Nooooo. You don't BREED mushrooms. They are mushrooms. And as every girl who has ever gone out on a date with the sullen guy knows, MUSHROOMS don't get romantic.
So there is a point I'm going to make.
- Mushrooms are NOT like plants.
- They do not have gender. EVER.
- They do not "cross breed". Not really.
- They are not "pollinated", and you cannot blend mushroom genetics like plants.
- They are not like people. They do not have pairs of genes.
They DO hybridize. But it is different, and it isn't quite like breeding, not even like plants.
Mushrooms grow from a mycellial mass, just fungal roots that spread through whatever they are growing on or in. That mass produces fruit, in the form of the mushroom. A mushroom may have different genetic elements to cause the various shapes, colors, and other features particular to that mushroom, but it is still all that same single mushroom.
The fruit is DIFFERENT than the mycellial roots that constitute the base of the organism, yet it retains the mycellial genetics also.
Mushrooms can be DIVIDED, and each part will be capable of propagation.
You can divide the mycellium of any part.
You can cut the "roots" and put this part there, and this part here, and both will grow. It doesn't cry when you do this, it just reforms and continues to grow.
If you pick a mushroom (the fruit of the mycellial mass), that mushroom can be divided into pieces, and each piece is capable of creating an entirely new organism. You can bury part, and it can grow into a new mycellial mass if conditions are right. Even those decorated cap parts will revert genetically if buried in the ground, and turn into more "roots".
This is because mushrooms do not form a complex organism like a person.
Mushrooms CLONE, from any cell.
If you take part of one, it will create an identical organism, genetically.
Of course, that isn't always stable, because environmental factors can MUTATE the genetics, and create a new organism form. But cloning is absolutely a reality with mushrooms, and it is how things are done with them, both in nature, and in industrial cultivation.
But as I said, they CAN HYBRIDIZE, as long as they are compatible.
Many Genera are EASY hybridizers. You put two together, and they will BLEND the genetics. They won't just intermingle, they will cross the genetics and create a new form.
Hybridizing is a varied process.
Some mushrooms are more genetically dominant than others. So you put a LITTLE BIT of this one with a LOT of that one, and eventually the smaller mass just OVERCOMES the larger, and usually the genetics are blended some in the process, IF they are compatible.
If they are NOT compatible, they just intermingle and wrangle it out, side by side.
For other mushrooms, a similar mass is needed from each species, to induce hybridization, if they are similarly dominant.
With still others, they are highly compatible, and any mixing of the mycellium will result in a mingling of genetics, and it can happen very rapidly, because they are so similar genetically to begin with.
This is one way that mushroom species are influenced by intentional, or even unintentional cultivation. There are many variables that can make the process somewhat unpredictable, even when you understand what many of the variables are.
Some species do NOT hybridize easily. They just don't intermingle their genetics, even when they are in the same genus.
Some are easily MUTATED, and various environmental influences may cause them to create many forms, and this can create a new species, or even an entirely new Genus. This is in response to genetic DAMAGE, and survival dictates that the organism become something new in the face of harm.
Other types of mushrooms are ADAPTERS. It is a form of Mutation, but it is a gradual one, done for survival, and not due to damage. If they are placed in a new environment which is not optimal, they may adapt, by slow genetic change, to produce better and better in that environment. In time, they may be very different from the original mushroom that was transplanted.
Every single cell in a mushroom is capable of cloning, and the process of changing the nature of a species or of creating a new genera is one of finding a means of stimulating the change.
We SEE this in nature if we forage much. We also see this on the farm if we grow mushrooms.
This part is fascinating for the MycoGeek, and it gives us much to think about in interpreting what we see, and in planning what we want to try to produce.
Mycellium contamination, especially with sterile growing methods, is a nasty thing. It happens because there's really no such thing as "sterile" growing (after all, a growing thing is LIVING, and cannot be STERILE or it would be DEAD). When you sterilize a substrate, you leave it WIDE OPEN to opportunistic contaminations, many of which are ALREADY IN your culture! But they'd be in the AIR if they weren't, and you just can't keep it completely free from SOMETHING getting at it.
But this ISN'T about the sterile versus non-sterile argument, it is about something else. Because BOTH KINDS of methods attract nasty contaminations.
What we want, is to get the culture from spores, or mycellial plugs, through to a completed spawn run and to fruiting.
The issue we have isolated that encourages MOLD growth at the expense of mycellial growth, is TOO MUCH WATER.
When you sow into a WET substrate, Mold LOVES IT. Mycellium TOLERATES it, but does not LOVE it.
We live with this myth that mushrooms love wet conditions and they do not. They FRUIT under wet conditions, and they require WATER to PIN and to FRUIT.
But a Spawn Run takes VERY LITTLE water.
Look into the woods and meadows. The places that mushrooms grow often have heavy water only a few times a year. In observing various climates, we notice that rain forests have mushroom SEASONS the same as dry climates, and the mushrooms grown in well drained areas.
Shiitake will run on stacked logs that are fairly dry, and requires water in preparation for fruiting.
This is the experiment to try, and this is a cultivation method that works well, but it DOES NOT WORK with Spore Syringes.
Take a piece of mushroom, and cut it up into small pieces. NO SLURRY HERE! Just small mushroom bits. Dices, or shreds, or something.
If you have DRIED mushroom, or dried gills, then the process is different, you need an extra step HERE.
Get a container (you have to be able to close it to protect the humidity and the mushroom from pests).
Put a SMALLER container (like a 1/2 cup jar, or a condiment cup, or something about that size) INTO the larger container.
Fill the SMALL container half full of water. NO WATER in the large container.
Put your DRIED mushroom into the LARGE container, and put it somewhere warm, but not hot, and NOT in the sunlight. Make sure you COVER the large container.
It takes a few days for the dried mushroom to rehydrate in the humidity. IF you leave it too long, it will grow new mycellium which will consume the old piece of mushroom, and eventually it will die from lack of food.
This is just a way to get a REHYDRATED spore surface with a normal amount of moisture for the mushroom piece.
Once you have your bits of mushroom, get a 1 qt Ziplock Bag.
Put 1 cup of flour or cracked grain into the bag - fine sawdust will also do for wood digesters.
Put in the mushroom bits and shake it all around. Do the Hokey Pokey while you shake it upsidedown. Ok, not really. But shake it... Shake it good.
Leave it somewhere warm, or somewhere cooler, depending on the temp that the mycellium likes.
Near a heater vent for tropicals, or in a sunny window with a towel over it.
On top of the refrigerator for tropicals or heat lovers.
At room temp for a LOT of really good mushrooms. Just anywhere that won't heat up a lot, or cool down a lot.
In a basement for cooler temperate mushrooms.
In the fridge for cold loving mushrooms.
Every few days, go and shake it and examine it.
The first signs of mycellial growth will usually be a semi-solid clumping of the flour.
Once it grows a bit more (1-2 weeks) you'll see mycellial structure forming. You'll see it better with a magnifying glass, but you should be able to see this without magnification.
Eventually it kind of solids up a bit, and you should NOT let it become a solid mass. When it gets more difficult to break it up, it is ready to go. You don't break it up to KEEP it in pieces, you just break it up to MEASURE how much of it is mycellium.
Mix this into your final substrate - DO NOT wet down your substrate! Do NOT put it into wet substrate!
