While heading to a deer stand just after Christmas, I came across these little beauties.
These are oyster mushrooms, and they are delicious. This is one of my favorite wild edibles. The Latin name is pleurotus ostreatus. Pleurotus, meaning “sideways” and ostreatus meaning “oyster.” Oyster mushrooms are saprotrophic, meaning that they aid in breaking down trees and stumps by feeding on the dead and dying wood. They appear on deciduous hardwood trees like willow, poplar, pecan, etc. I’ve heard that a variation of the oyster mushroom grows on coniferous trees, but I wouldn’t eat one without doing some serious research, and asking a mycologist before consuming any. I notice oyster mushrooms more frequently during the fall or winter here in Louisiana because their white color stands out against the darker colors of the fall. Also, I tend to spend more time in the field that time of year, so I’m much more likely to notice them. However, they will grow just about any time of year.
They will pop out in flushes on any dead, dying or injured trees or tree branches after a change in climate, such as prolonged wet periods, or sudden cooling or warming, etc. We have recently had both a prolonged wet period, and a cool front followed by a warm spell. Our Christmas was warmer and more humid than Chris Farley’s gym sock after a five mile run. Sounds like the perfect place for fungus, right?
Before you pick, handle or consume anything you pick in the wild, especially fungi, you should consult with an expert. And even then don’t eat anything that the expert isn’t willing to take a bite of first. I am not responsible if you pick some poisonous mushroom (or anything else), and die a miserable death, so use common sense here, and don’t eat anything that you are not 100% sure is what you think it is.
Oyster mushrooms are a gilled mushroom, which have an important characteristic that is essential in helping to identify this little gem. The gills are white to buff colored, and run down the cap and the entire length of the stem. This is known as decurrent gills, and will help in excluding several types that can be poisonous. There should be no ring around the stem, and sack around the base.
The cap (the part of the mushroom at the end of the stem), is white to tan in color, and as the Latin name implies, is “sideways” or shelf like. The cap is smooth without scales or warts, etc. When you cut into the mushroom the flesh is firm, and white.
The oyster mushroom has a distinctive smell as well. I find the smell to be quite appetizing. To me it has a faint seafood smell. This is probably where it gets the “oyster” part of its name, because it has an oyster-ish or shrimp-ly smell. Others find that it has a hint of anise (think licorice candy), but my nose doesn’t pick up that smell often.
Oyster mushrooms can be found growing on decaying wood at ground level, or 40 feet up a tree. This is one mushroom that always seems to have the best looking specimens frustratingly out of reach.
The mushrooms in the picture above are a little old, but they got picked, and will get eaten. To see a recipe with these mushrooms, see Hirschschnitzel – Venison & Wild Oyster Mushrooms or Deer Stroganoff with Wild Oyster Mushrooms. I can assure you they were quite delicious.
Danger: There is a toxic look alike known as the ghost fungus, or Australian glow fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis), that looks similar to the oyster mushroom. However, it only (currently) grows in Australia and Japan, so if you live in these two locations, then be aware. The ghost fungus has bio-luminescent properties, so it glows in the dark. I think it’s good advice to not eat anything that glows in the dark.