Nutritional Benefits of Mushrooms

The focus on the nutritional value of brightly colored fruits and vegetables has unintentionally left mushrooms in the dark. Mushrooms provide a number of nutrients:

  • Mushrooms are a good source of B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid, which help to provide energy by breaking down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. B vitamins also play an important role in the nervous system.
    • Pantothenic acid helps with the production of hormones and also plays an important role in the nervous system.
    • Riboflavin helps maintain healthy red blood cells.
    • Niacin promotes healthy skin and makes sure the digestive and nervous systems function properly.
  • Mushrooms are also a source of important minerals:
    • Selenium is a mineral that works as an antioxidant to protect body cells from damage that might lead to heart disease, some cancers and other diseases of aging2. It also has been found to be important for the immune system and fertility in men. Many foods of animal origin and grains are good sources of selenium, but mushrooms are among the richest sources of selenium in the produce aisle and provide 8-22 mcg per serving. This is good news for vegetarians, whose sources of selenium are limited.
    • Ergothioneine is a naturally occurring antioxidant that also may help protect the body’s cells. Mushrooms provide 2.8-4.9 mg of ergothioneine per serving of white, portabella or crimini mushrooms.
    • Copper helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Copper also helps keep bones and nerves healthy.
    • Potassium is an important mineral many people do not get enough of. It aids in the maintenance of normal fluid and mineral balance, which helps control blood pressure. It also plays a role in making sure nerves and muscles, including the heart, function properly. Mushrooms have 98-376 mg of potassium per 84 gram serving, which is 3-11 percent of the Daily Value.
  • Beta-glucans, found in numerous mushroom species, have shown marked immunity-stimulating effects, contribute to resistance against allergies and may also participate in physiological processes related to the metabolism of fats and sugars in the human body. The beta-glucans contained in oyster, shiitake and split gill mushrooms are considered to be the most effective.

Source: thanks to

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Wild Mushroom Habitats: Environment, Soil, and Other Considerations

Wild mushroom identification entails more than just examining the mushroom itself, it requires looking at the surrounding habitat as well.

Fungi are so inextricably linked to their surroundings. Thus mushroom hunting is easier if you recognize habitat details. You’ll greatly increase your chances of finding a favorite mushroom if you know it grows near a certain tree!

Since trees and mushrooms enter commonly into relationships, we’ll begin by discussing the importance of trees and mycorrhizal fungi. Then we’ll look at soil composition and other important habitat factors.

Mushroom and Tree Relationships

Nearby trees are arguably the most important things to note regarding wild mushroom identification. Sometimes this will be more obvious, with your mushroom fruiting directly on an easily identifiable tree. However if your specimen is on the ground, investigate what trees are nearby.

Wild mushrooms that fruit on the ground and have a symbiotic relationship with nearby trees are referred to as mycorrhizal fungi. In a mycorrhizal relationship, the fungal mycelium joins to the roots of the host tree either intracellularly or extracellularly. This gives the fungus access to carbohydrates that the tree produces (such as glucose) and gives the tree a larger surface area to absorb water and nutrients. In a sense the fungus “extends” the tree’s roots.

Thus knowing surrounding trees can greatly aid in wild mushroom identification. The relationship between trees and mycorrhizal fungi is difficult to impossible to duplicate in a lab, so the woods may be your only hope for finding certain species. Some famous mycorrhizal mushrooms you may be interested in include all species of truffles, black trumpets, chanterelles, boletes, and the hedgehog mushroom.

You’ll often see a mushroom directly on a tree rather than on the ground. In this case it may be classified as saprotrophic (a scavenger feeding on a dead tree), parasitic (a parasite slowly damaging a living tree), or a combination of both.

Mushroom and tree relationships, especially mycorrhizal ones, are still not fully understood by modern science. Certain species prefer certain trees; so consult a local guidebook for more information about fungus/tree relationships in your area.

So how do you identify a tree? Good question! It is beyond the scope of this website to teach you how to identify trees. For the most helpful tree identification site pertaining to mycology on the web see Michael Kuo’s North American Trees page.

How’s The Dirt?

Another thing to consider with wild mushroom identification is the condition of the soil or ground.

Certain species will fruit in areas where the ground has been “disturbed.” Examples of this are after a forest fire, near old washes, and around other areas of erosion created by man or nature. The delicious black trumpet can often be found near a wash or rivulet. Looking out for ground disturbances can help you locate this elusive delicacy!

Be sure to note soil composition. This may not always be possible, as it may be difficult to find information about what’s in your local dirt! An Internet search or a quick email to a local mycologist or geologist may enlighten you.

Soil composition is important to know because certain species appear under certain soil conditions. The morel mushroom, for example, fruits in areas where the soil contains more lime. Know your local lime deposits, and you may find a secret stash of morels!

Other features to study about the surrounding forest floor:

• Moisture content: is the ground bone dry or saturated with water? Mushrooms will often fruit in areas where the ground is moist but not soaking wet.