Just mix it into dry sawdust, dry compost, dry soil, or sow it into your lawn, lift some turf and tuck it under, bury some of it beneath a tree in the soil or under the duff.
Don't add water for about a week, IF AT ALL, and then DO NOT soak it in. Just give it a light spraying with a spray bottle if you are growing indoors, or a normal light spring shower if it is outdoors.
We learn from people who have tried this that the MOMENT you add water to a NEWLY cultured medium, it goes all to mold.
Mycellium draws moisture from the air, and USES reserve moisture in wood and compost that is not regarded by YOU as being significant.
We have a method for Spore Syringes, but it is difficult to be precise, there are so many variations.
You need at least a quart of dry media in a GALLON Zip Bag. NOTICE! We generally use COARSER media for this, it does not go all to glue like flour will. So use cracked grain, semi-fine sawdust, or other semi-fine particulate.
Use the syringe to sprinkle 1 ml of the contents of the syringe over the substrate.
Shake the bag until the wet spots are not detectible.
Leave overnight in an appropriate place. (Once you get a LITTLE humidity into the substrate, it will handle additions more easily, so the first pause is longer.)
In the morning, add another ml to the bag, and shake it again.
Repeat, morning and night, until the entire syringe is incorporated, or until you feel you have added enough. It can be done with relatively little, but this is just creating mycellium that you then expand into MORE dry substrate.
Watch for mycellial growth, it will do the same as the chopped mushroom, and start to clump the substrate. Break it to judge how far it has run in the media.
Proceed from that point the same as the method for mushroom pieces.
There are literally thousands of mushroom varieties worldwide. Of those, perhaps 2% are known to be safely edible, and perhaps 2% are known to be outright deadly. Another 3% (approximate) are considered dangerously poisonous, and about another 3% are safe for most people if prepared correctly but harmful if eaten carelessly. Somewhere in between, lie the other 90%. Unidentified, untested, many unnamed and unstudied, most not particularly tasty, nor interesting or plentiful enough to try.
The 2% on each end of the extremes are the ones we seem to see most often. The poisonous ones have been identified precisely because they are fairly common, or because they look very much like an edible variety. The edible ones have likewise been identified precisely because they are common enough to have been tried many times, and cataloged and studied, and usually because they are large enough to bother with.
Most “poisonous” mushrooms aren't deadly. They'll just make you sick. Perhaps a little queasy, or maybe really yucky, possibly curled up in fetal position moaning in agony but not outright deadly.
Most edible mushrooms should be cooked before eating. Some are considered safe when raw, but the majority are used after cooking.
Many edible mushrooms can cause reactions in sensitive people. A few are known for causing allergic reactions. Reactions can vary, so if you experience a reaction after consuming mushrooms, wait at least a week to let it clear out of your system before you try it again. If the reaction was severe, or potentially severe if it worsens (such as hives that go into your face or mouth, which may be a precursor to anaphylactic shock), then it is wise to avoid that particular mushroom in the future.
There are perhaps 50 fairly common edible mushroom varieties that will pop up in search results over and over, and on which you can find a reasonable amount of individual information. About another 50 will show up scattered here and there in the listings, but with insufficient data to even make an accurate identification.
Most poisonous “look alikes” really aren't look-alikes. There are distinctive differences which clearly show which is which – but you have to match all features, and know the mushrooms individually.
There is no single set rule that will tell you that this group is edible and that group is not.
Even within a species, the individual varieties differ – one may be edible, others may not. So you have to learn the identification markers for each mushroom – about 5-6 elements for each one. That takes time to learn, so if you are a budding mushroom hunter, you'll want to stick to a single variety until you learn it very well, then learn to identify another.
Mushrooms have never been a neutral thing in my life. People around me seem to either love them, or hate them. And then there are the true fanatics, who love every mushroom, and who seek out new varieties to try, as though mushrooms are the holy grail of food. Ok, so they feel about mushrooms like I feel about chocolate. I get that!
I was a mushroom hater. I have learned to tolerate them, as I have begun to eat more and more types of mushrooms. Growing them will do that to you. Honestly I had no idea there were so many popular mushroom types – nor so many that could be harvested by mushroom hunters in the wild.
You might ask what converted me? Strictly the health benefits. I had Crohn's Disease. I adjusted my diet, took several herbs to heal my bowels, eliminated processed foods and chemical additives, and made great progress. But I was only able to heal partially, due to some other health issues which had crept in while I had Crohn's. Stopping the Crohn's turned out to be easier than healing all the damage.
Turns out, mushrooms provide a range of benefits that just happened to be ones that I needed. Some of the suggested benefits center around minimizing damage from chemicals in our diet, and healing auto-immune disease (Crohn's is an auto-immune disease, and is invariably accompanied by a range of other auto-immune illnesses). Mushrooms seemed like a wise idea.
In all my life, the only mushrooms I had ever tried were those sad white button mushrooms that pass for food. I have no great opinion of them even now. Other mushrooms proved to be more palatable, and less reminiscent of slimy little bits of slug.
The more I studied, the more I learned about the various mushrooms, their individual healing strengths, and their useful nutritional value. I also learned about mushroom markets, salable products, and the types that sold well. I discovered rare and valuable mushrooms, and common commodity mushrooms. Since we were seeking a means of profiting from our farm, mushrooms looked like a good option there too, if we could devise a way to bypass the complexities that everyone else thought were a necessary part of producing sustainable mushroom crops.
I now encourage people with health problems to eat mushrooms. Not for any miracle cure, but simply because they are good food that helps individuals maintain or achieve better health. I am still rather ambivalent about most mushroom varieties when they are served on a plate in large enough pieces to identify the variety, but I've made a truce with them, and no longer detest them. I sort of envy those who love mushrooms.
The world is full of fungus, and somehow it has become a dirty word. “Mold” we think, is a Bad Thing, to eradicate and exterminate at all costs.
That attitude is in fact both futile, and harmful. Not only is it impossible to eradicate, but the effort to do so is actually counterproductive! Mold and fungus spores disperse and persist in the air. So you can never quite obliterate them – they'll just rematerialize and grow on whatever surface you just sterilized, even in a "clean room".
Sterilization of many things is in fact counterproductive, because when you sterilize something, you leave it wide open for opportunistic contamination. This does not refer to surgical situations, but rather to daily life, cultivation, and even food preparation. Even in surgery, the doctor only sterilizes what is OUTSIDE the body, not what is INSIDE it.
There are healthy bacteria and fungus around us, and unhealthy ones. In general, the healthy ones do a pretty good job of keeping the unhealthy ones in check – and bacteria and fungus have limiting affects on each other. So if you kill one, the other gets out of control – hence, when we take an antibiotic, we often end up with a fungal infection as a result of having killed off the friendly bacteria in our bodies.
So if you sterilize something, whatever you sterilized is now open territory. Whatever colonizes first will grow unrestrained, often very fast, and very aggressive. A microbe which was not a threat at all, will suddenly become very damaging.
This is why pasteurized milk is more prone to harmful contamination than raw milk. This is why sterilized potting soil always seems to grow mold faster than dirt from the garden. This is also one reason why farm fresh eggs, produced in the typical dirt, hay, mud, grub and skelter of the typical small farm, are less likely to carry salmonella than eggs produced in a controlled factory farm setting (extended time between gathering and consumption gives it plenty of time to grow). It is also why we now have more aggressive forms of food poisoning than we used to. A natural balance of microbes enhances the health of everyone involved, and reduces the chances that a single opportunistic microbe will run wild and multiply to the point of making anyone (or anything) sick.
