There are quite a few edible fungi in Australia, but very little accumulated experience as to their edibility and almost no expertise in identification.
This makes consumption of wild mushrooms in Australia a pastime only for the few who are willing to take the time to gather the necessary experience in identification and cautionary procedures.
There is little history of mushroom poisoning in Australia. This is primarily because the population share a common fear of mushrooms that are not bought in a shop. That is a good thing. It is not a field for fools or those that would conclude that the lack of poisoning indicates a lack of deadly species. There is no simple test for edibility. None. You really need to know what you are doing in this field, or risk a very nasty death.
With that forwarning, let me describe a few of the mushrooms that I eat.
The first of these is my personal favourite. Armillaria luteobubalina. It is a native mushroom and is very widespread. It tends to attack weak plants in the forest situation, but will run rampant in gardens or in logged areas. It is slowly killing many of the trees in the iconic Kings Park, in Perth.
If you take but the slightest morsel of this mushroom in the raw state, you will find that it had the most bitter taste imaginable. You will be spitting it out for half an hour. But the slightest blanching in hot water removes the taste completely. Cooking in any form also removes the taste. Once that is accomplished, this mushroom has a wonderful texture (young specimens in particular) and flavour enhancing properties. I love to cook it with a little butter and some ham. Delicious!
I have been eating this mushroom for a decade or so without ever finding any others that enjoyed its delights. Not until I discovered, by chance, that a little old Italian lady, who lives in the old peoples home in my town, has been eating it for years. Her English is not very good, even though she has lived here for perhaps 40 or 50 years. I find it hard to communicate with her. One day I must visit her with a native Italian speaker and record her story. There is almost no history of European consumption of native fungi in Australia.
Edit May 2016
As time goes by I learn more about this. I find that Italian people not just locally but across the country have been eating these since the 1950s at least. They pickle them and they are known as Chiodini, or ‘little nails’. Google tells me that several species are so described. Anyway, I fully intend to try this process out this year.
It should be possible to cultivate this mushroom and it has in fact been grown in vitro in a small way. It is certainly not difficult to get it growing on agar by sterile cloning. The resultant growth develops rhizomorphs, the same structures that are responsible for the spread of the fungus in the wild. I think that the culture looks a bit like an alien. 🙂
Update: 25 June 2012
Armillaria luteobubalina is not the only species of honey fungus in Australia. We also have A. hinnulea. Kathy of Northern NSW has these growing and has tentatively tried them. She found that it lacked the bitter taste of A. luteobubalina and when cooked it had a mild, slightly sweet taste. Images of her mushrooms, together with some discussion, can be found here.
Mention should also be made of Armillaria novae-zelandiae and Armillaria limonea both of which are reported as having been eaten without ill effect by Hall et al in the book “Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms An Introduction” ISBN 0-478-10806-0. Interestingly, in the same book, they report Armillaria luteobubalina as being ‘bitter and inedible’. I had some for lunch today and they were certainly neither of those things!
Armillea luteobubalina featured in the Australian Fungi stamp set issued in 1981. The notes that went with the issue take care to explain that the edibility of Australian species has not been fully investigated and until further investigation is conducted they should be regarded as inedible as a protection. 🙂
Update 1 September 2012
In parts of Italy, they eat Armillaria mellea, which has an annular ring, but they don’t collect another variety that looks similar but doesn’t have a ring. The text on this photo translates as:
“Here from our parts, theres also this variety without ring, however, is not collected, as well as with much sought after ring of armillaria mellea.Have a great weekend!!
Update 4 October 2015
Armillaria luteobubalina was first described from a collection made in eastern Victoria in 1978.
In a paper by G.A. Kile of the CSIRO and R Watling of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Scotland, published in the Transactions of the British Mycological Society in 1981, under the title ‘An expanded concept of Armillaria luteobubalina’ they describe the occurrence of this mushroom in south eastern Australia but comment that it is unknown in WA. That rather surprised me given the significance it has in the karri forest. A subsequent paper by Kile et al in 1983 first details the occurrence in WA.
In a paper addressing Armillaria in the karri forest, published in 2003 by Robinson, Williams and Smith and of the Department of Conservation and Land Management, the issue of spread of the fungus by spore dispersal is discussed included is the following quote:
“In mixed-species eucalypt forests in Victoria, Kile (1983) reported 36 genotypes of luteobubalina from a total forest area of 24 ha, and estimated that new disease centres, arising from basidiospore infection, had occurred at the rate of less than one per year. Thus disease spread by airborne spore dispersal does not need to be considered when formulating management options in eucalypt forests infested with A. luteobubalina.”
The main means of spread of the fungus is by root contact and that transport of specimens is unlikely to be a problem in terms of spreading disease. This contrasts with some other species of Armillaria elsewhere.
Another interesting thing about Armillaria is that in most cases the mycelium and the mushroom are composed of diploid cells (with a single fused nucleus). This contrasts with other mushrooms that have dikaryotic cells (with two unfused nuclei).
In terms of eating, I have found that frying it in a mixture of oil and butter at a high heat until it just begins to brown produces an excellent flavour.