Mushrooms are one of those things that people seem to absolutely love or absolutely hate. I’m a mushroom lover and foraging for them is a favorite of mine. Oyster mushrooms, in particular, are incredibly easy to identify and find.
Oyster mushrooms are one of the most common wild edible fungi. Unlike morel mushrooms, these guys are incredibly easy to find. In fact, people often come across them when they’re not even actively seeking them.
Identifying Oyster Mushrooms
These mushrooms are known for their oyster shaped cap (hence the name) and an off-center, short (or completely absent) stem. They always grow on logs or dead, rotting timber.
They have what are called decurrent gills. This simply means that the gills are attached to and run directly down the stem (or lackthereof).
The caps are typically anywhere from 2 to 10 inches across and are generally white to light brown (some may say similar to the color of oysters). They are characterized by a white spore print.
Where to Find Oyster Mushrooms
These mushrooms can be found everywhere in the United States.
In the wild they grow in clusters in a shelf-like appearance among dead rotting logs and trees. Typically hardwoods, and they love oak and birch trees.
If they’re not growing on wood, they’re not oyster mushrooms if you found them in the wild.
They’re generally plentiful in the woods without even really looking for them. If you see dead, rotting timber whether standing or lying on the ground, it’s likely you’ll find oyster mushrooms among the logs.
What is Oyster Mushroom Season
These mushrooms can be found year-round in some climates. They prefer the coolness of spring rains and the fall, but they can even be found in the summer when it’s hot out.
The cooler seasons will generally provide more abundant foraging opportunities, but we’ve found them anywhere from March to November here in Indiana.
Are there any oyster mushroom look-alikes
Not in the United States, anyway. There are technically look-alikes but they are all just as edible as a true oyster, though some not as tasty.
The bear Lentinellus (Lentinellus ursinus) is not poisonous, but not tasty, either and looks similar to the oyster. It has saw-toothed gill edges. It is incredibly bitter to the taste, but if you look at the gills, it’s easy to separate from a true oyster.
Some say the elm oyster (Hypsizygus ulmarius) isn’t very tasty, but it’s not poisonous. The elm oyster can, however, be told apart from a true oyster as the gills are not decurrent. The gills do not run down the stem of an elm oyster.
I have been told that there is a poisonous look-alike called ghost fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis) in Australia and Asia. It glows in the dark (I believe). If you live in either of those areas, you will need to sort that out.
What Do Oyster Mushrooms Taste Like?
Oysters are known to be one of the best tasting wild mushrooms along with morels and chanterelles.
They have a wonderful soft, pleasing texture once cooked. They have a subtle flavor with a hint of anise. Unlike some mushrooms, they are not at all overpowering in earthy flavors and are perfect for many, many dishes.
Their flavor is mild, but not completely non-existent and very pleasant.
Cooking Oyster Mushrooms
I love these just sauteed in a little butter with some salt and fresh thyme leaves. They can be added to any dish that calls for mushrooms. We really enjoy them in our venison stroganoff.
They’re also great alongside steak with a few onions, if that’s more your flavor.
These mushrooms are amazing, easy to identify and readily available a large portion of the year. This makes them perfect for beginners and advanced foragers alike.
Of course, as always, make sure you can properly identify them and it never, ever hurts to take along a field guide to help you. You never know what others you’ll come across in your search.
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