Unfortunately, we've been taught in the last 5 decades to view all fungus as harmful. To think the word itself is somehow repulsive, and something to avoid. Never mind that some of the most healthy foods in the world are healthy specifically because they contain a large body of both bacteria and fungus. Never mind that bread is made using fungus as a leavening agent (yeast), or that mushrooms, one of the world's most prized foods, are really just fungus.
Real kefir, kombucha, yogurt, raw milk, fresh eggs, fresh sour kraut, naturally brined pickles, etc, all contain a variety of yeasts, molds, and bacteria (YES, they do TOO contain molds). They are not harmful because they are kept in healthy balance by the variety and abundance of them. Those microbes colonize in our intestines, where they help with food digestion, they help to stimulate the immune system, they help to reduce the chances of foodborne illness (by providing a frontline defense to help control and reduce the growth of foodborne pathogens), and they help to heal and mend damaged tissues.
Fungus is mostly good stuff! There are actually very few harmful fungi, in comparison to the number of helpful molds, yeasts, and mushrooms. No need to feel that you need to run for the bleach every time you hear the word “fungus”. It is one of the benefits we receive from nature every day – and one we should appreciate and encourage in healthy ways.
The best health benefits from mushrooms come not from extracts, concentrated dosages and blended compounds, but simply from incorporating mushrooms into your diet on a regular basis.
Mushrooms are not a cure-all. But they do effect almost all systems of the body. This is because they have a good nutritional balance, and contain elements which effect the regulatory functions of the body. There is strong scientific evident that they support health in the endocrine glands, blood balance, digestive system, and storage of nutrients and release of stored nutrients. That gives them the potential to positively affect many conditions, including heart disease, persistent obesity, IBD and IBS (including Crohn's and Celiac), cancer, mutating viral diseases, hormonal imbalances, growth and healing disorders, fertility, and diabetes.
One of the most interesting potentials of mushrooms is the ability to help to compensate for damage from the modern world. They may help to minimize the effect of chemical exposure, and promote healing of tissues damaged by preservatives, Chlorine, formaldehyde, phtalates, and other chemicals which we are exposed to on a daily basis. If you minimize your exposure to chemicals, they may help to make the remaining exposure far less harmful. Even those nasty little white button mushrooms may do this – and that is about ALL they might do (other mushrooms may do much more).
Contrary to a popular myth (perpetuated largely by the prevalence of the White Button Mushroom), mushrooms are not lacking in nutrition. They are in fact a good source of protein precursors, many B vitamins, and a range of other vitamins. They are generally lacking in minerals (and as such, are not a meat substitute as some people would have you believe). They can provide an acceptable form of plant type protein precursors for food storage purposes.
Some mushrooms do have specific disease prevention or treatment benefits (according to a range of recent scientific studies). But most are a good choice in achieving or maintaining good health, when incorporated into a balanced diet.
Fresh cooked, frozen, or dried mushrooms have the greatest potential to benefit. Canned ones have a lesser potential, but may still help.
Simply incorporate a meal with mushrooms into your diet every day or two, and see what they do. Mushrooms are, after all, just good food!
Many mushrooms, such as Reishi, Turkey Tail, and Chaga, are used primarily for medicinal purposes. They really aren't recommended for culinary use. Others, such as Almond Portobello, Maitake, Shiitake, and Matsutake, are considered fine edibles, but are also used for medicinal purposes.
The literature and lore regarding medicinal mushrooms ranges from traditional, to fantastical. Some have been studied for specific treatments, and have been found to be more or less efficacious. A few have shown fantastically useful components for treatment of cancer and auto-immune disease in contemporary medical studies. Mushrooms are used medicinally more in the Orient than in the Western world.
In Asia, many mushrooms are consumed for culinary purposes, but are also used traditionally for healing. They see no inconsistency in using something both as a food and as a medicine. People in the US and many parts of Europe are less likely to feel that a familiar food has any kind of use in treating specific diseases or conditions.
The three mushrooms worth mention for medicinal use, which have been studied and proven, are Turkey Tail, Almond Portobello, and Gypsy.
Turkey Tail and Almond Portobello are used in cancer treatments, though in different ways. Gypsy is recommended for use as an anti-viral.
Almond Portobello has been shown to contain components which destroy certain kinds of cancer cells. Research is limited at this time, and I don't have full data on which cancers it does not treat, but it may not be effective on neural cancers. There are actually TWO Almond Portobello mushrooms with this history - Agaricus blazei murrill, and Agaricus subrufescens. Both have been shown to be effective against cancers, though the types of cancers vary minimally between the two.
Turkey Tail is suspected to help the immune system recognize cancer cells, but it has not been tested for that specifically. It has been tested as an immune booster to assist cancer patients in recovering from chemotherapy – chemo depresses the immune system, and it can take quite some time to rebuild a healthy immune system after intensive chemo. It has been used to enhance cancer treatments also.
Gypsy mushroom is nothing more than a hoax. While it has been shown to successfully treat herpes, and has been shown to have antiviral effects against other viruses in vitro, you can forget using it for any health purpose. You can't GET it. Oh, a few companies sell something purporting to be Gypsy mushroom, but it cannot be verified to BE what they claim it is. Gypsy mushroom is kind of hard to identify in the wild, it ONLY grows in the wild (since it is mycorrhizal), and mushroom hunters who KNOW and recognize it are a dying breed. You simply cannot GET Gypsy mushroom.
The cool thing is though, the gills of common Portobello mushrooms are an effective alternative. This is something I've used successfully, not for herpes, but for viral pneumonia. It is certainly worth a try.
Other mushrooms may have value in treating heart disease, diabetes, persistent obesity, HIV, asthma, and auto-immune disease, including Celiac and Crohn's, and are currently under study.
We are of the opinion that simply consuming mushrooms is more effective than using “extracts” or isolated components from the mushroom. In most cases, when a food, herb, or fungus is found to mitigate a disease, pharmaceutical companies want to try to isolate the “active compound” to extract it (or synthesize it) and patent it. You cannot patent a food, so they want to patent an artificial version. The problem with this is that most foods that contain pharmaceutically active compounds also contain other elements which help balance those compounds, and which assist those compounds in working effectively. Hence, the potential side effects are generally higher, and the degree to which it can work effectively, is lower, once it is extracted and concentrated.
This is especially true of active foods. The best way to use them, is simply to toss them into appetizing recipes, and enjoy them!
For purely medicinal mushrooms, which are not appetizing to eat as food, most people will grind them and put them in capsules, or shred and dry them, to use for making tea.
Medicinal mushrooms may be more likely to cause reactions than culinary mushrooms. They are considered less likely to do so if well-cooked before consumption.
If you develop allergic reactions, or stomach upset, stop eating the mushroom. There are a few that will cause reactions on the first dose, which will diminish with successive doses, but most will not improve, and some can get radically worse with each dose. It is unwise to try to use anti-histamines or other remedies to try to subdue the effect so you can eat the mushroom anyway – best to avoid the mushroom in the future and go another direction.
Whether or not to use mushrooms medicinally, and HOW to use them, is an individual choice. You probably won't be able to find useful information on dosage or usage timetables.
