the black and white spore print paper image. Click on it, click again and print it. Here is a link directly to it. You can print the same image below:
Print this image to take your spore print on. (William Rafti of the William Rafti Institute CC BY-SA 3.0)
The next six images are the steps in taking a spore print:
This is an Agaricus bisporus that I'm using to demonstrate taking a spore print. This one still has a bit of the partial veil left on. It is the partial veil that makes the ring on the stem.
Next, you have to take off the stem so that the cap will sit flat on the paper. If the gills are "free" - don't touch the stem, you can usually break off the stem. If the gills touch the stem, (adnate, decurrent, etc.), you are best to cut the stem off carefully with a sharp, clean knife.
Set the cap, gills down, on a piece of paper. Put a drop or two of room temperature water on the cap, but not so much that it runs down to the paper. This helps the mushroom hydrate which helps it in the process of releasing the spores.
Cover with a glass or plastic container to keep it humid inside for the mushroom.
It can take as little as a couple of hours, to 12 hours in my experience to get a good print. If you have 12 hours, leave it. If you want to eat the mushroom sooner, take a look after a couple of hours. You may not get a nice looking print, but even a few spores should reveal their color.
This is a close up of the spore print. You can see the white lines where the gills were, and the spores on either side that dropped off. This is the brown for a spore print you would expect for an Agaricus bisporus.
Remember the mushroomer's motto: When in Doubt - Throw it Out. Even experts aren't sure sometimes, and will pass on eating a mushroom unless they are sure.
One more thing I will repeat over and over. When eating anything for the first time, only have a tiny amount to make sure you are not allergic to it. This is especially true for mushrooms. Every edible mushroom creates a reaction with some people. There are two choice edible mushrooms that I am allergic too. The Oyster mushroom makes me feel like I have the flu coming on, and the Boletus edulis makes me feel hot, I break into a sweat, and feel sick to my stomach.
If you think I'm being overly cautious, think about what I read years ago (I regrettably forget the source). There are two kinds of wild mushroom eaters: Brave ones and living ones.
Identification: When reading the description for the mushrooms, refer to the chart below for what those descriptions mean.
Creator of this chart: debivort. Used under GNU Free Documentation License. Full size and source of this image here.
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