Oyster mushroom – Edibility, Identification, Distribution

Pleurotus ostreatus

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  • Edibility – 3 – An good, meaty mushroom, great in stir-frys and to supplement other fungi.
  • Identification – 3 – 5-20cm diameter pale to dark grey, brown or occasionally olivaceous brackets growing in overlapping tiers; crowded cream to fawn gills running down a short stipe. Avoid the olive oysterling, which has a distinct stipe and olivaceous tone.
  • Distribution – 3
  • Season – September-March – one of the few fungus that can be found during winter, fruiting is stimulated by frost.
  • Habitat – Grows on standing and fallen beech trees – often lightening damaged.

Oyster mushrooms are becoming quite familiar to most people as they are easy to cultivate and commonly sold in delicatessens  and large supermarkets. There are a few subspecies of oyster mushroom, some of which can grow enormous – like the 4kg beauty shown below. Probably the most beautiful mushroom I have ever seen.

oyster mushroom

If you think you have come across some particularly pale, ghostly and flimsy oyster mushrooms in dank coniferous woodland then you are more likely to have found angel wings (pleurotellus porrigens). This used to be considered quite rare, but now seem quite common in older conifer plantations. It is very beautiful in dank misty woodland, though less good to eat than true oyster mushrooms. I have seen its edibility listed as “unknown”, but I have eaten it on several occasions with no ill effects. There was recently a case of group poisoning in Japan and the finger was pointed at angel wings (considered a dilicacy over there). The case is a little dubious as the mushroom had been widely eaten for centuries previously. I suspect cross-contamination, or possibly a gastro-irritant being ingested at the same time.

angel wings (pleurotellus porrigens)

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10 Responses to “Oyster mushroom – Edibility, Identification, Distribution”

  1. do you know of anybody who farms oyster mushrooms in Scotland?

    • Hi Bryan,
      Sorry, no I don’t. Most of the exotic cultivated mushrooms are grown down South or in Ireland as far as I know.

  2. Soz Half a message,my friend say’s hes getting oysters in late April but there little delicate things, pure white , that he says melt in your mouth! Doesnt sound like them.
    I ate some orange things he found on a log and he said he was eating them for year’s and didnt feel to well. I dont think he know’s what he’s doing!

    • Hmm..oyster mushrooms can appear at almost any time of year, but tend to be fairly robust. Possibly angel wings? Eating small orange mushrooms off logs without a firm ID is asking for trouble. Chances are if he’s picking them in winter they are velvet shank. But there are many other things they could be – including funeral bells! Positive ID required! All these fungi appear on this site somewhere – use the search box to learn more. Stay safe!

  3. Is there a solid reason why you say to avoid olive oysterlings?
    I have seen them listed as edible in some references and inedible in others.
    I have also read accounts of folks who eat them with glee!
    I ask because we have a good few around my patch of D&G at this time and I am itching to sample them.

    • Hi Andy,
      I’ve never eaten them myself. I think I was basing this on the fact that they aren’t generally listed as edible (at least in my books). I do eat plenty of stuff that the guide books have got wrong, so will have a go! I certainly don’t know of any reports of toxicity and would be interested to read any links you might have to people who enjoy them. I see them reasonably often through the winter, though never in any great quantity. Please let me know how you get on with them.
      Best wishes,

  4. I found some mushrooms growing on some dead wood but I’m not sure how to identify them. They look like oyster mushrooms but have a sponge like membrane on the bottom and tan colored top. Can you identify please? If I knew how to send a picture I would. Sorry!

    • Hi Bob. Sounds like they could be dryad’s saddle, which is just coming into season. Not super-edible…see here

  5. Hi Mark, every year i find very big mushrooms on a dead fig trunk, in June. They look like pleurotus pulmonary to me, they smell nice and are very fleshy and havy. But my fear is that they might be angel’s wings. Will you tell me how can I be sure ? I keep them in my frig , waiting for your answer.
    thank you
    Ariela (from Israel)

    • Hi Ariela,
      Sorry, slow reply, i’ve had some trouble accessing my website – guess you’ll have thrown it out by now!
      Its impossible for me to say without seeing a good picture.
      Dryad’s saddle is common in the UK in June (don’t know about Israel!)- check it out here: http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/?page_id=1126

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