Medicinal information regarding mushrooms also pretty much duplicates herbal medicinal lore. The accuracy is highly suspect. This is NOT to say that herbs or mushrooms do not heal. They can help some individuals. But most information about WHAT they heal is highly inaccurate.
Herbal lore is prone to the same perpetuation with motive that pharmaceutical drugs have fallen prey to. In other words, most people telling you to use this or that mushroom are doing so based on greed – they want to sell it to you. Sadly, most alternative practitioners are no better – they recommend supplements which they, themselves, sell.
The herbs, mushrooms, or supplement formulas which are recommended for a particular illness are poorly studied. They are often compounded of a series of elements which have been “historically used for” a particular condition, or similar conditions. The mechanism by which they are presumed to work is speculative. The vast majority of natural treatments do not do what they are promoted to do – at all. It is nothing more than snake oil.
That said, many herbs and mushrooms DO accomplish exactly what they are promoted to do. And many that are promoted for one thing, do something else instead – equally valuable, but completely different. You can often discover this by deep research, but you have to use a lot of reasoning and digging for the rare bits of information.
The real caution is that when the means by which something works is not known, you may take something that actually does the opposite of what you needed it to do. Migraines, and sinus headaches are a good example.
If you take a remedy for a migraine, and you have a constrictive migraine, you need a remedy which dilates blood vessels. But many migraines are actually caused by dilated blood vessels, so a remedy may be recommended for migraines which constricts blood vessels - usually natural remedies are recommended by what they are FOR, not by what they actually DO. If you assume it is simply a pain reliever, and your migraine is of the opposite type than the remedy is actually formulated for, you will end up with a worse headache. Similarly, if you take a remedy which dilates blood vessels, and you actually have a sinus headache and not a migraine (sinus headaches can mimic migraines in every respect and are commonly misdiagnosed based on pain level), then you end up worsening the problem.
With herbal remedies, one of the great problems is that someone had a headache, they took this, and it got better, so now they recommend it for headaches. They don't specify the headache type, or what the remedy actually did.
Midwives have historically used a series of herbs to treat miscarriage. Again, they use them without really understanding what they do – they have been used this way, so they assume that they help, simply because they've been told they do. If the miscarriage is averted, the attribute it to the herbs. If it happens anyway, they shrug and console, and say there was nothing anyone could do (which is usually the case anyway). Each herb DOES something, and with each action, there is a reaction. Let me explain:
When a miscarriage is threatened, the goal is to stop the bleeding and to keep the baby in there. But to stop the bleeding, you have to constrict the uterus (which constricts the blood vessels). If you constrict the uterus, you REDUCE the blood flow to the baby. That is counterproductive. On the other hand, if you increase the blood flow to the baby, you increase the uterine bleeding. There is no solution to this – you have two goals, and they are mutually exclusive, but unless you understand what you are dealing with, and what the herbs actually do, you won't grasp that there really is not any herb you can take to stop a threatened miscarriage. There ARE herbs you can take to slow uterine bleeding, OR to increase blood flow to the uterus. But during a threatened miscarriage, either one can be more harmful than helpful.
The point is, that with herbs or mushrooms either one, alternative medicine may be fairly chancy. You have to be willing to give things a try, and to accept the personal risk involved. If they are historically used for specific conditions, and you don't find a lot of warnings about toxicity or potential side effects, the risks may generally be low. But you'll have to pay attention to your body to really know whether it is doing what you need it to do or not, and if not, then try something else.
Be suspect of any source that recommends something when they are getting paid to recommend it. This includes anyone who sells the thing they are recommending (and this includes US, since we sell mushrooms!).
Mushrooms are very much in the same category – some of the lore exists because it really does work. Some exists because it works in particular circumstances but not others. Some exists because they really didn't know what else to do, they used that, and the person recovered independent of the usage of the mushroom.
Proceed with caution, and don't believe everything you hear!
I believe that mushrooms help with some of the conditions we've used them with. But you have to find out for yourself.
I have no great opinion of the common White Button Mushroom. People eat them worldwide, and many people claim to like them. But many true mushroom lovers consider them to be merely a pale imitation of real mushrooms. And so they are.
Early in the 1900s, the Brown Button mushroom was the most commonly cultivated mushroom. It was the easiest to grow, and was commercially cultivated more than any other for that reason. Once in a while, the Brown Button would throw a white mutant. Someone thought that white one was appealing, and decided to propagate it intentionally. It looked so clean and neat next to that sad brown thing.
Within 20 years, it had completely upstaged the Brown Button, and was the leading commercially cultivated mushroom. It is actually a little more difficult to cultivate, is a tad more prone to contamination and disease. The trusting public, with the belief that a mushroom is a mushroom, bought the pretty one over the plain cousin, so the farmers cultivated it with abandon. Food was going through its own little industrial revolution at the time, and this is when white flour took the lead over brown flour, and when margarine replaced butter. Food was judged by appearance more than nutrition, because the public understood appearance more than they understood nutrition.
Early on, some other Agaricus strains were also grown - which were naturally white. A. bitorquis is one of them. It was abandoned as a commercial mushroom though because the white mutant was more "durable". And durability is a desirable commercial characteristic, even if it is NOT a desirable culinary characteristic.
If the White Button were equal in nutrition and health benefits to either the Brown Button or the naturally white buttons, this would be no tragedy. But alas, it is not. So the harmless little mutant becomes the evil villain in our story – through no fault of its own, to be sure, just through ignorance and avarice.
The White Button is a mutant. It is a Brown Button mushroom – whole, intact, and healthy – which has mutated into something LESS than the Brown Button. Now, there are a LOT of white mushrooms – and on the whole, they tend to ALL be a little less nutritious than the colored mushrooms. There are, in fact, a number of other Agaricus mushrooms which are white, nearly identical to the White Button (though they vary widely in size), just as easily cultivated, and which are ALL more nutritious and more useful than the White Button – because they developed that way naturally, while the White Button was a mutant that was then propagated, and further developed for rapid propagation. It lost a great deal in the changes. It lost elements which the other white mushrooms still possess. It is unfortunate that it was decided to mass propagate the mutant, instead of deciding to propagate one of the naturally white mushrooms.
When other scientists finally got around to studying the nutritional benefits of mushrooms, the White Imposter was the chosen entity. It was then noised abroad that mushrooms were really not terribly nourishing, so you'd better not bother eating them – they were not worth the effort it took to prepare and chew them. All mushrooms were tarred with the little white brush.
The little white mutant made its way into every common food – representing mushrooms collectively in cans, trays, and pouches. All but the priciest restaurants served nothing but the little white imposter. Entire generations little knew that any other edible mushroom existed.
Mushrooms have a reasonable amount of protein precursors (classed as plant type proteins, which are not as complete as animal proteins, but which the human body can USUALLY complete) and several B vitamins. They are generally easily digestible, so people with some types of protein intolerances can still digest mushrooms.
The particular balance of nutrients provides a range of nutritional benefits, pretty much across the health spectrum – primarily because mushrooms do not contain elements which help a specific bodily system, rather, they contain elements which help with regulation of the hormonal and chemical balance within the body. This means that they help with a wide variety of issues, including blood pressure, heart and lung function, kidney function, pancreas and digestive function, musculoskeletal health, endocrine health, and more.
Mushrooms are indeed worth the calories expended to prepare and chew them! They are highly nutritious, and very beneficial.
