Shaggy Mane Mushrooms: What They Are and Where to Find Them
Shaggy mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) are an edible mushroom species common in North America. Also known as Lawyer’s Wig mushrooms, they have tall and rounded caps and are covered with lacy scales that curve up from the sides.
Shaggy Mane mushrooms are part of the ink cap species of mushrooms. They are delicious when harvested properly and considered quite safe to forage, with only a few troublesome look-alikes. We remind you to be sure to run your mushroom finds past an experienced forager before eating them.
What Do Shaggy Mane Mushrooms Look Like
The Shaggy Mane mushroom is one of the easier mushrooms to identify. It has a distinct look, so is a great starter mushroom for beginner foragers.
Shaggy mane mushrooms grow out of the ground — never out of trees or wood — and look like little white pellets when first sprouting up. As they grow older, they form a long, rounded point cap and a long stem and take on a tall, scruffy appearance. As the shaggy mane of the cap continues to grow, the stem remains smooth and hollow. White to almost tannish in color, the stem has a partial veil on the mid-low area and tapers slightly at the top, becoming thinner as it gets closer to the cap.
The caps eventually grow between 1 to 2 inches wide and 3 to 6 inches tall. The gills are white and tightly packed together under the cap.
Shaggy manes are also known as lawyer’s wig mushrooms. As the cap continues to grow, the shaggy pieces look somewhat like the wigs used by lawyers and judges in English courtrooms.
The shaggy mane has a couple of look-alikes you need to know when you are out foraging.
The False Parasol (aka the Vomiter)
You’ll want to avoid this mushroom for obvious reasons. The False Parasol (chlorophyllum molybdites) is not deadly but will leave you out of commission for a few days. This is actually the most commonly eaten poisonous mushroom in the US.
The False Parasol is flatter than the shaggy mane, and it lacks the scale pattern that is commonly found on the shaggy mane.
The Magpie Ink Cap
The magpie ink cap ranges through Europe and Australia and is rarely found in North America. It has an unpleasant taste and can leave you with severe gastric distress.
Other Identification Tips
A few things will help you determine a true shaggy main from an imposter.
- True shaggy manes are usually much taller and more robust than other inky caps.
- They grow out of hard or disturbed earth – they never grow out of wood, like tree trunks or stumps.
- Their shaggy caps are impossible to ignore – even though some of the shaggy mane mushrooms may have the same shape as other mushrooms, none will be more flakey and shaggier than the shaggy mane mushroom.
Remember, if you haven’t yet hunted for Shaggy Mane mushrooms, be sure to go hunting with an experienced forager. It’s easy to make a mistake. Be safe, not sorry.
Falling to Pieces…or Rather, Puddles
Once the shaggy mane mushroom grows to maturity and begins to age, the cap will break apart from the stem and will begin to resemble a puddle of black goo. This process turns the once full mushroom into a blackish-inky mess.
Picking the mushroom will also trigger the liquefication process, so be sure to use your shaggy mane mushrooms quickly, or you’ll be left with an inky mess. Stick to picking the younger ones; they will last a few hours before liquefying. The older ones will begin the process in less than an hour.
If you can get your shaggy manes home before they start to liquify, you can sautee or simmer them until they are soft and then store them in the refrigerator for a few days.
Another tip is to carry a canteen full of ice water with you. If you drop your shaggy manes into the ice water, it will slow down the liquefication process by 24 hours or so, giving you time to get the mushrooms home to incorporate them into a meal.
Where Do They Grow?
Growing in the summer and fall, shaggy mane mushrooms are most common in North America. They grow in open meadows, grassy areas like lawns, and parks in more urban environments. Shaggy mane mushrooms also like rocky soil and gravel. They prefer areas with foot traffic and disturbances to the earth. For this reason, you should clean them and inspect them for bruises.
You will see shaggy mane mushrooms growing individually or somewhat scattered, but are most often found in groups. They can often be found flourishing after heavy rain.
Shaggy mane mushrooms usually fruit in the fall, but you may find them fruiting in the summer and even the spring months. Like other mushrooms, shaggy mane mushrooms will continue to come back and grow in the same spot as in previous years, making their location easy to return to over and over again.
Using Shaggy Mane Mushrooms
With their very short shelf life, these mushrooms can be difficult to work with for culinary purposes. As mentioned above, once harvested, they will begin to turn black and inky within mere hours of being picked.
Not only do they not keep well, but they are also delicate. They can bruise easily – even just from bouncing around in your basket while on your way home from a successful day of harvesting.
A bruised, shaggy mane mushroom will start to soften and then liquefy completely – from cap to stem – turning the once-solid mushroom into a thick, inky substance. This substance can stain your hands or clothing and is actually used to be used as an ink supplement.
The flavor of this black inky goo has been said to have a very intense and aromatic flavor – a more earthy and “mushroomy” taste.
Shaggy mane mushrooms themselves have a mild flavor; however still distinctive enough to carry their own taste. The younger ones are firmer and can be into pieces and fried with some butter.
Another popular way to enjoy shaggy mane mushrooms is in a stew or soup; whatever way you plan on preparing and cooking your shaggy mane mushrooms, know that they should never be eaten raw. Because of their subtle flavor, these mushrooms tend to be overwhelmed if mixed into strongly flavored dishes.
Issues with shaggy manes are extremely rare, but some people have reported troublesome reactions to alcohol when eating shaggy manes, including nausea, sweating, and other gastro-related symptoms.
To be extra safe, try eating a very small portion if it’s your first time eating shaggy mushrooms. Wait several hours to ensure that no undesired effects befall you.
Wrapping It Up
Shaggy mane mushrooms are easy and safe to identify. But they are a bit more difficult than most mushrooms to use in cooking. That said, their soft, delicious taste and firm texture make them an excellent mushroom to add to your foraging collection!
To learn about other wild mushrooms, please see our article Mushroom Foraging — The Ultimate Guide.
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