by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
Fall is here and we finally got enough rain to kick off the fall mushroom season. Among the many foragable fungi available in the fall, my favorite are coral mushrooms. Not only are corals super easy to identify, even for the novice mushroom hunter, but they are downright beautiful and oh, so good to eat.
Here in the Ozarks, coral mushrooms are found in oak/hickory forests and along their edges. Typically, corals are in abundance during the months of September and October – depending on moisture and temperature levels. I don’t expect to see any corals until we get enough rain to really soak the ground and daytime temperatures drop into the 60’s.
There are numerous species of coral mushroom here in Missouri and throughout the U.S. and one should not try and lump them all together into the same proverbial basket. For while most corals are completely edible, some species may not taste very good and some may cause gastrointestinal upset. Likewise, the novice forager should keep in mind that even the most perfectly safe edible can sometimes cause digestive distress in certain people.
There are two rules when trying out any mushroom that is new to you:
Rule #1 – Be 100% sure that you have positively identified the mushroom before eating it. I can’t stress this enough. Like any wild edible or medicinal plant, proper identification is paramount. Be sure to check out the links provided in this article for more information on corals, what they look like and how to identify them.
Rule #2 – When trying a new wild mushroom for the first time, start by consuming a small portion that has been fully cooked (it’s best not to eat raw mushrooms unless you know what you’re doing). Wait at least 24 hours and if you don’t have any digestive problems, you should be good to go.
If you are new to foraging mushrooms, you’ll probably want to start with Crown-Tipped Corals (Artomyces pyxidatus) formerly known as Clavicorona pyxidata, which unlike other coral species, grows only on dead deciduous wood. Normally, this would be an awesome identification tool, but only if you were actually able see the dead wood in every single case. In my experience, crown-tipped corals often appear to be growing on the ground when they are actually growing on deeply buried wood, such as the rotting roots of dead trees and stumps. The good news is that once you learn to identify corals correctly, gathering them is super easy and very safe for the novice forager.
“Fruiting body branched, with crownlike tips; yellowish, becoming tannish or pinkish; texture tough; with a very short, thin stalk. Spore print white. Spores magnified elliptical, smooth, colorless.
Lookalikes: Other species of coral mushrooms, some of which may cause gastrointestinal upset. Important clues for identifying a crown-tipped coral are: It is one of the few corals that grow on wood; if you take a tiny taste, it will be peppery; and the tips are crownlike, like the pinnacles of a tiny castle.”
Also, keep in mind that crown-tipped corals are generally tan to golden yellow, but they can also range in color from light-pink to classic-coral. When gathering corals avoid any that have a strong chemical smell (they should smell like sweet, mushroomy compost) and those that are slimy or have any bit of soft or gelatinous spots, particularly on the cut stems. Gather only very fresh specimens, which should be firm and bright. Pass on those that are dull, bruised or obviously aging, and any that turn brown after handling.
To harvest coral mushrooms, use a sharp knife to cut the stem as close to the ground as possible. Be gentle while handling corals, they are as delicate as they look! As you gather each mushroom, take a moment to thoroughly inspect each one and to remove as much dirt as possible in the field. I sometimes carry a small clean paintbrush in my basket for just this purpose. Cleaning your mushrooms in the field will save you a ton of work later on!
When foraging mushrooms, gather your harvest into a sturdy and breathable container, such as a basket or cloth bag. Piling mushrooms into a plastic bag is the worst thing you can do. Small buckets with handles are good containers, but only if you drill holes into the bottom and sides first.
Once you get your bounty home, you will want to sort and clean them. It is often said that one should avoid wetting mushrooms, but I find that a quick dip-and-swish in a sink full of clean water really gets the grit out corals without breaking too many of the tender branches.
Once clean, the mushrooms are set on cloth or paper towels for one to several hours to dry completely (mostly because I don’t want ice crystals forming on them in the freezer!). After they’re dry to the touch, I chop them up, put them into quart-sized zip-top bags and freeze them. No blanching and no pre-cooking needed. And when dinner time rolls around I grab a bag, give it a good thwack to break up the chunks, take as much or as little as I need and then just toss the bag back in the freezer! Done!
If you like mushrooms, I probably don’t need to tell you how to use them. But if you’re new to mushroom foraging, I will assure you that you can use corals in any way you would use any other kind of mushroom. My personal favorite for corals is in mushroom and chicken soup. Double yum!
I know you’re ready to hit the woods, but before you head out be sure to check out Mushroom Expert and MDC’s links on identifying coral-tipped mushrooms. Also, American Mushrooms also has a great photo gallery for corals. And while not specifically about coral mushrooms, this USDA Field Guide to Common Macrofungi in Eastern Forests and Their Ecosystem Functions is an interesting and informative look at the various fungi and their role in a healthy ecosytem.
Until next time, happy foraging!
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© 2015 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.