Posts tagged Australian edible fungi

Xerula australis – edible and medicinal

Xerula australis has synonyms Xerula radicata var. australis and Oudemansiella radicata var. australis.  (ref: Bougher and Syme)  There are several closely related species that are difficult to distinguish even with a microscope.

While this species is reported to be edible, it does not find too many rave reviews, although one variety of Xerula radicata is being sold in kit form in China and they describe it as delicious (I suppose they would!).

It has been suggested that they might make a colourful addition to a stir fry.  You would need to find a few of them though, as they are only a small mushroom with a cap 20-40 mm across and a tough inedible stem.  They have quite a distinctive appearance as shown in this image kindly provided by sunphlo.

Xerula australis

An interesting feature of Xerula radicata and most probably this variety is that it contains an anti-hypertensive agent known as  oudenone.  (who’d have known?)  The cultivation of  the fungus in liquid medium and extraction of the active ingredient is the subject of US patent 3835170.  The information in that patent suggests that the active ingredient is reasonably heat stable and should survive a mild cooking process at least.  Whether this is a good thing or not might depend on the individual.

I have set up a new category for fungi that I have not had any personal experience with, or reports of, other than that they are mentioned in the literature as being edible.   If anyone has experience with eating these, I would like hear about it.

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Laetiporus sulphureus – an exciting prospect

In other parts of the world Laetiporus sulphureus is known as chicken of the woods and is  considered a good edible mushroom. I had not heard of any occurence in Australia, but Ray Palmer of north Queensland has reported it growing on Eucalyptus near his home.  You can see Ray’s pictures on his Flickr site, here.

I would emphasise that I have not eaten this mushroom, and I am not aware that Ray or anyone else has either. So it is in the ‘potential’ category for the moment. But an exciting prospect!

Note 26/2/2013.  Since it is reported as edible in the comments below, I have upgraded this to the ‘edible but untried’ category.

If should be noted that the edibility of L. sulphureus depends on the substrate.   On this page, they recommend that you don’t eat it if it is growing on Eucalyptus.

If anyone has any further information on this, I would be most interested to hear about it.

Footnote:

As noted in the comments below, Forthferalz has drawn my attention to some other references to this fungus in Australia.  This picture is provided by blueswami.

I am not sure what angle this was taken at, but in comparison with other pictures, it seems to be upside down.  I think it looks more realistic like this:

There appears to be quite a wide variety of morphologies and colours for this genus.  Even in North America, where it is widely consumed, there appears to be differences between the east and west coast experiences, as well as some confusion about which species is being consumed.

Update  16/04/2016

I have recently had the chance to observe this mushroom first hand in the Dorrigo/Bellingen area of NSW.   It was growing on fallen logs and on the base of a living tree which was also host to Omphalotus nidiformis.  These observations were made in March of a dryish year and I was able to see examples of it over a range of forests.  Here is a picture of one on an exposed lateral root of a rainforest tree along with Omphalotus.

Laetiporus and omphalotus

Laetiporus sp. together with Omphalotus nidiformis

I haven’t shown a picture of the pores, but they were white .  This isn’t the right colour for Laetiporus sulphureus.  It is interesting also that this species appears to be restricted to the warmer regions of the country, while L. sulphureus grows in places like England.

Some light is thrown on this subject by Michael Kuo, the Mushroom Expert.  His comments can be found at this link.

It seems that there are numerous closely related species of Laetiporus in the US.  It is entirely possible that the species here in Australia is yet another one.  The fact that the ones I have observed grow at ground level indicates that they are not L. sulphureus.  To my knowledge it has not been formally named yet. Neither has it’s edibility been established.  Given that there have been numerous cases of people experiencing gastro-intestinal distress from eating various forms of this mushroom in America, it is entirely possible that our local species will cause the same problems.   So there it stands.  At first exciting, but in the end an enigma.

 

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Pluteus petasatus – edible, but not great

For a few years I have noticed some mushrooms coming up after I had burned piles of branches and stumps and so on. At first, I thought these were Volvariellas, but closer inspection showed that they were Pluteus petasatus. They have quite a distinctive cap, grow in clusters and have a characteristic pink spore print.

For some reason, these mushrooms tended to grow at the base of some tall weeds that also grew after the fire. I have no idea what the basis of this association is.

David Arora records this mushroom as being the best of the genus Pluteus, but after frying some up and tasting them, I concluded that they were very similar in taste to Volvariella speciosa (now called Volvopluteus gloiocephalus) and are not something that I would be drawn to eat in particular. Like Volvariella, they would probably go well with some silverbeet or spinach.

