An old Croatian proverb went like this: “All mushrooms are edible, some only once.” The meaning: Yes, many mushrooms are delicious and nutritious, but many also are quite poisonous.
If you are not an experienced and competent collector and cannot positively identify look-alike species, I strongly suggest purchasing a field guide that will help you with this, and consider asking a veteran mushroom hunter to help.
Still, the world has 38,000 different species of mushrooms that hold medicinal qualities.
Researchers have found their compounds potentially effective against all sorts of maladies — from chronic fatigue syndrome to cancer. In the environmental arena, researchers are studying them for their ability to absorb toxic substances.
Many mushrooms also happen to be really delicious.
Here are just three that you are likely to find on your property and some of the information you can use to determine their use in your personal life.
1. Hiratake (Oyster Mushroom)
Where it is grown: Grows wildly in temperate and sub-tropical forests and is responsible for the decomposition of deciduous trees like the beech.
Medicinal properties: The Hiratake mushroom contains statins that are known to lower the bad type of cholesterol, LDL. The statin compounds are present in the fruited body as well as the mycelium network of the mushroom.
Cultivating: Can be done simply and inexpensively by inoculating a medium of brown rice and then harvesting the fruit bodies or mycelium. Asian countries cultivate it primarily by putting layers of hay into plastic bags, the mushroom spores being placed in between the layers.
Table fare: The oyster mushroom is a common companion in Asian and Indian dishes and makes a good addition to various soups and stews.
Weird but true: Aside from being able to decompose trees, this particular species of mushroom can purportedly decompose disposable diapers and absorb petrochemicals and PCBs.
Its usefulness in waste and toxin remediation is currently being researched by several organizations. Dried, it also makes a high R-value insulator for the homestead.
2. Chestnut Mushroom (Poplar Mushroom)
Where it is grown: This mushroom grows naturally all over the world wherever deciduous trees are found. It is particularly fond of Poplars, where it causes holes in the tree, hence the name “Poplar mushroom.”
Medicinal properties: The mushroom contains compounds that are scavengers of free radicals. There also have been studies linking the mushroom’s active compounds to a slowing down of osteoporosis advancement.
Cultivating: Inoculating hardwood chips, sawdust or hardwood logs with the spores. It is known to be one of the easiest mushrooms to cultivate commercially.
Table fare: This mushroom is both meaty and delicious — raw or cooked. But as part of a genus that contains more than 100 different species, some quite poisonous, it is best left to an experienced collector who can differentiate it from its more unpleasant relatives. Having said that, it has a strong, earthy flavor and makes a tremendous contribution to the flavor of sauces, stews and casseroles.
Weird but true: The ancient Greeks collected these mushrooms and believed that they “popped” out as a result of lightning strikes. Many morel hunters hold this very same superstition.
3. Morel Mushroom
Where it is grown: It is commonly found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Pakistan and China.
Medicinal properties: Particularly high in iron and B-complex vitamins, it is a wonderful addition to the medicine cabinet. This mushroom is also known for its immune-boosting properties.
Cultivating: Although several attempts have been made to commercially grown these ghosts of the woods, none has been successful. Best case is to scatter the trimmings from wild harvested mushrooms in your nearby wooded area and hope for some volunteers. This is usually quite sporadic and takes years to establish.
Table fare: The morel is the most highly prized of all mushrooms for its deeply earthy, meaty flavor. The French cherish its flavors and feature it in many highly refined dishes. For the rest of the world, they are delicious cut in half, dredged in flour, and sautéed in butter until crispy. Delicious!
Weird but true: The morel took center stage for many mushroom conspiracy theorists. An entrepreneur and mycologist was once purported to have found a way to commercially cultivate the mushroom in large scale. Just as he was about to sell his method to a popular pizza chain (of all things), he mysteriously died, prompting many to believe that he was murdered in an attempt to keep his secret from becoming public.
What is your favorite mushroom to forage for and eat? Share your tips in the section below: