History of mushroom use
Mycophagy pronounced /maikfedi/, the act of consuming mushrooms, dates to ancient times. Edible mushroom species have been found in association with 13,000 year old ruins in Chile, but the first reliable evidence of mushroom consumption dates to several hundred years BC in China. The Chinese value mushrooms for medicinal properties as well as for food. Ancient Romans and Greeks ate mushrooms, particularly the upper class. The Roman Caesars would have a food taster taste the mushrooms before the Caesar to make sure they were safe.
Mushrooms are also easily preserved, and historically have provided additional nutrition over winter.
Many cultures around the world have either used or continue to use Psilocybin mushrooms for spiritual purposes as well as medicinal mushrooms in folk medicine. Mushroom cultivation reached the United States in the late 1800s with imported spores from Mexico.
Current culinary use
A fraction of the many fungi consumed by humans are currently cultivated and sold commercially. Commercial cultivation is important ecologically, as there have been concerns of depletion of larger fungi such as chanterelles in Europe, possibly because the group has grown so popular yet remains a challenge to cultivate.
Mushroom cultivation has a long history, with over twenty species commercially cultivated. Mushrooms are cultivated in at least 60 countries with China, the United States, Netherlands, France and Poland being the top five producers in 2000.
Commercially harvested wild edibles
Chanterelles in the wild.
A collection of Boletus edulis of varying ages
Some species are difficult to cultivate; others (particularly mycorrhizal species) have not yet been successfully cultivated. Some of these species are harvested from the wild, and can be found in markets. When in season they can be purchased fresh, and many species are sold dried as well. The following species are commonly harvested from the wild:
Boletus edulis or edible Boletus, native to Europe, known in Italian as Fungo Porcino (plural ‘porcini’) (Pig mushroom), in German as Steinpilz (Stone mushroom), in Russian as “white mushroom”, in Albanian as (Wolf mushroom) and in French the cep. It also known as the king bolete, and is renowned for its delicious flavor. It is sought after worldwide, and can be found in a variety of culinary dishes.
Cantharellus cibarius (The chanterelle), The yellow chanterelle is one of the best and most easily recognizable mushrooms, and can be found in Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. There are poisonous mushrooms which resemble it, though these can be confidently distinguished if one is familiar with the chanterelle’s identifying features.
Cantharellus tubaeformis, the tube chanterelle or yellow-leg
Clitocybe nuda – Blewit (or Blewitt)
Cortinarius caperatus the Gypsy mushroom (recently moved from genus Rozites)
Craterellus cornucopioides – Trompette du Mort or Horn of Plenty
Grifola frondosa, known in Japan as maitake (also “hen of the woods” or “sheep head”); a large, hearty mushroom commonly found on or near stumps and bases of oak trees, and believed to have Macrolepiota procera properties.
Gyromitra esculenta this “False morel” is prized by the Finns. This mushroom is deadly poisonous if eaten raw, but highly regarded when parboiled (see below).
Hericium erinaceus, a tooth fungus; also called “lion’s mane mushroom.”
Hydnum repandum Sweet tooth fungus, hedgehog mushroom, urchin of the woods
Lactarius deliciosus Saffron milk cap – Consumed around the world and prized in Russia
Morchella species, (morel family), morels belong to the ascomycete grouping of fungi. They are usually found in open scrub, woodland or open ground in late spring. When collecting this fungus, care must be taken to distinguish it from the poisonous false morels, including Gyromitra esculenta.
Morchella conica var. deliciosa
Morchella esculenta var. rotunda
Tricholoma matsutake the Matsutake, a mushroom highly prized in Japanese cuisine.
Tuber species, (the truffle), Truffles have long eluded the modern techniques of domestication known as trufficulture. Although the field of trufficulture has greatly expanded since its inception in 1808, several species still remain uncultivated. For a list of domesticated truffles, see above.