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Laccocephalum mylittae – an ancient edible

After there has been a bushfire in the forests around here, and in fact in many parts of Australia, there are a number of fungi that are triggered to send up fruiting bodies. One of these is Laccocephalum mylittae  (formerly Polyporus mylittae), known in early colonial times as Blackfellow’s bread. This is because it was eaten by the Aboriginal people and it has a sclerotium with a texture rather like grains of cereal pressed together. When sliced it is dense like pumpernickel. This fungus may well have been consumed as a food for tens of millenia. It is widespread across the country.

The fungus spends most of its existance feeding on fallen or buried logs. From this woody matter it transports material to a large underground sclerotium which slowly grows in size. It is reported to grow to as large as 600 mm diameter, but the ones I have seen have been about the size of a football. The sclerotium is heavy, with an estimated relative density of 1.1. This growth may go on for 30 years or more, until there is a fire to trigger off the cycle. The sclerotium rapidly sends forth a fruiting body which is apparent at the surface of the ground within a couple of days of the fire. These are commonly seen along side fallen logs. The mushroom is fairly non-descript at first, eventually becoming more defined as it consumes the sclerotium over a period of about a month.

Here is a young mushroom with the sclerotium attached. The mushroom is white, whereas the sclerotium has a dark brown skin covering it.

 

One can easily imagine that the Aboriginal people would have swept through areas they had burned a couple of days earlier to harvest the scelorotiums, which can be quite numerous. Being dense, they provide a significant food source and they do not appear to decay rapidly. They can be crumbled up and dried out into something resembling a cereal grain. Whether the Aboriginal people did this is probably unknown. The picture below shows the scerotium cut open to reveal the inner texture.

It is entirely possible that this fungus could be cultivated like any other wood rotter. I have a specimen that I will attempt to clone if I have the time and inclination. It might make an interesting addition to our native food cuisine. I would describe the taste as bland, but a friend found it to be quite pleasant. It would lend itself to some creative cooking. Apparently, it has significant nutritional value.

The mature specimen is shown below. It can be seen that the mushroom has grown, while the sclerotium has become depleted.

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Suillus granulatus – a Slippery Jack

suillusThis fungus is always associated with pine trees and emerges in huge numbers in pine forests all over the country.   There are two common species, S. granulatus, the normal one where I am and S. luteus, which is more common up near Perth.  The main difference is that the former has no ring on the stem.

Although this mushroom is much collected by people of European background, and turned into pickles,  it is not something that I am fond of.   I find that it leaves a rather unpleasant after-taste.   It is usually peeled and it benefits from drying out before use in cooking to prevent it turning into a slimy mess.

Footnote:  I tried some S. luteus last night (25 April, 2010) in a kind 0f stroganoff.  The dish was pleasant enough, but the after-taste was there again, lingering for a couple of hours.  It is a pity, as these are so plentiful.

Footnote 2: 20 June 2015.  The practice of peeling slippery jacks appears to have a sound basis.  This report indicates that the slimy cap contains a rather strong toxin that is heat stable and not extracted by boiling water.

Footnote 3: 28 April 2016

There has been some suggestion that smaller specimens are firmer than larger specimens.  To investigate this, I picked some fresh S. granulatus and dried them on a wire rack over the wood stove, without peeling them.  The results are shown in the graph below.   It can be seen that there is a clear linear relationship between the wet and dry weights and that the dry material is about 6.5% of the wet weight.  In other words, they are 93.5% water.  In other words, there is no evidence that the smaller specimens are more solid than the large ones.

None of the specimens appeared overtly wet.  Perhaps if there had been more rain, they might have had a higher moisture content.   By comparison, oyster mushrooms are reported to have between 70 and 95% moisture content.  Agaricus bisporus is reported to have a moisture content of between 88.6 and 91.3 percent.  That means that the Agaricus mushrooms are about 60 percent more substantial than the Suillus.

moisture content

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Agaricus arvensis – almond mushroom

At various times of year, including mid summer, the parks around Perth erupt in large amounts of mushrooms.  These grow in circles that can be 10 or more metres in diameter.

Viewed up close, the mushrooms have a distinctive appearance.

These mushrooms have a smell of almonds that varies in intensity, depending on the location.   Some smell so stongly of almonds that they can only be used as a flavouring.  The almond smell is due to the presence of benzaldehyde.  This has been shown by gas chromatography.

These mushrooms are white gilled initially and then the gills turn to dark brown with age.   They also bruise yellow, which is often taken as a sign of inedibility.   In fact, however, the yellow staining mushrooms that must be avoided are Agaricus xanthodermus and other species  which contain phenol.    To be able to eat these mushrooms with confidence, one needs to be able to distinguish between the smell of phenol and the smell of benzaldehyde.   That is the smell of phenyl disinfectant and the smell of almond essence.

