Australian Chicken of the Woods?

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Australian Laetiporus sp.

There is a sweet full colour Photo of Laetiporus sulphureus in AM Young’s field guide to the fungi of Australia. Now the truth is L. sulphureus has bright yellow pores and its likely that what we have in Australia is actually something different. But in the Northern hemisphere they eat a whole cluster of the Laetiporus family, none are considered poisonous and some have white pores. However some stomach upsets have been reported, probably from under cooked specimens. Chicken of the woods needs to be cooked well at a high heat and eaten while the mushrooms are young and still growing as they become tough and leathery with age and are more likely to host potentially problematic bacteria and other parasites which love to eat fungi as they age.

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A young Laetiporus, best eaten at this stage or a bit bigger

The truth is I’ve only eaten these a handful of times mostly because until recently i didn’t know that they need to be eaten before the leathery stage when they are fully grown. This last summer season when they are fruiting i only found old dried out specimens so I’m still waiting to eat one in its prime. Even when mature they have a great meaty flavour that tastes a bit like well, chicken.

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A massive flush, by this stage the fungi are tough and leathery though still edible

I find them mostly growing close to watercourses on large dead logs in the rain forest, they seem to like the big old Brushbox logs that are often found in our creeks and on their banks. They can produce a massive flush of fruit that is almost impossible to mistake with the bright orange tops and perfectly white pores, that colour fades with age, they become pink or apricot then white as they rot. Australia has a few other Laetiporus species one interesting one can be seen here.

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An old specimen, the colour fades as they age. This is certainly to old to eat.

Laetiporus species are always found growing on wood, usually dead logs or roots tho I have found one on a living tree. The tops are generally brightly orange that can have bands of lighter colour and white along the edge. They are tough and leathery but not brittle. The thickness is about 5-10mm tho they can be thicker near the base, they can be large, over 300mm across, generally there will be a whole bunch on the same log. the pores are very fine and white, the flesh is white and a bit stringy becoming woody towards the base. Spores are white. They cause brown rot. Harvest only young supple specimens, the outer section of the fungi is the best bit.

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A Young fresh looking Laetiporus

When eating a new mushroom its important to proceed slowly and carefully. Firstly be sure of your ID, verify it with multiple sources if possible. Select a fresh, clean sample, enough for ID purposes and a taste. With ‘chicken of the woods’ its recommended to cook well at a high heat. For example saute them in oil for at least five minutes in a medium to hot pan. Ensure they are cooked evenly and all the way through. Boiling in a soup is not a good idea unless they are sauteed first, regardless, chew a small amount and spit it out. If you feel happy to proceed eat a small piece and wait a few hours. It’s not a great idea to eat a large amount the first time. The reality is all fungi have the potential to cause GI distress in some individuals.

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This one was growing on a living blue quondong and seems a bit different to the above species

I have found a nice sample to send away for DNA analysis later in the year, hopefully this will put a name to these guys. my hunch is that they will be more closely related to the Asian Laetiporus Cremeiporus but it may well be closer to L. Cincinnetus or even a new species. Edibility of this fungi in Australia would probably be disputed by most mycologists. That is mostly because we don’t have a history of it being eaten. I have come across quite a few anecdotal accounts of it being eaten by others in Australia without incident and I add my own experience to the list.

The Lilac Blewit: Lepista Sordida

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Lepista Sordida

Jsun from Mushroaming put me onto these little beauties, found in abundance in suburban lawns and parks over summer and into winter. They form clumps and fairy rings that can get huge, they seem to have a symbiotic relationship of some kind with the grass they grow with as it is tall, lush and green, growing faster where the mushrooms are.

The Atlas of living Australia list these as Lepista Sublilacina however recent DNA analysis found them to be L. Sordida an edible species from the northern hemisphere. Perhaps we have both species in Australia. Whatever the case the fact that they grow close to humans in lawns makes me think they are the introduced species.

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Lepista sordida, more typical colouring

These little Blewits are a pleasure to see, smell and taste. An amazing floral aroma with  great mushroomy flavor. Wild mushrooms should always be cooked before eating, these are good sauteed in butter with a pinch of salt. They grow well from stem butts and from a culture onto grain, I am experimenting with an outdoor patch using sugar cane mulch and grain spawn.

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Pink spore print of L. Sordida

Caps, stem and gills are a fairly uniform lilac colour that fades over time to become a washed out pink or even white with some brown around the edge and on the umbo as they age and are exposed to the sun. They have a pleasant floral odor when picked. The caps are small from 30 to around 100 mm across. Growing in soil with grass, or with wood chips in gardens but unlikely in native bush land. Pink spore print. The mycelium is also lilac!

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Hydrocybe Cheelii

Look alikes: There are a few Cortinarius Sp. that can be purple or lilac, they have rust brown spore print. Some Hygrocybe Sp. are lilac with a white spore print. Both species are more likely to be found in native bush and are not edible.

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Cortinarius Sp. Note the rust brown spores on the stem

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Lepista Sordida

Fungi are very efficient at collecting nutrients from their habitat, they can also pick up nasties like chemical fertilizer, heavy metals and herbicides. Its worth considering where your dinner is growing and what residue is in the immediate area that you may not want to consume. Roadsides and places where herbicides are used are not great places to pick mushrooms.

Mushroom Foraging

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Craterellus Cornucopioides, the Black Trumpet

Australian Edible Mushrooms and Fungi

This Page will be a record of the edible Mushrooms and interesting fungi I find within about 100km of Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia. The coast has a subtropical climate with high rainfall while in the hinterland we have a plateau with mountains that reach up to 1500m with the odd snow fall in winter. the range of climate zones and micro climates along with the multitude of vegetation types makes this area a fascinating place for mushroom hunting. To date I have found over twenty varieties of edible fungi in the area.

In Australia the eating of foraged mushrooms is regarded as dangerous. This is the result of a lack of a foraging culture, the loss of indigenous knowledge of fungi and fear based on  misinformation.

Identifying mushrooms is a learned skill, anyone who is prepared to spend the time can become competent and therefor safe. Without the required skills and knowledge mushroom foraging is risky and can result in misadventure, in fact the risks are real. Fortunately most mushrooms are benign and some are delicious. There is no standard test for myco toxins, and many of the rules only apply to certain genus.

I will provide details and photos of the different mushrooms i have eaten, however the onus is on the individual to always do your own due diligence before consuming any wild food. the first question should always be “What is it?” and not “is it edible?”  Most mushrooms are not edible and many that are have look alikes with unknown edibility.

Unfortunately researching edibility of Australian mushrooms is likely to leave you with more questions then answers. We have to use a variety of different sources. A Field Guide to Australian Fungi by Bruce Fuhrer is our best field guide. There are some other blogs with information about edibility the two best are Tall Trees and Mushrooms and Mushroaming. The Australian Wild Mushroom Hunters Facebook page is good. Mushroomexpert.com is a North american website that is helpful. Fungi map, wikipeadia and a google image search once you have a name are also useful. In short, we have a great tool at our disposal, its called the interweb, so use it but don’t expect to always get a clear cut answer on edibility.

That’s enough for now, Happy Foraging!

Jonas