Tuber indicum – Chinese black truffle
Tuber macrosporum – White truffle
Tuber mesentericum – The Bagnoli truffle
Tuber uncinatum – Black summer truffle
Other edible wild species
Many wild species are consumed around the world. The species which can be identified “in the field” (without use of special chemistry or a microscope) and therefore safely eaten vary widely from country to country, even from region to region. This list is a sampling of lesser-known species that are reportedly edible.
Amanita caesarea (Caesar’s Mushroom)
Chroogomphus rutilus (pine-spikes or spike-caps)
Calvatia gigantea (Giant Puffball)
Clavariaceae species (coral fungus family)
Clavulinaceae species (coral fungus family)
Coprinus comatus, the Shaggy mane. Must be cooked as soon as possible after harvesting or the caps will first turn dark and unappetizing, then deliquesce and turn to ink. Not found in markets for this reason.
Fistulina hepatica (beefsteak polypore or the ox tongue)
A particularly well developed example of Auricularia auricula-judae.
Lactarius subdulcis (mild milkcap)
Laetiporous sulphureus (Sulphur shelf). Also known by names such as the “chicken mushroom”, “chicken fungus”, sulphur shelf is a distinct bracket fungus popular among mushroom hunters.
Leccinum aurantiacum (Red-capped scaber stalk)
Leccinum scabrum (Birch bolete)
Macrolepiota procera Parasol Mushroom – Globally, it is widespread in temperate regions
Polyporus squamosus (Dryad’s saddle and Pheasant’s back mushroom)
Ramariaceae species (coral fungus family)
Russula, some members of this genus are edible.
Sparassis crispa. Also known as “cauliflower mushroom”.
Conditionally edible species
There are a number of fungi that are considered choice by some and toxic by others. In some cases, proper preparation can remove some or all of the toxins.
Amanita muscaria is edible if parboiled to leach out toxins. Fresh mushrooms cause vomiting, twitching, drowsiness, and hallucinations due to the presence of ibotenic acid.
Coprinopsis atramentaria is edible without special preparation. However, consumption with alcohol is toxic due to the presence of coprine. Some other Coprinus spp. share this property.
Gyromitra esculenta is eaten by some after it has been parboiled; however, mycologists do not recommend it. Raw Gyromitra are toxic due to the presence of gyromitrin, and it is not known if all of the toxin can be removed by parboiling.
Lactarius spp. – Apart from Lactarius deliciosus which is universally considered edible, other Lactarius spp. that are considered toxic elsewhere in the world are eaten in Russia after pickling or parboiling.
Verpa bohemica – Considered choice by some, it even can be found for sale as a “morel”, but cases of toxicity have been reported. Verpas contain toxins similar to gyromitrin and similar precautions apply.
Current medical use
Main article: Medicinal mushrooms
The most well known “medicinal mushroom”, Reishi.
Many species of medicinal mushrooms have been used in folk medicine for thousands of years. The use of medicinal mushrooms in folk medicine, is best documented in the East. Medicinal mushrooms are now the subject of study for many ethnobotanists and medical researchers. The ability of some mushrooms to inhibit tumor growth and enhance aspects of the immune system has been a subject of research for approximately 50 years. International mushroom research continues today, with a focus on mushrooms that may have hypoglycemic activity, anti-cancer activity, anti-pathogenic activity, and immune system enhancing activity. Recent research has found that the oyster mushroom naturally contains the cholesterol drug lovastatin, and that mushrooms produce large amounts of vitamin D when exposed to UV light, Below is a list of edible mushrooms that are best known for their medicinal properties.
Ganoderma Mushrooms (Reishi)
Trametes versicolor (Turkey tail)
Grifola frondosa (Maitake)
Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom)
Agaricus bisporus (common mushroom)
Agaricus subrufescens (Agaricus blazei)
Lentinula edodes (Shiitake)
Inonotus obliquus (chaga mushroom)
Preparing wild edibles
A collection of dried mushrooms.<br