The little white shade though, contains only a portion of these benefits. It should not be left to represent mushrooms in the culinary and nutritional realm, because it is in no way representative of mushrooms as a whole.
The tide does seem to be turning some – at least among the educated and health conscious of the world. Brown mushrooms have made a comeback under the name of Portobello, and Crimini. Wider varieties of mushrooms are now found in many grocery stores, and on the menus in even the less exclusive eating establishments. Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms are available many places, and a few stores even have other varieties such as Enoki or Bunashimeji.
We would like to see the return of the Brown Button mushroom as the common standard. After all, once cooked, you really can't tell the difference (they both turn to gray or black goo), but they are more nutritious. We would like to see people choose the earthy goodness of natural nutrition over the pathetic imitation of “pretty” food, which, like the empty headed PhotoShopped model, is all false appearance with no substance.
As far as we are concerned, the White Button Mushroom should just go away. It should disappear into obscurity and not return. It won't be missed by anyone with either taste, or sense.
As such, you won't even find a listing on any of our sites for the White Button (White Agaricus Bisporus). However, we do have spawn for Old Fashioned Portobello, and many other far more interesting and nutritious mushrooms.
Every so often someone will publish an article suggesting that mushroom cultivation is a way to get rich quick. Then someone else will come along with their “dose of reality” and point out how expensive it is, how fussy it is, how complicated it is, and how terribly impractical it is for anyone to do on a shoestring budget, and how long it takes to profit from it.
First of all, I'm no novice to business. I've started many, always on a shoestring, and I've worked with a very wide variety of small startups – not the kind that the government classes as startups (with VC funding, massive debt, stockholders, etc), but real startups. People starting a business in a corner of their livingroom – they don't even have a basement or spare room. So I know a viable opportunity when I see one. And mushrooms ARE a viable opportunity.
There are some myths out there. Buy into these, and you'll kill your chances before you even get started.
First myth, that if you are going to grow mushrooms, you have to do it the way everyone else is doing it.
Second myth, that you have to compete with the established vendors on their terms, which puts you at an immediate disadvantage.
So, let's get into what that actually means.
Read up on mushroom cultivation,and you'll be so boggled by the time you are done that you'll be in a fit of depression. They talk like they are speaking to scientists, and like you have the money to set up temperature and humidity controlled automation systems in a specifically designed gro-house, with a cement warf and automatic compost turning system outside. No way! That is just WAY too hard, and way too complicated. Your average person, even if they LOVE mushrooms, is just not going to be able to do that!
The good news is, you don't have to. First off, what they are describing is primarily White Button cultivation. And even that, they do wrong. Seriously! They are doing it on an industrial basis, not on a cottage basis, and that very premise sets them up for a Catch-22 of problems which they have to exercise ever more control and ever more expense to contain, and which they never CAN contain because they started out wrong in the first place. (And to make things worse, White Buttons are the LEAST profitable mushroom to grow!)
So, start with nature. Don't start with “how do mushroom growers do this?” because mushroom growers do it in an unsustainable environment.
Start with outdoor cultivation, on a seasonal basis. This DOES impact profits, because you are not producing year-round. But it also reduces your costs exponentially.
Additionally, use the resources you HAVE, and choose mushrooms based on that.
Instructions on growing mushrooms generally call for either finished compost, or fresh logs, or fresh sawdust. They may also call for various other industrial waste products, which mushrooms don't naturally grow on in the wild. This is all determined REGARDLESS of what the mushroom really wants to grow on – it is determined by two completely irrelevant factors:
- What the industry considers to be the “most sterile” medium. In other words, finished, heat sterilized compost, heat sterilized sawdust, and fresh logs on which no other fungus has visibly colonized.
- What the industry considers to be the most economical materials. They'd rather grow it on industrial waste, because they can get that cheap. It isn't what is best for the mushrooms, and it isn't the least expensive option for the small farmer.
You don't have to do it like that. You can experiment with available natural materials. Make friends with people who have animals who want manure removed. Make friends with people who have land with woods, who want timber cleared. Make friends with home owners who want leaves and grass raked. There is plenty of free stuff out there if you just go get it.
Mushrooms grow perfectly well in the wild – and you can duplicate those environs fairly easily on a seasonal basis, and without too much difficulty year-round, with just a little creativity.
The second issue is competing with the giants of the industry on their terms. If you think that you have to grow massive amounts of mushrooms and sell them wholesale to make a profit, you're doomed before you start out. You won't be able to produce enough to get good prices, and you'll be selling wholesale, not retail – a big difference in prices (often as much as 10 to 20 times more for retail), and you'll be in over your head in debt that you'll never recoup, just creating facilities large enough to produce enough to profit just a tiny bit.
Small businesses that make a profit BEING small businesses do so marketing direct to the customer. Sell your mushrooms right to the end user. That means at farmer's markets, through co-ops, or through a website. There's a HUGE reason for this – for one, you sell RETAIL, not WHOLESALE, and there is a monstrous difference there. If you sell wholesale, the supply chain (the purchasing agent, the processing plant, the shipping companies, the regional distribution system, and the grocery store) take the majority of the profits. And if you sell wholesale you are selling commodities that are common, and high competition, which means they have the lowest prices to begin with. So when you sell direct to the customer, you keep it all – you DO it all as well. But at least you get paid for it.
Selling fresh is a high risk thing, and we recommend that you avoid it where possible, or have a dried or preserved product as backup.
There is far more liability with fresh, because you can't assure that it is really clean. I don't care about that – I know that when I cook it, it will be safe anyway. But some people don't get that, and you could end up in trouble with the USDA if your food is perceived to be “contaminated”, whether it actually caused a problem, or it was just the kid playing in the back yard who picked up a bug and spread it to the mother's hand, and she neglected to wash before she grabbed your mushroom. Doesn't matter – they had mushrooms for dinner, so mushrooms MUST have caused the contamination, and you'll be sunk even if your farm turns up clean on the tests. Nobody will want to prove that you DIDN'T do it.
Fresh mushrooms have to be SOLD before they decay also. Getting stuck with unsold product that rots is a situation which needs to be avoided. If you sell fresh, you need to have a pull point, where the mushrooms are sent to the drying room, or to other preservation stations so you don't lose the harvest.
So, that means selling dried, canned, pickled, or powdered mushrooms, or mushroom growing kits, spawn, etc. The food products are all heat sterilized in some way before they leave your facility, and people aren't eating the other ones. Lots of products to choose from that fit the bill.
Some markets are saturated – that means you really can't break in with a small farm and actually profit. There are a couple of keys to making a good profit:
- You need to sell differently than the competition. They are all selling 1-2 types of mushrooms, pretty much all the same types, and pretty much just dried mushrooms or gro-kits. Do it different.
- Sell more than one variety of mushroom. If you do this, then you need to sell 5 or more. Alternately, do the next thing on this list.
- Sell something unique – a special mix, a mushroom snack food, a special dried mushroom type that they CAN'T get anywhere else. Do something totally unique.
Look at the competition. You'll find 50 websites out there all selling the same thing. Whatever they are doing, don't do that. Ok, so you CAN do that, but do it WITH something special. Then when people come to you for the something special, they'll get the rest of their mushroom stuff from you too.
Now, once you have that figured out, here's the trick to getting started on a shoestring:
- Locate a supply of logs, sawdust, compost, etc, that does not require paying for it (or which you know you can afford). Barter, and be willing to work for it.
