BLOG 32: Whenever someone finds out I love to go mushroom hunting they are always curious to know which one is my favourite and where do I go... Well, first of all I haven’t found all the choice ones yet as I am considered a newbie with only four years under my belt. I have a big long list of fungi I want to try. It’s just crazy how many specimens there are in the Fungal Kingdom and equally astounding how many out there are still undiscovered. Thank goodness for citizen scientists pushing the envelope for more knowledge on the importance of fungi in our diet and making many other cool discoveries and uses along the way. Kudos.
I’ve just finished my fourth season of not finding any Morels. It’s very upsetting but thank goodness for the Dryad’s Saddle mushroom, fiddleheads and wild leek or I’d go home empty handed. Morel hunting I’m finding is a secretive world where other foragers refuse to share their annual spots or even post pics for heavens sake. Anyways, I can’t say Morels are my favourite choice (as most people do) because I haven’t tried them. I refuse to pay for them. I know I'll be rewarded eventually. This is the lure of foraging. Of the mushrooms I have tried I truly can say that I like them all in their own way but the most surprisingly delightful tasting mushroom, to me, because of its texture and flavour are in the Hericium genus.
I have foraged and eaten several Bear’s Head (Hericium americanum) and Comb Tooth (Hericium coralloides). Why? Hericiums are used as a substitute for crabmeat in any dish. Yup, crabmeat. Simply delicious and I think this is great news for vegans and people with seafood allergies! You must try one.
Hericiums are mesmerizing to find as they are quite different looking from other fungi. They are bright white in their prime and feel gelatinous but break easily if not handled properly. A Comb Tooth looks just like delicate coral from the ocean and the Bear's Head looks similar but with longer icicle like "teeth" on its branching mass. Lion's Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceum) has no branching and looks like a round cheer leader's pompom with it long icicles. Lion's Mane, previously reserved for the Emperors of China has finally hit the mainstream with a bang and so have all of its secrets. Hericiums are brain and nerve food. They actually make you smarter and tough as steel. There are several studies you can find on 'google scholar' and elsewhere such as John Hopkins University if this shocks you. Lion's Mane is sold and prescribed for a host of neurological therapies. Researchers are using it in studies on dementia, aging and in the stimulation of nerve growth factor. Lion's Mane and likely all of the Hericiums ( studies on all Hericiums are ongoing), actually increase neuron production right inside the brain! In 1986 two scientists who figured out how this happens were awarded a Nobel Peace prize for their work. A Nobel Peace Prize for the actions of Hericium! Wow. If you watch Mycologist Paul Stamets interview with Joe Rogan he also mentions Hericiums repair damaged nerves and promising studies have started with Lion's Mane and Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and Multiple sclerosis. Traditional uses are for digestion, gastric ulcer, and general debility.
Unless you are allergic to mushrooms, Hericium are considered safe and yummy. Better yet one will be growing on a tree in your forest waiting to be foraged. I personally have not found a 'pompom' Lion's Mane in the highlands but I've found plenty of Comb Tooth and Bear's Head. Although you can find them on fallen logs and stumps I personally find them in the cracks of dead standing trees. Pick only pure white ones or with a slight browning at the top or on the tips of the teeth. The flesh inside is white. You can hunt for them from summer to fall while searching hardwoods. I found almost all of mine in beech tree crevasses and some at the end of fallen logs. Pull apart and pick out any large pieces of bark before rinsing, being careful not to waterlog. Like all mushrooms they are holding a ton of water already so you should fry them in a dry skillet till the water has evaporated and then add a little butter and brown till slightly crispy. I like to serve them on top of fresh noodles and creamy sauces. They are awesome alone in their own right also. The best news is there are no lookalikes and you can't really confuse this mushroom with anything else. There are coral mushroom that could be confusing to an amateur but know that they grow mostly on the ground and exhibit upward branches with busy tips. Hericiums teeth cascade downward and are smooth.
If mushroom hunting scares you but you want to try a Hericium I suggest you have a guide take you out and show you how. The good news is this mushroom comes back in the same area year after year and then you can have your very own secret spot too, no need to use a GPS tracking device…your brain will remember. Ha!
Please share this article with a child. Hericium is a gorgeous, safe and fun mushroom to find. It's size can be bigger than your head or as small as your pineal gland.
*Original article by Colleen was first published in the June/July 2020 issue of the Madawaska Highlander newspaper