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 (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.

You can read an analysis of the poisoning here.


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.”

You can read the paper here.

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:

The Day I Ate A Deadly Plant: The Spectrum of Edibility

angel wings (pleurocybella porrigens)

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14 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

  6. Found what I believe to be yellow oyster mushrooms growing on and upright dead tree. They meet all the ID I’ve been reading but still slightly concerned being they are yellow

    • Hi Andrew,

      If it is clearly yellow (as opposed to creamy/off white), and definitely an oyster mushroom, it could be that you have found an escaped cultivar. Yellow versions of oyster mushrooms are now widely cultivated. And then marketed as “wild”! Grrrr….



  7. Hi Mark

    Re: Angel’s Wings.

    I’d be very reluctant indeed to advise people that eating this species is safe. Cross-contamination by gastro-intestinal irritants?

    There is now scientific proof of the mechanism by which this species causes 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.


    • Hi Dan, thanks for this information. I will amend my information accordingly.

      Edibility is a moveable feast in many ways, not least due to ongoing scientific research. I am a little sceptical about the usefulness of experiments involving the force-feeding of things to rats. If we were to force-feed any animal 100’s of times its own body weight of a substance over a short period, i’d expect to see some serious repercussions that may not necessarily provide meaningful insight. This has happened with regard to comfrey too, resulting in some fairly unhelpful scaremongering and blindly regurgitated “facts”.

      While I very seldom eat angel wings (due to the fact I don’t rate them highly and there tends to be much nicer fungi about without any suspicious toxicity reports), I know some who like and eat them fairly regularly, including a chef who has served them on his menu (contrary to my advice). Perhaps we’ve all been playing russian roulette!

      Nevertheless, I do take this research seriously, and will be teaching about them not as a “species with some suspicions around edibility”, but as a potentially deadly fungi, with a history of having been eaten, from now on. The brown roll-rim also falls into this category. I like these grey areas. They are useful for opening up discussions on what we think of as “edible”. I wrote more widely on this here: http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/?page_id=1675



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