Archive for Edible Fungi

Gymnopilus junonius – a possibility?

Gymnopilus junonius is also known as Gymnopilus spectabilis according to some sources (Arora p 411 for example) and I am assuming that equivalence in much of the discussion that follows. It is also known and Big Laughing Gym, since there are reports of the species being hallucinogenic.  However, it is more likely that it has been confused with another species of the same genus.  Either that, or the chemistry varies a lot (and in fact there are sources which suggest such regional variation in the chemistry).  Bettye Rees, an Australian authority on the genus, describes it as a cosmopolitan species (6).  She does not equate it with G. spectabilis though, but with G. pampeanus.

This fungus is extremely common in Autumn in my part of the world, forming huge clumps on the base of dying trees and old stumps.  It occurs widely across the continent and Rees even suggests that it may be an import due to its presence on pine stumps.   I have seen it both on pine stumps and at the base of marri trees.  Apart from the reports of hallucinogenic activity, the species is not considered to be poisonous.  The dominant feature to anyone who tastes this mushroom is its extreme bitterness.   It is seriously unpleasant! Nobody with any sense of taste could possibly consume these, even if desperate for some thrill.

A little bit of experimentation however reveals that the unpleasant bitter taste can be removed by washing with vinegar and probably any other food acid.  By contrast, sodium bicarbonate does not remove the bitter taste.  This simple experiment reveals that the taste is acid soluble.

Given the knowledge gained from this experiment, I prepared some strips of the mushroom, leached them twice with vinegar and then rinsed with water.  The result was something that retained some vinegar taste but was free of the horrible bitterness.  I consumed a small portion without ill effect, or hallucinations!  So, I put this mushroom forward a possible food.

As with everything, one would need to be very sure of identification before proceeding with this.  And any experimentation should be undertaken with caution, but I see some possibilities.

Further notes 28 June 2012

My background in chemistry has caused me to become intrigued with this mushroom.  I have done some more research and find an amazing array of conflicting statements, first hand experiences and views on chemistry.

The first thing is that this species does appear to have been responsible for various hallucinogenic experiences and reports of this range from traditional Japanese sources (1), to present day forums that discuss these things.  It is said that the mushroom is consumed by people in Oguni in Yamagata prefecture, a mountainous area in Japan without ill effect when the bitter components are removed by boiling in water. (2).  The fact that the mushroom is mentioned from traditional Japanese stories, as well as the comment that it is eaten today makes the history of Japanese consumption an interesting topic.   It may well have been eaten for a thousand years in Japan. Kusano’s comment “Some people have described intoxication as a result of accidental ingestion of incorrectly cooked mushrooms” is an interesting comment, as it would be hard to eat them if the bitterness was not removed.

There are many sources that say this mushroom contains psilocybin, but many more that refute that.  I cannot find any reports in peer-reviewed journals of isolation of that chemical from this species.  It seems much more likely that the presence of that component has been inferred or simply claimed without due diligence (3) and many others.

Correction  23/02/2013:  There is a report of psilocybin in this genus, including G. spectabilis, which is another name for this mushroom.  The levels are low though.

Lloydia. 1978 Mar-Apr;41(2):140-4.  (just beyond the online numbers).
An example of a report that fails to find psilocybin is:
Stijve and Kuyper (1988)  Absence of psilocybin in species of fungi previously reported to contain psilocybin and related tryptamine derivatives. Persoonia 13:463-465
as well as ref(2)

Other literature sources report and discuss the presence of bis noryangonin and compare these to the components of kava to account for the observed activity.  This may be the case, but one might expect the resultant experience to be mild.  Rees reports the presence of hispidin and bis-noryangonin in many but not all specimens of the genus in Australia.  These are responsible for the yellow colour that has allowed the mushroom to be used to dye fabric.

Yet another explanation of the effects of the mushroom attribute it to the bitter principles, gymnopilins, that are said to have neurotoxic effects.   (4).  I have a copy of this last paper and the striking thing from my point of view is that the components that they examine are ones that are in the acidic fraction, which is the one we would expect to extract with a solution of sodium  bicarbonate.  We would not expect these to be extracted by vinegar.   It brings me to wonder if they have actually proven that they are examining the bitter principle.  There is no mention of taste tests.   Their initial extraction with methanol may leave a mushroom devoid of bitterness (it does), but they do not report on the bitterness of subsequent fractions.

