Gourmet Species

Button Mushrooms (Agaricus Sp)

The most commonly cultivated mushrooms in the world, the saprotrophic Agaricus species grow on a mixture of compost and straw, usually in vast automated factories. These mushrooms are inexpensive to buy and can be found in almost every shop that sells vegetables.

Many species of Agaricus mushrooms can be found growing across the UK however be sure to use an experienced person before picking any mushroom, especially an Agaricus species as some have been confused with the Amanita Phalloides, the Death Cap, and ended badly for those involved.

Some of the cultivated Agaricus species are;

  • Portobello: A mature version of the Chestnut mushroom
  • Button mushroom: The common white immature mushroom
  • Chestnut: Often confused with Pholiota Adiposa, it could be identified by its browner cap
  • Forestiere: A recently bred variation of the classic button mushroom

These mushrooms have a mild taste and firm flesh making them suitable for a variety of dishes.  

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Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus Sp)

Another commonly cultivated saprotrophic mushroom is the oyster mushroom. The fungi has over 200 species within the genus, each varying slightly in taste, shape, size, colour, and cultivation requirements. The Pleurotus family are commonly known as Oyster mushrooms.

The variants include;

  • Pleurotus Ostreatus: Blue/Grey/Brown/Pearl Oyster mushroom
  • Pleurotus Citrinopileatus: Golden/Yellow Oyster mushroom
  • Pleurotus Djamor: Pink Oyster mushroom
  • Pleurotus Pulmonarius: Summer/Indian/Italian/Phoenix Oyster mushroom
  • Pleurotus Eryngii: King Trumpet/King Oyster Mushroom

There are many other cultivated Pleurotus species, but the above list includes the most common ones. The majority of them are grown on pasteurised straw thanks to their aggressive and tenacious colonisation speed. Supplemented hardwood sawdust is commonly used as a substrate to increase yields. Most species of oyster may also be cultivated on logs using dowel spawn. The Indian oyster can also be cultivated on softwoods such as pine, an uncommon trait amongst most wood decomposing mushroom.

Wild Pleurotus species are found across the UK. They can be easily identified by their large clusters, stunning gills, and distinctive colours.  They have a medium to mild flavour and a firm texture. Oyster mushrooms are often used as a meat replacement as it ‘pulls’ similar to muscle fibres.

Oysters don’t travel well as they bruise easily and don’t stay fresh for long, so examples of Oysters found in supermarkets are usually immature or past their best. The exception are Pleurotus Eryngii, King Oysters, which travel well and can be stored for a relatively long time.

Shiitake (Lentinula Sp)

A staple in many Asian and Far Eastern countries, the Shiitake is another saprotrophic mushroom commonly cultivated on hardwood logs with dowel spawn, or supplemented sawdust blocks, some success has also been had with straw but with smaller yields. The Shiitake is also believed to have medicinal properties as well as being a highly sought-after gourmet mushroom. 

The Shiitake has a rich earthy flavour, commonly associated with the umami sense or ‘pleasant savoury taste’. Shiitake are, again, used as a meat substitute due to their rich taste and firm texture. They also go well in soups, stews and, when dried and ground up, used as a seasoning ingredient.

Shiitake are not native to the UK so finding wild species would be unusual. However, they are easily cultivated in the UK both indoors and outside. They are identified by their brown caps interspersed with white flakes. They may grow as a single fruit or in a cluster.

An unusual feature of the Shiitake is its mycelium is brown, not white when fully mature. This can be misdiagnosed as contamination but is perfectly normal. Shiitake travels well and can be stored for long periods of time; and it can be found in most UK supermarkets.

Black Poplar (Agrocybe Sp)

Also known as the Poplar or Pioppino, the Black Poplar is a less commonly cultivated saprotrophic gourmet mushroom. The origins of the genus range from China to the Mediterranean. It is, again, cultivated in bags on supplemented hardwood substrates, hardwood logs on dowels and can also be cultivated on outdoor beds similar to Winecaps.

The Poplar has a firm, nutty, earthy flavour and is used in soups, stews and stir fries. The mushroom prefers colder and high humidity climates making it a great choice for an autumn/winter outdoor grow. This species is found in the wild in the USA, Asia and parts of southern Europe.