- Research which mushrooms can grow on what you can get, and which ones will grow well in your climate. Start there - lower cost, higher profit.
- Select from those mushrooms, so that you have something in demand, and that you can create a unique product from. Make sure you have a unique product that you can sell well.
- Create a website for your product. Do it NOW, so it will be going when your mushrooms bear. Just put a Zero in the stock control in your cart so they show as sold out. Talk to co-ops, research local farmer's markets, etc. Base your prices in your shopping cart and on your locally sold products, by an average of other websites, and an average of what others are selling it for locally. We build websites professionally, as well as grow mushrooms, so this advice is professional advice!
- Purchase mushroom spawn – if you can't afford anything else, get a syringe full of spores, but make sure the company is reputable (cheapest ones are usually non-viable). Otherwise, purchase a sawdust growkit and create your own spawn once the kit fruits.
- Prepare your growing beds or bins or logs. An old chest freezer with the motor out, and some vents cut in the lid gasket makes a great growing environment for some types of compost mushrooms. Buckets with substrate, bins or laundry baskets, or even garbage bags can contain spawn outdoors. Logs can be stacked, and stumps can be used also.
- Inoculate your beds or bins, or logs. Make sure they are well set for the spawn run.
- Create your labels for your finished products, and print up business cards with your website URL, and maintain your beds, bins, or logs while you are doing this.
- Once the mushrooms start pinning, maintain them for fruiting.
- Get your packaging containers if you are selling mushroom products.
- As the mushrooms fruit, gather them, process them.
- If you are doing kits, create new spawn from some of the mushrooms, and be ready for creating kits.
- Enter in some stock numbers in your shopping cart, so that the items are active.
- Attend local farmer's markets, get with your co-op, etc, to market your products locally. Be sure to hand out business cards everywhere, with your URL on them.
This takes some gas in your car, an internet connection, the money for spawn, a website (you can do that free if you have to, but it may not work as well), money for labels and ink, business cards, and packaging containers. You can get started on less than $100 if you need to, and do the rest with legwork and grunt work. You WORK UP to a larger profit, you start with small returns and grow by reinvesting early returns.
This business model works if you can stick it out and market market market your stuff. If you are willing to work hard and be friendly and determined, you can make a profit at it.
So no, it is not a get rich quick option. But it is a Work to Profit option which has as good a chance of earning as anything else I've ever done (and I've done a LOT that worked).
So roll up your sleeves and get to work. And let us know if you need a pointer or two.
There are about 20-30 well known mushrooms, which everybody agrees are edible, even though some of them have "must cook" warnings with them. There are about a couple hundred other moderately well known mushrooms, and then a host of little known edibles.
Trying to discover what is edible and what is not, can be harder than it sounds. This is because with those little known edibles, there may be some confusion about edibility. With the moderately well knowns, there may be a lot that people simply do not want to take some kind of risk with. So we end up with a series of terms that are used to describe the edibility status of mushrooms, and they don't always mean what you think they mean.
Edible - This means that the writer is certain it can be eaten without harm, or that the risks of doing so are not high. Some edibles will have warnings, that they have to be cooked, or that they should not be combined with alcohol, or that they may cause reactions in some people.
Non-Edibles - A label of "not edible", can be confusing. It can mean a lot of different things.
- Not poisonous, but tough, or not tasty, or otherwise unpalatable.
- Not known to be edible. It may mean the writer of the description simply does not know.
- Known or suspected to have caused reactions. Again, this does not actually mean it is not edible, it just means the author did not feel comfortable listing it as edible in cases where the reactions are controllable by cooking or other means.
- Known or suspected to have caused illness. Same as with reactions, it may actually BE edible if handled correctly, or not.
- Similar to a deadly, so the author labels it as non-edible to avoid liability. This is more common than it should be.
- Often mistaken in ID, or confusing to ID, so it is impossible to tell whether it causes reactions or not. Many mushrooms with a long history of being used in cultures around the world get labeled "not edible" by current authors because of confusion about ID.
This is the most ambiguous of labels, because it SOUNDS like everything labeled this way is poisonous, and that is simply not the case. But you have to keep digging and researching to find the reason for the label.
Edible With Caution - This means that it is a fairly commonly consumed mushroom, but that there is a particular reason why you need to be careful. Reasons may include:
- Must be cooked to remove toxins.
- Must be parboiled to remove toxins.
- Should not be consumed with alcohol.
- Caps only should be eaten.
- Should avoid the species when found on some kinds of wood (principally conifer).
- May have confusing ID.
- Should not be eaten in large quantities, or multiple meals in a row.
- Should not be eaten by people with specific medical conditions (typically involving kidney or liver).
Edible with caution means you need to pay attention to the rules that go with that mushroom. Generally, if you do, they are safe to eat.
Not Recommended - This label parallels "Not Edible". It can be a confusing label, and may mean anything from the Not Edible or Edible with Caution labels, or it can actually mean that it causes digestive upset. Often it simply means that the author thinks you are too likely to confuse the mushroom with one that IS harmful.
Suspect, or Questionable - This is a catch-all for those mushrooms that have one or two reports of reactions or illness, or a report of death, but which also has a long history of being used as a safe culinary mushroom. USUALLY, you can find a reason why the reaction or illness occurred. Most commonly, insufficient cooking.
Poisonous - A more descriptive label, which indicates that the mushroom is more likely to harm you than not. Poisonous mushrooms have reactions ranging from temporary illness, to deadly, with some overlap between the two. Sometimes mushrooms are labeled as Poisonous which should have been labeled as Edible With Caution, but unless you know for certain this is the case, and what the precaution is, don't take chances with these.
Deadly - They get put here if they are known to cause death more often than not. Unfortunately, even very cautious authors who are willing to label safe mushrooms as questionable, are often reluctant to give a deadly mushroom the name it deserves. It would be much better if they did, so that readers would know that this is one you never take chances with.
I have eaten many mushrooms that are labeled by many sources as "inedible", "not recommended", "suspect", and two that were labeled as "Poisonous" (but not deadly!), and I have consumed many that were labeled as "edible with caution". I am NOT a careless consumer of mushrooms. I ate those labeled as "poisonous" only after extensive research, and after knowing for certain from older mycological sources, that the mushroom required specific handling. I made sure my ID was solid as well. I then CAREFULLY followed the instructions for safely eating them. I WON'T take risks unless I am certain that I know how to eliminate the risk!
In a sense, you can never eat any mushroom without taking a risk. But by following a few specific rules, you can reduce the risks that you'll experience reactions from mushrooms you have not eaten before.
- Gather them yourself. Make sure of where they are coming from, and when growing location is a key identifier, make sure you keep look-alikes gathered from different environments in separate corners of the basket.
- Be sure of your ID. If you are not sure of the mushroom ID, don't eat it. Bring samples home - various ages if possible, and always with the ENTIRE mushroom, including root base. Do the spore print, bruising test, smell test. I do not recommend taste tests except with Russula, where it is an indicator of edibility, and the acrid flavor of the ones that are harder to prepare (for safety) will inspire you to spit it out - the toxin is not strong enough to harm you from a taste test, and this is not the case with all toxic mushrooms. Whether or not you use KOH, or other solutions to test, or buy a microscope is up to you, but if you don't, then stick to mushrooms that can be ID'd or edibility checked without those items.
