Posts tagged Australian edible mushrooms

Vascellum pratense – an edible puffball

A very common sight in lawns in autumn in WA is Vascellum pratense, a small white puffball that grows no more than about 50 mm across.  If you pick one of these when it is new, the interior is white and is has a mushroom smell.   Later on the inside becomes a mass of brown spores that emerge through a hole in the top.  The sheer quantity of spores released by these mushrooms is so vast that one can only imagine the success rate of germination and formation of a new colony is extremely small.   Investigations of other puffballs support this conclusion.

As it is rather difficult to photograph this mushroom in situ, I have taken a few pictures of one that I have picked.  Here it is as it has been freshly picked from a lawn:

Vascellum pratense as picked

Vascellum pratense as picked

When cut in half, the mushroom shows two distinct zones:

Sectioned specimen showing two zones

Sectioned specimen showing two zones

The upper surface has a fine warty texture:

Texture of upper surface

Texture of upper surface

Examining a specimen day after picking, the outer surface takes on a slightly gold colour if it is rubbed hard with a finger.  The inside flesh also shows a very faint yellow when bruised.

To eat these, it is recommended that they be picked before the top zone begins to turn into a spore mass.   In other words, while the flesh is all white.  They are not considered to be a particularly desirable edible.   I fried some up in oil, where they browned very quickly, and then incorporated them in an omlette.  The taste was not unpleasant.  There did appear to be an after taste that suggested a flavour enhancing effect.

Comment, May 2016

I think it is important to cook them while they are very fresh.  I left some overnight and they softened slightly and the taste took on a slightly bitter edge.

These are quite a distinctive species.  The main thing to be careful of is not to confuse them with the genus Scleroderma.   There is one suggestion that the skin should be removed prior to cooking.   I didn’t do this however.

These can be a problem for greenkeepers when they colonise bowling greens or golf greens.  Here is an example of such an invasion on the bowling green at Nannup in May 2016.

circle of pratense

Fairy rings of Vascellum pratense on the bowling green at Nannup

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Dictyophora indusiata (Phallus indusiatus)- an edible stinkhorn

There are quite a few mushrooms that are classified as stinkhorns.  Many of these are said to be edible in the  egg stage.  Dictyophora indusiata is however edible as the mature mushroom and it is cultivated in significant quantities in China.  It is an attractive looking mushroom as shown below.

Dictyophora_indusiata

Dictyophora indusiata, Cairns, Queensland, by Steve Fitzgerald

The name refers to the net-like skirt or indusium which is a transient feature, soon falling away to reveal the stem.  The mushroom is also known as Phallus indusiatus, for obvious reasons but for the purposes of this post I have retained the earlier name.  This is a mushroom of tropical areas.  I have not encountered it in the wild personally, though I have seen the very similar Dictyophora multicolor in Cairns.  I have however encountered it in canned form in an Asian food shop in Perth.

 

When opened up, the contents of the can were almost pure white, odourless and contained the entire mushroom, including the cap, cut into pieces, in brine.

 

Like other stinkhorns, when encountered in the wild,  it has a disgusting smell.  Rather remarkably, this repulsive smell has been claimed to cause spontaneous female orgasms in the case of a Hawaian species!  Whether that is the case or not (and I have my doubts) the canned product does not have any hint of this smell.  From what I have been able to determine, the fungus is washed to remove the spore material that contains the odour components.

I cooked up some of the pieces, which contained quite a lot of water, in a frying pan with a little olive oil and then added them to an omlette.   I found that the taste was best in the pieces that had been slightly browned.  This may be due to the considerable amount of glucose contained in the structure of the cell walls.

I should note that one Chinese site (that is a translation) indicates that species that have a yellow veil (indusium) are toxic.  That would include Dictyophora multicolor.