So, I caution the reader.  The chemistry is not well-defined.  The source of any psychotropic effects has three explanations, none of which may be correct.  For the moment, I can only report my experience which is that the bitter taste can be removed with vinegar  and small portions of the resulting mushroom are edible and non-toxic.

Further tests involving boiling and (acid leaching followed by alkaline leaching) are indicated.  This may take years.  It is a very interesting exploration though.

References to follow.

Further note 24 July 2012

I found a large specimen and cut off a quarter of the cap and boiled it in about a litre of water for 5 minutes.  I then removed the piece and rinsed it with cold water.   Tasting revealed that the boiling process had indeed removed the bitter taste from the mushroom.  Further tasting revealed that the bitter principle had been transferred to the water broth, which had taken on a rusty orange colour.

Perusal of a forum dedicated consumption of  psychotropic mushrooms (5)  indicates that people consume the bitter ‘tea’ made from the mushrooms to get intoxicated, so that is further support that the leached mushrooms should not cause any ill effects.


1.  Tom Volk’s fungus of the month for  April 2005

Kusano et al.  Chem Pharm Bull 34:3465-3470

3. In-Kyoung Lee et al.  Mycobiology 36(1):55-59 (2008)

4. Tanaka et al.  Neurotoxic oligoisoprenoids of the hallucinogenic mushroom, Gymnopilus spectabilis.  Phytochemistry 34

, 661-664(1993)

5.  Shoomery forum post #3307843


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Marasmius oreades – an expensive import?

Marasmius oreades is known the world over as the fairy ring mushroom.  I have not come upon them in the wild, though they do grow in Australia, having probably been imported from Europe.  I came upon them in a market in Perth, where they were being sold for $160 per kilogram, imported from France!  The picture below shows what they look like by the time they have been picked, shipped and packed. Mousseron In France, these are known as Mousserons. Note.  October 2012.  After investigating further during my trip to France, it appears that Marasmius oreades is known as the Faux Mousseron.  Mousseron is applied to Marasmius oreades by English speakers, while the French refer to Calocybe gambosa or St George’s mushroom as mousseron, or mousseron vrai.  This muddies the waters somewhat as it is not easy to distinguish the identity of the dried specimens above.  The way the stems split and their relative thickness would seem to be contrary to what one would expect from M. oreades.  I will pick some in the morning and investigate this further. I will leave the reader to investigate further the identification of these mushrooms.  This investigation should be undertaken with care, as there are lots of mushrooms that come up in fairy rings, and some of them are extremely poisonous. Here is a link describing them in Victoria. (I need to find a new link it seems) Update October 2012 Here is a picture of some of these mushrooms growing in France, in the village of  Correze, which I am visiting to attend the annual mushroom festival.  These are in the lawn of the place where I am staying.   I will take one down to the fete tomorrow to have the identification verified.

Marasmius oreades growing in France

A couple of distinctive features of this mushroom are the dark raised central region of the cap, and the toughness of the stem, which can be twisted back on itself without breaking.

Twisted fairy

While I was in France, I was invited to visit a farm in the Alpes Maritimes, at an elevation of 1000m.  Here I was shown M. oreades growing in classic fairy rings in an open paddock.   The rings could be seen quite clearly by their dark green colour in comparison to the surrounding grass.  The image below shows my host kneeling down to harvest some mushrooms from one of the rings.

Picking M. oreades from fairy ring.

Picking M. oreades from fairy ring.

See also my fellow blogger for further information


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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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Shaggy Parasol – not worth the risk

Chorophyllum rochodes is a known as the shaggy parasol mushroom and is classed as edible.  There are many other mushrooms of similar appearance, however and I strongly discourage people from eating this genus or any of the related ones, such as Lepiota.   The risk of fatal poisoning due to a mistaken identity is real and the consequences too awful to contemplate.

Another member of the genus, Chlorophyllum molybdites (below) has a very similar appearance, but instead of white gills, they are feintly green.  It is not a deadly mushroom, but it will make you very sick and is a common cause of mushroom poisoning in North America.

I won’t elaborate further in the identification of these mushrooms, since I do not advocate even considering them for consumption.  And that says something!

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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.


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.

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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 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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