• Decaying matter: this includes leaf litter and pieces of rotting wood. Saprotrophic mushrooms feed on dead organic material, and you’ll often find them on dead logs and ground material.

One final statement about soil: beware of toxins. Mushrooms will absorb toxins from their environment so specimens growing in areas where chemicals are present will often contain these chemicals.

Never eat mushrooms found by the side of any road, near chemical plants or factories, in lawns treated with chemicals, in areas where pesticides are used, and any region where pollution is heavy. Yes, that chanterelle near the chemical plant may be tempting, but best leave it alone.

Temperatures and Seasons

Temperature, time of year, and light are aspects of habitat to consider as well.

• Temperature: make note of the temperature, not only at the time of mushroom hunting but also at night. Many mushrooms fruit in the early fall, as the nights begin to grow cooler. These cool evenings tend to trigger mycelium to produce mushrooms as they indicate a change in seasons. Observing temperature changes in your environment can tell you when to begin searching for new specimens.

• Season: the time of year is important as some mushrooms fruit mainly in the fall, others in the spring. The length and conditions of these seasons may change depending on where you live so consult a local guidebook for more information. The most famous example of seasonal fruiting is probably the morel, which is notorious for showing up mainly from April to early June.

• Light: although mushrooms are famous for growing in the dark, most of them need a little light. They don’t use it to produce food, but indirect, sustained light also triggers mushroom production. Many will grow towards the light, called “photosensitivity”.

So the next time you’re trying your hand at wild mushroom identification, remember to look around your prize. Observe the trees, soil, and other aspects of the environment. There’s no telling what you might find next!

Source: adapted from an article originally published at

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Eben Bayer: Are Mushrooms the New Plastics?

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Safe Mushroom Hunting

Each Spring and Fall, when the weather is warm and rainy and the biggest mushroom flushes of the year occur, my desk at the conservation department overflows with wild mushrooms to be identified.

Most of the people who bring in these mushrooms want to make sure that the tasty-looking morsels they have collected are in fact edible and won’t send them racing to the emergency room a few hours after supper. Often they are interested in collecting other wild mushrooms for the table but are aware of the dangers and don’t know quite where to start.

I certainly appreciate their caution. Because a few wild mushrooms are deadly and many more are mildly poisonous, mushroom hunting is not a hobby for the careless or uninformed. On the other hand, neither is it necessarily the death-defying feat that many people imagine. There are a number of good edible mushrooms that are easy to recognize and hard to confuse with anything dangerously poisonous. […]

The purpose of this article is twofold: to help you identify a number of safe, edible wild mushrooms […] and to introduce you to the gentle sport of mushroom hunting, which among other things is a fine excuse to walk in the woods.

More about Mushrooms

What is a mushroom? Mushrooms are actually the fruits of fungus. The fungus itself is simply a net of threadlike fibers, called a mycelium, growing in soil, wood or decaying matter. Mushrooms on a mycelium are like apples on an apple tree.

The function of a mushroom is to produce spores, which are the “seeds” of the fungus. Some kinds of mushrooms produce their spores on gills (the gilled fungi);some in pores (the pore fungi); some on teeth (the tooth fungi); some inside a leathery pouch (the puffballs); some on the inside of shallow cups ( the cup fungi, including the morels); and some simply on the surface of the mushroom (coral fungi and others). The spores form on these various structures, then fall off to blow away on the wind or be carried by animals, water or insects. If a spore lands in a suitable spot, it germinates and grows into a new mycelium.

The mushrooms most people recognize are the gilled fungi. These typical parasol-shaped mushrooms have caps with bladelike gills on the underside and stems with or without rings. The pore fungi are similar in appearance but have a spongy layer of tubes of pores on the underside of the cap instead of gills.

Collecting Mushrooms

Mushroom collecting requires only the simplest of equipment: a flat-bottomed basket or box, a roll of waxed paper, a digging tool and a pencil and paper for notes.

Be sure to collect the entire mushroom, including the base. Take only fresh, young specimens that are free of insect damage. Each type of mushroom should be wrapped separately in waxed paper (not plastic wrap, which hastens decay), along with any notes you might want to make about the habitat and appearance of the mushroom. It’s a good idea to note where the mushroom is growing (on wood, soil, moss); whether it is single or in clusters’ the colors of the caps, gills and stem; and any other distinctive features. The more you can observe about the mushroom in the field, the easier it will be to identify at home.

Making a Spore Print

Individual spores are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but you can make a spore print that will show the color of the spores in mass. This color is an important identifying characteristic for many mushrooms, especially the gilled fungi.

To make a spore print, cut the stem off the mushroom and place the cap gill-side or pore-side down on a piece of white paper. To best see the spore color, use on sheet of black paper and one of white, taped together side-by-side. Cover with a bowl or jar. If the mushroom is at the right stage-not too young, too old or deteriorated-the spores will slowly collect on the paper. A spore print will be visible in one to 12 hours.

drawing of making a mushroom spore print

Books about Mushrooms

  • The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms by Gary H Lincoff. Alfred A Knopf, 1981.
  • Mushrooms of North America by Orson K Miller, Jr. E. P. Dutton, 1977 (paperback edition).
  • The Mushroom Trail Guide by Phyllis G Glik. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979.
  • The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide by Alexander H Smith and Nancy Smith Weber. University of Michigan Press, 1980.