I report this mushroom because it does occur in Australia and it is edible.  However, it might be an adventurous person who attempts to eat it.   I would be interested if anyone finds this or any of the other stinkhorns, and can let me know if the smell can be removed by washing.  Meanwhile, it is readily available in canned form.  And if you want a genuine Chinese recipe, you might like to try this one from the site above:

“Casserole in disposable full of water and put it into the old hen, add ginger fluff block a, a teaspoon of cooking wine first and bring to a boil over high heat, low heat slowly stew. 炖鸡时,为了防止汤水溢出,可以在砂锅上架两根竹筷,再盖上锅盖。 Stewed chicken, in order to prevent the soup overflow in the casserole shelves two bamboo chopsticks, then cover the pot. 大约三小时后,鸡汤已经呈现金黄色。 After about three hours, the chicken soup has a golden yellow. 这时可以将已经用水发过的竹荪切段,投入鸡汤中,再炖,等竹荪充分浸润了鸡汤的味道后,根据个人口味加盐,关火,撒一点点葱花增香,就可上桌了。 Then you can the segment of the water has hair Dictyophora cut, put into chicken soup, then boiled, etc. Dictyophora fully infiltrating the taste of chicken soup, according to personal taste with salt, and turn off the heat, sprinkle a little chopped green onion flavoring, can be serve.

【要点】给鸡焯水时不要弄破鸡皮;水发竹荪要多浸泡一会儿,才会去除那股怪味儿,竹荪不要放多,否则会夺鸡汤的鲜味;如果老母鸡肚子里油很多,要挖出来扔掉一点,尤其是在夏天对于喜欢清淡的人来讲。 [Points to the chicken boiled water not to break the chicken skin; The the water hair Dictyophora to soak for a while, before removal of the sense of smell children Dictyophora Do not put too much, otherwise it will seize the flavor of the chicken soup; old hen stomach where oil is a lot to be dug up and threw it away a bit, especially in the summer for people like light.].
(I think that was written by the person who did the instructions for my portable router table   🙂

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Laccaria proxima – an abundant species

Laccaria proxima is known from both Europe and North America.   In my area it is strictly associated with pine plantations.   I believe that the pine species is the Maritime Pine, Pinus pinaster.  The occurence of L. proxima is variable, but it appears to be extremely common in well established plantations with trees of a diameter of around 300 mm.

In June in these forests there is a wide variety of fungi, including several small mushrooms with brown caps.   Laccaria proxima is distinctive in that it has pale salmon pink gills that are not crowded.  This distinguishes it from another abundant species with yellow gills that are crowded as shown below.  Laccaria proxima has a white spore print.  This should be checked.

Laccaria proxima, with pink gills on the right.

L. proxima varies in size from about 20 mm to 80mm in diameter.  The stems can be up to 100mm long and they emerge from the pine needle mat. Underneath the mat, one can see the white mycelium in a layer on the top of the soil.  As the mushrooms grow, they move from having slightly inrolled margins to curling up so that the gills are exposed.   Below are pictures of the different stages.

A young specimen

Mature specimens

A distinctive feature is the striations on the stem.  These stems are quite tough.  A small white mite was present on the specimens  that I picked in late June.   They are a long lasting mushroom that does not otherwise get attacked by insects.

I prepared some of these by washing them and then frying in a pan with oil.   I had to decant some of the water during cooking as it had caught up in the gills.  I added some ham to the mixture in the pan and ate them on toast.   The taste resembled Volvariella slightly, though it was not as intense.   I found that it left a pleasant after taste when I had finished the meal and this lingered for some time.

There is a smaller abundant  native species, Laccaria lateritia.  It is very similar in general appearance, but it is smaller and the stems do not display the same striations as in L. proxima.  It is probably edible as well but I have not tried it at this stage.

This is an interesting mushroom because of its abundance and well established edibility from overseas experience.  Though it is not considered to be a choice edible, it is quite palatable and the pleasant after taste makes it interesting.  I suspect that it has a flavour enhancing quality to it.

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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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Wood ear – an Asian cooking favourite

Wood ear mushrooms, Auricularia cornea, are often seen for sale in Asian food shops.  The grow quite widely on the east coast – I have seen them around the Lismore area, and they grow in the  Cairns area as well as in the Hunter valley, where you can find an excellent description here.

I don’t have an image in my collection, but if someone would be kind enough to donate one, I would be happy to use it and give appropriate credit.

I have not eaten this one, and don’t know how to cook it either, but would be happy to have information on this.   Cultures of these mushrooms are available in Australia, via an enthusiast, on the east coast at least.

Update 29 June 2012

I have had a kind offer of use of images from Kathy.  Here is one reproduced below.

Auricularia cornea by Kathy

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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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Phlebopus marginatus – Salmon gum bolete

Phlebopus marginatus has the largest fruiting body of any mushroom in Australia.  It is a truly spectacular mushroom.  I am including it here as it is recorded as being edible, but the sheer joy of the whole growth event may surpass any pleasure from eating it.

