Foraging for Oyster Mushrooms


oyster mushroomsOne of the best wild edible mushrooms is also one of the few that I can often find year-round, but Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) is especially tasty and prolific in the fall.

You’ve probably eaten oyster mushrooms at restaurants, or payed a steep price to buy some at a gourmet market. The “wild” Oysters you buy are actually cultivated, not wild (you got it that we’re talking about oyster fungi, not oyster shellfish, right?). They are usually grown on logs that are inoculated with Pleurotus ostreatus spores.

That gives you a clue about where you’ll find Oysters growing wild (if you're wondering why I'm capitalizing "Oysters," it's because I'm trying to convey the verbal accent us mushroom hunters and foragers use when talking about certain choice edible wild mushrooms: We don't say "hen of the woods mushroom," for example. We say "I found Hen today." Likewise, we don't refer to the oyster mushrooms we just found. Instead, we simply refer to them, with a gleam in our eyes and maybe hint of a brag in our intonation, as "Oyster."

Pleurotus ostreatus is a decomposer mushroom that breaks down dead hardwoods. I find it on stumps and dead trees (often just higher than I can reach unassisted…sigh). Oyster is one of the few carnivorous mushrooms: its mycelia are capable of killing and digesting nematodes.

Oyster gets its common name from the shape of its fruiting bodies (that’s the part of the fungus we call the mushroom). They look a little like stacks of oyster-shaped shells, except that they have a soft texture. Unlike many other shelf fungi, the undersides of Oysters are gilled.

The stems, when present, are off center with the gills running part way down them. The tops of the caps range from off-white to beige to brown to grey.

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