Enoki (Flammulina Sp)

Also known as Enokitake and Velvet shank, Enoki is a commonly cultivated saprotrophic gourmet mushroom. They are another cold loving species which thrive in lower temperatures and low light. Enoki can be grown on hardwood logs and supplemented sawdust bags. It is often grown on big industrial bottle farms with collars around the neck to encourage elongated stems by raising CO2 levels.

Enoki that is cultivated is very different to Enoki found in the wild. When cultivated, Enoki is encouraged to grow tall and stringy by increasing the amount of CO2 that it is exposed to. Limiting the light, the mushroom also doesn’t develop much colour, and has a much paler appearance than its wild cousin which appears as a vibrant orange/yellow/sulphur colour growing in clusters or single fruits.

Wild enoki is found across the UK throughout the winter and it grows on hardwood logs and stumps. It shares similar visual characteristics as the aptly named Funeral Bell Galerina marginate which is deadly poisonousAlways be 100% certain of any species you pick before eating them.

Enoki is used in soups and salads, it has a mild flavour and a slight bite. It is commonly found in woodland mushroom mixed punnets in supermarkets across the UK.

Hen-of-the-wood (Grifola Sp)

Also known as Maitake, Hen-of-the-wood is a parasitic polypore gourmet mushroom that grows on hardwood logs, living trees and supplemented sawdust blocks. It grows in large clusters, usually out of the base of trees.

Maitake is used in soups, stews and as a meat substitute. It has a firm texture, and strong earthy mushroom taste. It can be found growing across the UK throughout autumn and early winter. Maitake is also believed to have medicinal properties that have been used in traditional medicine across Asia for thousands of years.

It may be confused with species such as Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor, another medicinal species or the Cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis crispa. It is again, commonly found in woodland mushroom mixed punnets at most supermarkets.

Winecap (Stropharia Sp)

Also known as King Stropharia, the Winecap is a commonly cultivated saprotrophic mushroom found throughout the world, growing naturally through Europe and North America. It is often cultivated on outdoor hardwood woodchip beds inoculated with sawdust spawn or dowels. However, it may also be cultivated indoors on supplemented hardwood sawdust blocks or pasteurised straw.

The fruit itself has a deep burgundy colour and has a sweet and nutty taste with a firm texture. Winecaps are delicate and do not travel well or keep long, therefore are not commonly found in supermarkets, only through specialist distributors.

Medicinal Species

Lions Mane (Hericium Sp)

Also known as Monkey Head, PomPom Mushroom, Hedgehog Fungus (Not to be confused with Hydnum repandum) and by many other names Lions Mane is a white, parasitic, and saprophytic, tooth/spined gilled mushroom. There are approximately 10 species of Herecium. The mushroom is easily identified by its vibrant white colour and distinctive long spiney gills. When immature the mushroom may have a pink hue and when overly mature begins to yellow.

The mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, the medicinal compounds are thought to help with neurological degradation conditions and neurological preservation. It’s thought to help with dementia, depression, and a whole host of other cognitive related conditions. As well as neurological conditions, it is believed that Lions Mane may have anti-tumour polysaccharides, improve immune response, and help with nerve re-generation.

Lions Mane has been brought to the public’s eye in recent years due to notable endorsements by celebrities. This has triggered an uplift in research and consumption of the mushroom. For more information on the potential benefits of the mushroom, use the search function in the link below. For example, search for ‘Herecium Dementia Effects’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/.

The genus Herecium may be found growing wild all over the world. In the UK many species of wild Lions Mane are protected. Therefore, growing Lions Mane through commercial methods is the only sustainable way to have a ready supply of the mushroom.

The mushroom may be cultivated on hardwood logs with dowels, and supplemented hardwood sawdust. Lions Mane doesn’t travel well as the spines may bruise and fall off easily. They are stored in a cool environment for a relatively long time, up to 7 days from fresh. Lions Mane have a flaky but firm texture, with a flavour similar to crab or lobster, mild and slightly sweet.  It is often used in cooking as a meat substitute for seafood.

In order to utilise the beneficial compounds from the mushroom, it may be steeped in tea, dried and taken as a supplement or eaten fresh. In order to extract the most compounds from the mushroom, an alcohol extraction is needed first, followed by a water extraction. For the best result, the mushroom is better off dried before an extraction.