In Western Australia it is known as the Salmon gum bolete, and  Roger Hilton has recorded it as being edible.  The pictures below, however, are from Victoria  (thanks lizza)

It grows in rings.  These might be described as circles of giants.

The actual size of an individual mushroom can be up to a metre in diameter.  This picture shows one in comparison with a block splitter that is 800 mm in length.

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Coprinus comatus – The shaggy ink cap

This mushroom is not a native, but it grows in Australia.  It is often found in parks and on waste ground and once established in a patch of ground, they will come up year after year.  Often, they favour grassed areas where the grass clippings are allowed to rot down in situ.  The one below is on the edge of the local football oval where it comes up each year with the onset of the first rains and continues to fruit through winter.

These mushrooms, in common with all the members of the genus, self-decompose into a black inky mess.   The one above is beginning to go through that process and the one below is well into it.

For culinary purposes, the mushrooms need to be picked before the decomposition process has set in.  Decomposing specimens need to be kept apart from fresh ones.   They can be kept in iced water in the fridge for about half a day to avoid onset of the decomposition reaction.

For years I tried to incorporate these mushrooms into dishes without much success.  They always turned into a horrible slimy mess.  Then someone explained the trick.  You need to slice them and then toss them in a pan for a while on low heat until they have lost a good proportion of their moisture.  After that, they can be cooked as you would a normal mushroom.  The de-watering step ensures that they remain firm during the cooking process.

It is also possible to dry these mushrooms if you happen to have a dryer, or if the weather is sunny.  Drying must be done to the point of crispness.  Once dried, they can be used to impart a distinctive flavour to dishes.

Many books declare that this mushroom cannot be eaten with alcohol.  Unfortunately, this is a myth that has been propagated throughout the world.  Some of the confusion is due to the fact that the mushrooms that do cause this problem used to be grouped in the same genus, Coprinus.   With the advent of DNA profiling, things have been changed around and there are now only a few species left in the genus Coprinus.   The offending mushrooms are now in the genus Coprinopsis.  The most well known member of the genus that causes problems with alcohol is Coprinopsis atramentaria, the common ink cap.   It is notable that Coprinopsis and Coprinus are not only different genera, but they are in different families.   Coprinus is in Agaricaceae and Coprinopsis is in Psathyrellacea.  They are not even closely related!

The compound that causes the issues with alcohol is known as Coprine.   It is an unusual amino acid.  There are other unusual amino acids in other fungi that are also responsible for toxic effects.    The structure and breakdown reaction of coprine are shown below.

 

 

coprine mechanism

When we consume alcohol, our body processes it in a specific way.   It is first converted to acetaldehyde and then that is acted on by an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase which converts the acetaldehyde to acetic acid.   The aminocyclopropanol in the reaction above blocks the action of aldehyde dehydrogenase and the result is an accumulation of acetaldehyde in the body.   This is toxic and it gives a reaction similar to Antabuse, a drug that has been used to treat alcoholism.
There is no truth in the idea that coprine itself has been used to treat alcoholism.  It has far to many other toxic side effects to be used clinically.   One of those side effects is to cause tumours in the reproductive system of males.

 

Coprinus comatus is a relatively large mushroom.  It can attain a height of 200 mm or more and is typically 20 to 30 mm in diameter.   It should not be confused with some of the similar looking small species that are sometimes seen on composts for example.  One mushroom of similar stature that occurs in my part of the world is Coprinopsis aff. stangliana.   It is shown in the image below kindly provided by Luke Cashmore.

Coprinopsis aff. stangliana

Coprinopsis aff. stangliana

 

 

 

 

Footnote May 2011. I found a large patch of these growing nearby a few days ago and picked several kilograms of them. In order to handle them quickly, I decided to chop them and render them down to a soup in a stainless steel pot. It was an expensive pot with a copper insert in the base and I bought it for making jam. They rendered down nicely and I left the pot on the stove overnight, then decanted it into two smaller containers in the morning. The resultant mix had a pleasant, almost sweet smell. However, upon tasting a small sample of soup made from the mix, my senses were soon overcome by an unpleasant metallic taste. Research suggests that this is 1-octene-3-one. I can still taste it after 24 hours and two intervening meals. I have never tasted anything with such a persistant after taste. So that is something to be wary of with this mushroom. I have dried a smaller sample of them, and will investigate their taste with caution.

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