- If it is questionable, find out WHY, to see if you can reduce the risks.
- Eat caps only on any suspect or new to you mushroom.
- Cook the mushroom well. With any new mushroom, cook it well.
- Avoid alcohol with wild mushrooms. It conflicts with too many.
- Consume a small portion the first time. Wait a day or two before having more, and try a larger portion if you did not experience any problems from the first meal.
- If you prepare a mushroom that is toxic ONLY WITH ALCOHOL, then DO NOT SERVE IT TO GUESTS. Even if you warn them, don't serve it! Because closet alcoholics won't be honest about when they last drank, and won't have the courage to avoid eating it either. Since some can have effects for 2-3 days after consumption, you don't want to send your guests home with a time bomb in case they forget and accidentally take a drink, or start chugging the cough syrup.
- It helps to keep a piece of it on hand, or another specimen on hand, just in case you made a mistake. But if you follow the first few rules, you AREN'T GOING TO MAKE DEADLY MISTAKES.
- Please write about your experience. It helps other people learn more about how to safely eat what is available to them.
Be cautious because some things ARE confusing. But when you know for certain, it is ok to be confident.
When the mushroom you want to grow did not come in a kit, you'll need to do some research to know how to grow it. And if you really want to understand the biology of mushrooms, then there is a major concept you need to understand.
How does the mushroom feed?
This means, how does the mushroom obtain nutrients to feed itself, and to fruit?
There are three basic ways in which a mushroom can feed itself:
These are the mushrooms that are commonly cultivated, because Saprophytic mushrooms break down dead plant matter, absorbing the nutrients as they go. Some may be Primary Digesters, which love good fresh dead matter. Some are Secondary Digesters, liking something that is already partially decomposed before they start chewing on it. Others are Tertiary Digesters, which means they like it after lots of other microorganisms have worked it over - they like the mushy stuff.
Saprophytics may prefer leaf or grass material, they may like woody debris, needles, or even buried roots, and some like rich composted matter with lots of manure, some like very little. They may LOOK sometimes like they are working on live trees, but they are not, they simply find the dead spots in a living tree and go to work on that.
This class of mushrooms are the easiest to grow, because their preferred nutrient sources are fairly simple to replicate or substitute. They are typically grown either on logs or sawdust, or they are cultivated in compost.
Parasitic mushrooms don't bother to wait until the host is dead, they'll start breaking down plant matter in living plants, causing various forms of decay which can, in time, lead to the death of the host plant. There are some really good edibles that are parasitic, but they are not safe to grow, because they will not only kill the host eventually, but they can spread to places that were not intended to be infected.
This category is the most complicated to grow, and in many ways, this grouping contains some of the most desirable mushrooms, including Porcini and other Boletes, Chanterelles, Amanitas, Russulas, Truffles, and many others.
Mycorrhizal Mushrooms are a little like both saprophytic and parasitic mushrooms, because they do break down some organic matter to draw nutrients from it, but they also infect the roots of plants (often trees), and draw nutrients from the tree. Unlike parasitic mushrooms though, they do not kill the host, instead they form a symbiotic relationship, where they aid the plant in receiving additional moisture and nutrients, and in return, they draw some additional nutrients from the plant. This allows Mycorrhizal mushrooms to produce larger fruitings than they could support from their own mycellial mass, but it also means that they must be established on a plant that is capable of providing large amounts of nutrients at one time - so this normally means that the root mass of the plant must be large and fairly mature in order for the mushrooms to produce well.
Growing them in containment is problematic, since the plant mass usually has to be fairly sizable, and to grow them without the plant you must develop an alternate nutrient delivery protocol. So for practical purposes, if you want to cultivate Mycorrhizals, you will need to naturalize them into a suitable habitat.
Once you can answer the question regarding the feeding habits of the mushroom, then you can narrow down the environment required to support either naturalization, or contained cultivation of the mushroom.
But be warned. Sometimes understanding this principle can be the doorway to a mycological addiction.
Every expert who has a website dedicated to displaying mushroom varieties, or to explaining mushroom characteristics, gets asked to ID mushrooms.
Often the request is something like, "There is a white mushroom in my lawn, can you tell me what it is?". Um... No. Mushrooms are much more difficult to identify than that.
Even when the information given is more complete, identification is a complicated business, and can be either very simple, or almost impossible.
Basically, as far as identification goes, there are three categories of mushrooms:
- Those that can be identified Macroscopically. That means, they can be identified fairly reliably by matching features that can be seen, smelled, or tasted.
- Those that must be identified Microscopically. This means that you can't tell this one from that one just by looking at them in the field, you need to view certain features under a microscope to be certain.
- Those that really can't be easily identified even Microscopically, or which really aren't WORTH trying to identify if your goal is to recognize edible mushrooms. This group includes Little Brown Mushrooms (LBMs), which aren't worth the trouble to identify, and a host of little white, or gray mushrooms. There are literally hundreds or thousands of these, which are not worth the bother to narrow down to even know if they are edible or not, simply because they would not produce enough food if you did gather them, to be worth the risk for our ancestors to have tasted them to see!
SOME mushrooms which can be identified Macroscopically, can be identified by photos. But the photos should include the following for even a halfway reliable ID:
- Underside of the cap (gills or spore surface)
- Pull one up and take a picture of the stem with the root base
- Take pictures of immature AND mature ones
- Take a picture of them growing in their natural habitat.
- A photo of a spore print would also help, when available.
For a mushroom identification to be certain, all visible features, and a few others, have to match the descriptions.
- The size and overall appearance of the mushroom.
- The shape of the cap, sometimes at multiple stages of development.
- Color of the cap, sometimes moist or dry.
- The texture of the cap.
- The shape of the edge of the cap, at various stages of development.
- The spore surface - gills, ridges, tubes, pores, etc.
- If it is gilled, the depth of the gills, closeness of the gills, the way the gills attach to the stem, the color of the gills (sometimes at multiple stages of development), the shape of the edge of the gills.
- The color of the spores.
- The presence or lack of a ring.
- The shape and ornamentation on the ring.
- The shape of the stem.
- The texture of the stem.
- The shape and nature of the base of the stem (presence of universal veil remnants, or not, presence of root like threads, or not, presence of fuzzy fungus, or not).
- The color that it bruises or stains when cut or pressed (if it changes color), the speed at which the color changes, and sometimes, a secondary color because some will bruise one color initially and then it fades or darkens to another color.
- Whether the bruising or staining is the same color on the cap and the stem, or gills, or the flesh under the cap skin.
- Whether it grows alone, or in a cluster.
- The habitat in which it grows, and sometimes the season in which it is fruiting.
- The smell of the mushroom.
- In some cases, the taste.
And that is just the basics! With some kinds, there are other features or factors which come into play, and must be observed to correctly ID. And all that is only for those that CAN be identified macroscopically.
Now, there is another thing which makes mushroom identification really tricky. That is, the accuracy of the ID descriptions.
In a sense, there are NO "true" mushroom experts. There is no expert who knows every mushroom. And even those who know many, still rely on guides to match on those that they do not know so well.
When a mushroom is rare, or not commonly harvested, there may be only a single description of it in existence. On the other end of the spectrum, there may be several descriptions, but they may conflict! Sometimes a mycologist gathered a mushroom in the field, described it, and then another mycologist found something in another part of the world, and it sounded pretty much like the other except for one feature (often color), so he just called it the same thing. It may or may NOT be the same thing. Usually it is the same genus, but sometimes not even that!