Reishi (Ganoderma Sp)

Ganoderma lucidum is a parasitic and saprophytic, polypore mushroom, commonly known as just Reishi. It is one of around 80 species of Ganoderma. Again, used in traditional Chinese and Eastern medicine, the mushroom has been valued for its beneficial properties for a long time.

Reishi’s beneficial properties are thought to come from its broad spectrum of phytochemicals. These are believed to be immune boosting, tumour fighting and nervous system supporting. It is also considered to be a strong antioxidant. Many farms across Asia utilise spore capture techniques as it is believed that the spores of the Reishi contain strong medicinal compounds as well.

Ganoderma species can be found all over the world including the UK. Reishi mushrooms are easily identified by their polished caps with deep and vibrant colours, ranging from burgundy, through yellow, gold, orange and black to name a few.

Reishi can be cultivated on hardwood logs with dowels or on supplemented hardwood sawdust bags. By adjusting the levels of CO2, the Reishi may be elongated to grow tall from the top of a bag or can be side fruited as the bracket fungus it is. These are known as antlers and conks. The fruit is very tough, it’s inedible due to its woody texture and bitter taste. It is most commonly brewed as a tea with a sweetener, or the mushroom is dried, and its compounds are extracted using a water and alcohol extraction method.

Turkey Tail (Trametes Sp)

Commonly called Turkey Tail, it is from a genus of 50 species and is a saprotrophic bracket polypore mushroom. This can make identification of the wild species more of a challenge because it may be confused with Hen-of-the-wood also Grifola frondosa.

Turkey Tail is thought to contain medicinal compounds that have similar properties to Lions Mane and Reishi. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The potential benefits of the mushroom include anti-tumour, positive neurological benefits, and immune boosting compounds. It is also thought to have a positive influence on gut bacteria with some research indicating that it may help with weight loss. 

Turkey tail can be found across the world and is common in the UK. It can be identified by its preference for hardwood logs, stunningly patterned coloured rings and growth in relatively large clusters.

It can be cultivated on hardwood logs with dowels or in supplemented sawdust bags, however, it is notoriously tricky to cultivate Turkey Tail successfully and economically. This is because it has a specific set of light, heat and environmental parameters that need to be regulated to achieve an economical yield.

Turkey tail is another tough, woody like fungus making it inedible. It is better to be simmered and brewed as a tea. It may also be dried, and its compounds can be extracted through an alcohol and water method.

Cordycep Militaris (Cordycep Sp)

Also known as the Zombie Fungus, Cordyceps are a parasitic genus of fungi with over 400 species. The most commonly cultivated species is Militaris. They have been used in traditional eastern medicine for thousands of years. They are thought to be beneficial for their focus improving, anti-inflammation and energy boosting properties. The main active compound is called Cordycepin and is currently undergoing research for its anti-leukemic properties, however, research is still in the early stages.

It is called the Zombie fungus as once a spore infects the insect host it controls it, forcing it to climb and find the ideal location for the mushroom to grow and release its spores. It can be readily found growing wild across the world but usually are only found in single fruits. It makes much more sense to cultivate them because wild foraging wouldn’t be economical.

They can be easily identified in the UK by their bright orange fruit that looks like a Wotsit or a Nicknak. They may be confused with the pipe club fungus (Macrotyphula fistulosa) or the yellow stagehorn (Macrotyphula fistulosa). They can be found growing from the host that was initially infected.  

Cordyceps aren’t grown in a conventional way. Though they can be cultivated on a bed of sterilised bugs, they often aren’t. Instead, a liquid culture of the Cordycep is inoculated onto a nutrient rich brown rice mixture inside a sealed container. From inoculation to fruiting usually takes 60 days as Cordyceps are a very fast-growing mushroom.  Because of the nature of the Cordycep lifecycle, the culture degrades quickly so fresh cultures need to be bred from spores on a regular basis to avoid yield degradation, contamination, or crop at all. It is therefore important to buy your Cordycep culture from a reputable source.

Cordyceps are often dried and brewed into a tea, or the compound is extracted with alcohol and water. They are also eaten fresh, cooked in stir fries and have a mild, sweet taste with an initial firm bite.

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