One of our favorite local places to get outside is a park about 30 minutes away. It has several short (1-2 miles) trails through the woods, a horse trail, and a boat ram with a fishing pier on the water. Whether fishing or hiking or “hunting,” this is our local go-to spot.
And when I say hunting…I mean hunting for lions…and hens, and chickens….and morels and puffballs….I’m talking mushrooms here!
Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), also called bearded tooth or bearded hedgehog.
From the picture, one can easily deduce where these names came from. Lion’s mane is part of the tooth fungus family, and fairly easy to spot once you know what to look for. The picture above is a classic example. It was about the size of a softball, and weighed just under a pound. I’ve seen pictures of ones much bigger…feet wide and weighing several pounds!
Lion’s mane likes to grow on dead or dying wood, and tends to inhabit an area where the outer bark has been broken or peeled away. And it’s generally bright white, which makes it much easier to spot in the dim woods, especially once everything has started to turn brown.
This is our favorite wild mushroom, and it’s always a bit of a rush when we spot that white clump in stark contrast to everything around it.
- First and foremost: Lion’s mane is delicious! It has a firm, meaty texture. Kind of like lobster or crab. It does well in soup, mushroom gravy, or just sautéed in butter with some garlic. The taste isn’t overly mushroomy (which my daughter is happy about), but there is definitely some earthy to it, although it’s a “fresh” earthy…difficult to describe, but delicious nonetheless. And it’s fairly solid all the way through (besides the “teethy” parts on the outside), so just a small one like the one above is more than enough to make a meal.
- Lion’s mane is easy to spot, and hard to get wrong. As I mentioned, it’s stark white, and we’ve always found it easily in the wet fall weather, just as everything is getting dark and brown. It also doesn’t have any look-alikes, poisonous or otherwise. We’re newby mushroom hunters, so stick with only gathering what is unmistakable. Lion’s mane is definitely unmistakable!
- Lion’s mane is medicinal to boot. It is purportedly anti-dementia, and actually helps to regrow damaged brain tissue. It’s also good for the immune system (as most mushrooms are) and nervous and digestive systems.
I know mushrooms in general are quite powerful medicine, but I don’t know enough about them yet to make any great claims…but I’m learning. There are literally over ten thousand known species out there of all shapes, sizes, and types. There are mushrooms (kind of like the lion’s mane) that you wouldn’t know are mushrooms just looking at them! And some are very, very deadly. Usually aptly named, like Death Cap, Destroying Angel, and Deadly Galerina. But I’ve found walking around, that they aren’t too keen on giving up their names when you meet them…if only it was that simple!
“Hi, Mr. Mushroom! What is your name?”
“Hello. I’m Destroying Angel. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too. I’ll be moving along now…”
Yeah. Doesn’t happen that way.
Not sure what this one is, so there it stayed.
So that’s why we stick very strictly to only what we know is safe. 100% confidence.
These two species were quite common where we walked.
Even if we don’t find anything for sure on our walks, there are tons of beautiful specimens to look at, and one day I may figure out what they are. The two in the pictures above were all over. They are shelf, or bracket, fungi, very thin and brittle, and at first glance, I thought they were Turkey Tail, a common, anti-cancer mushroom I’ve been collecting. But closer inspection revealed the one on the left had gills, not pores (Turkey Tale has a white underside with lots of pores), and the one on the right didn’t have quite the right coloration and grew upwards rather than parallel to the earth. Even slight differences can be profound when in comes to mushroom species.
So we stick with what we know, and still end up quite satisfied. Especially when we bag some good Lions!
Two smaller bunches growing from a broken (and dying) limb
When foraging wild foods, always use appropriate caution and common sense:
- make sure you know what you are picking
- check for critters, both around you and in/on your forage
- only forage where you know it’s safe (contaminants, chemicals, etc.)
- never take more than you need; leave some of nature’s food for nature
- leave some to grow for another day