Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Shaggy Mane Mushroom
Season: Summer to Early Fall
READ THIS Before Gathering and Eating Wild Mushrooms.
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus). Known also as the Shaggy Ink Cap and Lawyer's Wig. This is my personal favorite mushroom but...
There is one very serious caution with the Shaggy Mane. I have heard people say it is easy to identify, but, when it is young - the only stage it is good to eat, it is egg shaped and white on a stem. The Destroying Angel can be egg shaped and white when young. The spore print is white with the Destroying Angel, and Blackish Brown with the Shaggy Mane, but at the young, egg shaped stage, you can't get a spore print. You MUST know how to identify the Destroying Angel before you pick Shaggy Manes. Please take me seriously with this.
ALWAYS cut a Shaggy Mane down the center, cutting it into two halves with stem and cap. The stem MUST be hollow or with a pith in the center that will separate easily. If the stem is solid (no hollow or central pith) , it could be a Destroying Angel. Never eat what you think is a Shaggy Mane with a solid stem. I can tell a Shaggy Mane and Destroying Angel on sight now, but I still cut each Shaggy Mane down the center just as a safety precaution.
Due to the fantastic flavor, and nice texture, I think these would be a big seller but for one problem: you have very little time to cook them after picking before they start to deliquesce. That is a term for turning to liquid. It is part of their reproductive strategy to liquefy to spread their spores (seeds). Pick, run home, cut down the center to make sure it is hollow or pith stemmed, and take right to the stove. If you find one in the morning, don't think it will last until supper - it won't.
Only pick the young ones that are still egg shaped on the top. Once the top becomes bell shaped and the bottom edge of the bell is black, you are too late.
You tend to find them in cities, especially where the soil has been disturbed in any way. I very often see them the year after fresh sod is put down in new subdivisions. In the forest regions of Central Ontario, you tend to find them wherever there is open ground -- I have never seen them in the woods, but in open areas surrounded by woods. Open areas of woods is also where I have found the Destroying Angel. I have found them on lawns in July, and among weeds in September, so just keep your eyes open for them.
Use them in soups, stir-fry's, baking - whatever. Stir fried with onions and garlic in grape seed oil served on dry rye bread toast is my personal favorite when I find one in the yard.
Growing this mushroom at home:
You can buy kits to grow this mushroom. Go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Shaggy Mane page for more information.
- Cap Morphology: Ellipse/cylindrical to egg shaped when immature to conical when mature. Covered with scales like up turned shingles on cap surface that give it a shaggy look. White, but center can be light brown now and then. Flesh is white and very soft. Scales can have light brown edges. If bell shaped, will be black and liquid at the very edge.
- Spore Bearing Surface: Very closely spaces gills on the underside of the cap. When very immature the gills are nearly white, then turn pinkish. When fully mature - black and liquid inky. Only eat specimens that the gills have not turned black, or cut off the areas where the gills are black.
- Gill Attachment (how the Spore Bearing Surface is attached to the Stipe or Stem): Free or nearly fully free
- Spore print: Blackish brown, but hard to get a spore print.
- Stipe (Stalk): Hollow or with a pith that will easily separate - and this is a key characteristic to differentiate it from the Destroying Angel. Can see an annulus, but often it has slid down the stalk to the base or is not seen at all.
- Partial Veil: Yes, only seen before the cap takes the conical shape. Partial veil can leave a ring or skirt on the stalk, but often it slides down to the bottom of the stalk.
- Season: Summer to early fall
- Habitat: All over, but not in woods. Grassy areas, open areas of woods, very often near roads and paths, disturbed areas, the year after fresh sod is placed.
- Notes: My personal favorite mushroom, just be careful and enjoy. Sometimes found one at a time, sometimes in huge numbers.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
The Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) coming up in a well used park area in the city early one morning. The one in the foreground left is just perfect. You can see why they are called "Shaggy" in this picture.
The Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) on its own to the left is perfect for picking and cooking. Now look at the tall group of three to the right with a couple more in behind. The tall one on the left is still good, but getting late, and the other two tall ones are too late - they have turned bell shaped, black on the bottom of the cap and pinkish in the center. This picture was taken in early September in Central Ontario in a meadow in the middle of a dense woods where there were rock outcroppings.
The Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) when way to late to pick for food. However, keep an eye on the area where you find them like this as it is common for them to fruit many times in the same spot. If you look carefully, in the back there are some that are getting late, but may still by OK to use if you trim off the skirt (the lower part of the cap) where it has begun to deliquesce - turn black and liquify. (By: Hans Hillewaert Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)
The Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) can be purchased dried at Oriental food stores. Personally, I don't like dried ones at all - maybe I just don't know how to use them. The taste is fine, but the texture is just awful when re-hydrated in my opinion.
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 America - 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:
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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