*Available by order at bookstores.

By Barbara Bassett; edited by C.Martin

Copyright 1983 by the Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri reprinted from the Missouri Conservationist.

Ms. Bassett is a Naturalist in Jefferson City, MO


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Gourmet Edible Mushrooms

An edible mushroom is the fruit that is produced by some fungi. Its “seeds” are microscopic pores that form on the underside of the mushroom’s cap. Some mushrooms break down decaying wood, plant and animal matter, releasing their nutrients and minerals into forest soil. Others grow within living trees in a symbiotic relationship, absorbing minerals and water for the tree, but leaching nutrients.

There are about 10,000 known mushroom varieties, only half of which grow in the United States. About 100 edible mushroom varieties exist, and they can be found on nearly every natural surface, from trees and logs to leaves, dung, compost, mulch, and soil.

Popular Edible Mushrooms

White or button mushrooms are actually called Agaricus. They’re the type of mushroom you’ll typically find in your grocery store and on basic salads. They come in all sizes and can be used both raw and cooked.

Oyster mushrooms can be white, tan or ivory, and are shaped like oyster shells. Their white gills run down a short, off-center stem. Oyster mushrooms grow in clusters of overlapping caps and are always found on wood. There are several mushrooms that are oyster mushroom look-alikes, but none of these is harmful. At worst, their taste is unpleasant or woody. Some people even detect a faint seafood taste.

Chanterelle mushrooms are funnel or trumpet-shaped, with wavy cap edges. They will typically be bright orange or yellow. However, make sure the chanterelles have a network of blunt-edged ridges down the stem. If they are knifelike gills, they could be poisonous jack-o’-lanterns. Chanterelles are best for salads and rich sauces or risotto.

Crimini mushrooms have an earthier flavor than button mushrooms; they feature a light-tan to dark-brown cap and can be used the same way as button mushrooms.

Shiitake mushrooms have a broad, umbrella-shaped cap that can be up to 10 inches in diameter. Their rich, full-bodied flavor is quite meaty when cooked. Many chefs recommend removing stems before cooking and using them to flavor soup stocks. Shiitake mushrooms have wide, open veils and tan gills.

Enoki mushrooms are beautiful fungi with long stems and tiny, snow-white caps. These tiny white mushrooms are joined at the base; together they resemble bean sprouts.

Portabella mushrooms are giant crimini mushrooms. Their long-growing cycle provides the mushrooms with a deep, meaty flavor and thick texture. They can be grilled whole or sliced, baked, stir-fried, and deep-fried. The fibrous stems are to be removed before cooking.

Porcini mushrooms look like the white-stemmed, red-capped toadstools of fairytale lore. Porcini mushrooms can weigh up to a pound each with caps up to 10 inches in diameter. They can also weigh just a few ounces.

Morels are close relatives of the truffle. Their tan- to dark-brown color is set off by a cone or sponge shape and smoky, nutty flavor. The darker the mushroom is the more pronounced the flavor will be. Since the morel has a dimpled cap, it should be cleaned well when fresh.

By Marissa Brassfield

Source: excerpted from “Gourmet Edible Mushrooms: A Guide to Edible Mushroom Identification,” originally published February 19, 2008 at

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How to Identify Mushrooms

To properly identify a mushroom in the wild, it’s best to consult a local expert. Some poisonous mushrooms can look very similar to edible ones. There are, however, guidebooks with detailed pictures and descriptions that you can purchase to take with you into the woods.

Identifying a mushroom can be a time-consuming process. Look closely at the color and shape of the mushroom cap, gills, spores, stalks and base of the mushroom. Sometimes all that separates an edible mushroom variety from a poisonous one are the shape of its gills, or the color of its cap.

Mushroom Poisoning with Edible Mushrooms

Even mushrooms considered edible and safe can pose a deadly danger to the very young and very ill. According to the Northeast Mycological Federation (NMF), some healthy people still get sick even after eating edible mushrooms. This can occur for several reasons. Mushrooms are difficult to digest; the NMF recommends cooking wild mushrooms thoroughly and chewing them well. Alcohol can also cause an adverse reaction with some mushrooms consumed within a five-day window. If the mushrooms themselves are in a state of decomposition, they can cause illness. Personal allergies to mushrooms can also cause a rash or intestinal discomfort. Some MAO inhibitor prescription drugs cause reactions with particular mushrooms.

To minimize your chances of severe mushroom poisoning, which in some cases can cause death, the NMF has a few recommendations. You should not eat any little brown mushroom, any species of Lepiota, any Animitas or Jack o’ Lanterns. For a complete listing of mushrooms to avoid, go to

Source: excerpted from “Gourmet Edible Mushrooms: A Guide to Edible Mushroom Identification,” originally published February 19, 2008 at

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6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World

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