I find that the small mushrooms are the best to eat.   I have seen other people collecting these.   Some elderly Italian gentlemen.   I have also grown this mushroom.  Well, just one small one!

Here is a picture of a small one, taken in Dagleish, Perth, on 29 March 2010.

In fact, these were the first mushrooms to be put into cultivation, before the normal Agaricus bisporus, and if the early attempts at cultivation had turned out differently, we might be used to the taste of almond mushrooms.

Since these mushrooms grow in the open sunlight, it is interesting to speculate whether they contain significant quantities of vitamin D, since the development of this vitamin has been demonstrated in other members of the genus when exposed to ultraviolet light, as described in this slide presentation.

Here is a few that I picked one lunchtime that are sitting on my keyboard in my former office in Perth.

Agaricus xanthodermus, the one that has the phenolic smell, is not something that I have encountered often.   I did come across this bunch of them growing in sand at Yeagarup though on 5 May 2007.  The smell was very distinctive as was the yellow colour of the base of the stem.  The yellow colour is due to a the oxidation of the phenolic group of leucoagaricone to form agaricone, by atmospheric oxygen.

One last comment.  These mushrooms only have white gills at the immature stage.  One should be very careful to ensure that the gills turn brown with age.  Never eat a mushroom with white gills in the belief that it is a field mushroom unless you have established that you are looking at the immature stage of an Agaricus.   That will take some experience.  Failure to heed this advise could be fatal!

Mature specimens of Agaricus never have white gills.  The deadly Amanitas do.

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Agaricus bitorquis – a classic field mushroom

When the first autumn rains come it is time to head down to the secret mushroom site where Agaricus bitorquis can be found year after year.

For some reason, they seem to favour growing under she-oak trees. Quite often they are found fully grown but still buried, with just the top of the cap visible in the middle of a lump in the ground.

These mushrooms can grow very big. 150mm across is not uncommon and they are thick and fleshy with it. When cut, the surfaces bruise slightly red. This picture shows one I am holding in my hand to give some idea of size and shape.

When cut through, they show a reddish staining, as shown on this picture.

mushrooms_stain_20_seconds[1]

 

At my favourite site for bitorquis, there are several other edible mushrooms. In this picture can be seen some Coprinus comatus and an Agaricus arvensis, all picked at the same site and ready for the pan!

As a postscript, I have read that these are sold as supermarket mushrooms, though I have never seen the red staining so distinct as on the ones in the wild.

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The Hedgehog Mushroom – Hydnum ‘repandum’

One very common mushroom throughout the SW of WA is a species commonly known as Hydnum repandum. It differs from normal mushrooms in that it has spines instead of gills or pores.

It can be found in open marri/jarrah forest in hills around Perth, but down here I find it most frequently in association with tea-tree (Taxandria) scrub on my property. Like the Chantarelle, it grows in rings.

It is a relatively long lasting mushroom, not prone to insect attack or rot. Though small, it is not hard to pick enough for a meal or two in half an hour if you are in the right area.

Here is a plateful that I picked one day.

 

A favourite dish I make with these involves putting them into a pan with some chicken stock and red wine and reducing the volume to about half. Then chicken can be added, along with vegetables and some cream to finish.

A close-up of the mushroom is shown below, but the colour leaves something to be desired.   I will try to get a better one this season.

 

These also occur on the east coast where they are reported to grow in Messmate forest in Victoria.

There is another very similar species or perhaps variety that grow in close proximity to these ones.  They have been described as Hydnum ‘chestnut’ or Hydnum aff. repandum.  These ones have a longer stem and a chestnut brown cap.  I have also eaten these and they taste similar though they are not as robust in form as the orange toned species.  This one also grows in Victoria and Tasmania.

hydnum chestnut

Hydnum ‘chestnut'(crocidens), on my place

Both of these forms can exhibit a deep pore at the centre of the cap.  I did wonder if this was Hydnum umbilicatum, but Roger Hilton advised me otherwise and since this feature appears to be randomly distributed in specimens of both types, it is most likely a morphological variation rather than a separate variety or species.

Note: August 2016

Some recent DNA information from suggests that the chestnut variety is Hydnum crocidens.  It is interesting then to see the similarities between these mushrooms and those on Clive Shirley’s NZ site that are named as varieties of Hydnum crocidens.

It is even more interesting to read a recent  phylogenetic analysis of Hydnum based on DNA analysis and published in May 2016.  This puts paid to any concept that this mushroom is Hydnum repandum.  Specimens in the WA Herbarium are of un-named species (17 and 19) and others are unequivocally Hydnum crocidens.  The 3 species from New Zealand are all found in Australia.

 

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