Oyster mushroom – Edibility, Identification, Distribution
- 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.
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 (Pleurocybella porrigens). This used to be considered quite rare, but now seem quite common in older conifer plantations, particularly in Argyll and the West Highlands. It is a very beautiful thing to find in dank misty woodland. 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.
Thanks to a comment by mushroom expert Geoff Dann (see in comments below) bringing to light some new scientific research, I have now revised my thoughts on the edibility of angel wings I no longer eat them myself, and wouldn’t recommend anyone else to eat them. Despite its long history of having been eaten (I know some people personally who eat them regularly with no ill-effects), there is now clear evidence linking compounds in the mushrooms with potentially catastrophic brain damage:
“It contains a precursor to an amino acid that does not occur naturally in human bodies. When people with poor kidney function consume this precursor, and it reaches the brain, the amino acid will form, and this can cause severe brain damage, leading to death.”
There should be some questions about the usefulness of force-feeding rats 100’s of times their own body weight of anything, then drawing parallels with sporadic and limited human consumption, but it would be foolish to ignore the advice. This opens up a whole world of discussion on “edibility”. It isn’t as black and white as people like to think. There are many variables, including dosage, accumulation, our own biochemical predisposition (presumably those that eat angel wings with impunity are lucky enough to have good kidney function), as well as the age and condition of the plant or mushroom in question. You can read more about this in this blog: