Wild Edibles, Hericium, The Toothed Fungus

Hericum coralloides on a decaying log
Hericum coralloides on a decaying log | Source

Hericium are incredibly beautiful and unique looking mushrooms that are referred to by many names, Hercs, the comb tooth fungus, bear tooth fungus, lion's mane mushroom and bearded tooth mushroom. There are four main species of hericium, Hericium erinaceus. Hericium coralloides, Hericium albietis and Hericium americanium, that are commonly found in the United States although others are present. While many species have been designated for this type of fungus, there are still studies that must be done to confirm that there are actual species variations and not just variations within the appearance of one or two species.

There are striking similarities between all species of Hericium and all are delicious edibles, that grow in large quantity when the conditions are right. The mushroom has a flavor that is often likened to sea food and a texture that is firm when not over cooked. Finding these mushrooms is a real treat and when prepared properly they are delicious and impressive to guests and customers alike.

Finding, Identifying, and harvesting Hericium

Three Hericium species Hericum americanum (bear tooth), collaradies (comb tooth)and erinaceus (bearded tooth) all grow on hardwoods, more specifically in wounds or scars of hardwood trees. The bear tooth and comb tooth will grow on living hardwoods, dying hardwoods and on very moist decayed logs, especially white oak and beech logs here in the northeast United States. The bearded tooth fungus will grow only on living hardwood trees in my experiece although others have reported it growing on dead wood. Hericium abietis grows in the Pacific northwest United States and bears a very striking resemblance to the bear tooth mushroom, except that it grows upon decaying conifers

The mushrooms are easily identified by their icicle like structure of varying degrees.The difference in species is easy to see, as Hericum americanum has much more dramatic icicle like structures while Hericium collaradies has a much more coral like appearance. The bearded tooth version (erinaceus) will be found in one single mass, while the others will be found with branching structures and many clusters of drooping spines.

They will reappear annually on longs until the logs are too rotted to support further growth, which makes finding them a real treat, as the location can be stored away for the next year. This makes Hericium a popular mushroom to harvest and sell to local food establishments.

A large mass of Hericium coralloides
A large mass of Hericium coralloides | Source

These species begin to appear lin early to mid-August and will go through late October, often appearing after frost has moved into the area. They will appear after a good late summer thunderstorm, or after several wet and rainy days. I have found that Hericium will grow on the uphill side of many logs, making it easier to find them while travelling downhill on a trail or through the woods. I have seen Hericium growing both at the forest floor level and up to ten feet in the air on some trees, so don't just keep your eyes scanning the ground if you are searching for these. If you see an old decayed log take a walk around and check both sides, as hericium seem to prefer one side of a rotting log in my experience.

To harvest cut, don't pull the mushroom from the log. If you pull, you will bring a bunch of rotted wood material with you and will make it tough to clean the mushrooms as bits of debris will easily stick between the teeth. Hericium will also begin to wilt once you pick it . Do not worry this is normal and there is really nothing you can do to prevent it. Once the mushroom is cooked, many of the spines will disintegrate or wilt and so the wilting is just a natural characteristic you cannot avoid.

Hericium erinaceus,note the larger spines and single mass
Hericium erinaceus,note the larger spines and single mass | Source

Preparing Hericium

Like any wild mushroom Hericum will have some amount of wildlife in its fruiting body. This means that you will need to clean the mushrooms before you use them. Putting the mushrooms in a container with some moist towels and then into the refrigerator will draw out the great majority of the little critters in the mushroom. Before using you can briefly wash the mushrooms in a bucket or pot of cold water which should remove any other wildlife. Make sure there are not pieces of rotted wood, or woody debis before you cook the mushrooms. Hericum will give out a lot of moisture, like any mushroom when cooked so be sure to account for this, not over cooking the mushroom will help to prevent an excessive amount of moisture loss.

Hericum can be roasted by tossing large pieces of it in olive oil and spices, then putting int he oven at a relatively high temperature (>400 degrees) for about ten minutes. This is a great method to incorporate large chunks of the mushroom for dramatic plating effects.

Hericium can be cut into pieces and sauteed in butter or oil in a hot pan. You do not have to overly cook these mushrooms they will warm quickly and should be added last to most saute or stir fry dishes they are incorporated into. Hericum mixes well into many seafood dishes, and has a great texture to compliment scallops or shrimp.

Since hericium can be served in large chunks it makes an interesting addition to stews, risotto, and pasta to break up the dish texturally and add flavor. Hericum can be diced and cooked with vegetables to make for a great wrap or unique topping for a pan seard fish fillet or steak.

Finally, by cooking a large quantity Hercium fully at low heat and then blending with butter and white wine you can make a very unique flavorful sauce for steak or salmonn

Hericium americanium on a decaying log
Hericium americanium on a decaying log | Source

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