From those descriptions, we have to identify the thing we just found!
When you have two mushrooms, like Agrocybe Praecox, and Agrocybe Dura, that are so similar that they are classed together in a group, or Lyophyllum Decastes and Lyophyllum Loricatum, which can overlap somewhat in descriptions, or each of which can appear in more than one color, you end up with some confusion regarding the correct ID.
Then there are those like Agaricus Blazei Murrill, and Agaricus Subrufescens, that are often confused because of the way in which they were named and then those names changed, and because they are both almond scented mushrooms, but which are actually two separate mushrooms.
Or Agaricus Brunnescens and Agaricus Bisporus which are classed as two separate mushrooms in older texts, but the SAME mushroom in SOME but not all newer texts, but which ARE actually two separate mushrooms, which have been hybridized so much with each other commercially that many strains out there labeled as one or the other are actually hybrids. (For the record, Brunnescens is thicker, and stains more red than Bisporus and has pinker gills than Bisporus, and Bisporus is a little smaller around, with grayer and darker gills in unopened and barely opened caps.)
And then there is Hypsizygus Ulmarium. The MOST OFTEN misidentified mushroom in the world of amateur mushroom cultivation. This is because a RENOWNED EXPERT misidentified this, packaged it up and sold "Elm Oyster" spawn, and labeled it as Hypsizygus Ulmarium, even though the description for that mushroom is DEFINITELY NOT the mushroom he packaged to sell! Hypsizygus Ulmarium has adnexed gills (they notch inward before they meet the stem, and are not attached to the stem), and they do NOT run down the stem - the stem is short and curved and the cap is round, though it is usually offset some. The Impostor has typical Pleurotus type gills that are decurrent (they run down the stem), a short stem that is not separated from the cap by any distinction, and it has the typical half-trumpet Oyster mushroom shape. If you have purchased Elm Oyster Mushroom Spawn from someone who does not clarify this issue, then you do NOT have Hypsizygus Ulmarium! You have some species or other of Pleurotus (likely Pleurotus Ostreatus var. Florida, since it is a white mushroom that fruits in fairly warm temperatures just as the False Elm Oyster does). In reality, True Elm Oyster fruits in the fall, just as the temperatures drop, whereas the unnamed Pleurotus imposter fruits in the summer, after heavy and sustained rains. Clearly it is NOT Hypsizygus Ulmarium, yet it runs around claiming that name by all but the foragers who seek the real thing, and know it is NOT the same mushroom. The impostor is widely sold as a mushroom that is recommended for cultivation in gardens.
To further complicate matters, some mushrooms hybridize very easily. Agaricus mushrooms do this, so you may have a mushroom that keys to two different species, with just one feature wrong for each ID! Yeah, that happens! The thing that distinguishes this one from that one will be flip-flopped, and it can be very hard knowing what, exactly, it is that you have in your hand! Often this is because when Agaricus mushrooms grow in close proximity to one another, they may hybridize. We have seen this, with Agaricus Placomyces, which grew under a large Hemlock tree. It had black fibrils on the cap, and a chemical smell to it (not edible). A month later, we found some smaller reddish Agaricus mushrooms a few feet away. They had reddish fibrils, and the top of the cap turned pink in the rain (common with several species of Agaricus). Most telling, THIS one had the most delicious almond smell! (Edible, and good.) Two days later, we came back to the same location, and found a new crop of Placomyces growing in the same location they had been in before, but this time they had BLACK fibrils on the top (just like before), but were PINK underneath the black fibrils (it was raining, and the mushrooms were wet). A few feet away (in the opposite direction from the almondy mushrooms) were a few more, which were less pink (sort of blotchy pink on one side only), and a few feet further were some that were still white under the black fibrils. And, the ones that were pink underneath smelled of almonds! The most pink smelled most strongly of almond, the ones without pink did not smell of almonds at all - the blotchy one in the middle was a little chemical and a little almondy. Since then we have seen MANY Agaricus mushrooms that were more like a hybrid than any specific Agaricus, and have concluded that this is normal for many species of Agaricus.
There are also a LOT of amateur mycologists out there that don't realize how closely things must match to be the mushroom they think it is. I cannot tell you the number of times I've Googled a mushroom to see examples, and half the images are obviously NOT the correct mushroom, even though when you go to the page, they are labeled as such. Many times the mis-named mushrooms are on personal blogs, where someone is trying to label the things they've seen on a hike, or in their garden, or while on a nature walk somewhere, but I've also seen a few mislabeled ones on some fairly prestigious sites.
Ok, so sometimes, even when you recognize the mushroom that you have in your hand as being the same as something you have a picture of, you may still have a difficult time putting a name to it, because of a bunch of confusing reasons!
What does all this mean?
It means that some mushrooms are easy to ID. They are so distinctive that you never can make a mistake. A Hawks Wing is a Hawks Wing, and nothing else! Floccularia Luteovirens is similarly unmistakable! You will also NEVER mistake a good sized Giant Puffball.
But others are more complicated. There are tricks for some of them, which can at least be determined for edibility by smell, taste, or color, within a specific genus, but those are the exception. Thankfully, there are enough that are identifiable with a little care, so that you can find many edibles without taking undue risks.
If you want someone else to identify a mushroom for you though, you may find that it is difficult to locate someone willing to assist! When I am asked, I will generally agree to assist, but I will usually make a suggestion, and recommend that the person seeking help clarify the ID with other sources (look up the thing I suggest, and make sure it matches). Often I can only narrow something to a genus by photos, and sometimes not even that. On occasion, the ID is simple, because the mushroom is so distinctive, but that is the exception. Most REAL experts know that identifying by photo is a risky thing, and will not risk the liability of assuring an ID unless they can study specimens in person - especially when they are talking about edible mushrooms.
So as complicated as it can be, the more experience one gains at it, the more you are able to do. Some mushrooms will always be hard to ID. Others will be simple once you know the thing that differentiates them from look-alikes.
But the confusing elements of mistaken ID will crop up again and again. You just have to learn how to recognize when that has happened.
Keep trying though, because in the end, that is what will preserve the good edible mushrooms that are less common.
This Organization and Website are dedicated to the Preservation, Cultivation, and Wise Use of Culinary and Medicinal Mushrooms. We do NOT assist with cultivation or preservation of recreational mushrooms.
Mushrooms may cause allergic reactions in sensitive people. Some mushrooms are more likely to do this than others. Please research possible reactions prior to use. We are not responsible for how you choose to use our information, and do not claim that mushrooms are completely safe to consume.
We do not make any claims as to the efficacy of any mushroom product to treat or prevent any disease or condition. We are not medical professionals and will not provide advice on alternative medicine use for any mushroom. Please consult a doctor or alternative practitioner prior to using any mushroom product for treatment of any disease or illness.
We cannot guarantee that any spawn, spore, or kit product will grow or produce mushrooms. Gardening of any kind is a chancy business, and success depends upon adherence to instructions, and may be influenced by weather, environmental factors, and other controllable and non-controllable factors. As such, we cannot guarantee your success, and advise that if you are uncomfortable with purchasing instructions from us under these terms, that you refrain from purchase.
We do promise to answer your questions, and offer reasonable assistance if needed, and to correct any errors if a mistake is made on our part.
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