On a fall walk in the woods, a sharp-eyed observer may spot the light, bulbous mass of a fruiting Hericium mushroom against the dark form of the dead or dying tree that hosts it. Three species of Hericium, sometimes called lion's mane, are found in Minnesota. All when ripe are white clusters distinguished by different arrangements of tooth-shaped structures. H. erinaceus, sometimes called bearded tooth, has long, straight teeth, up to 2 inches long, that hang downward like icicles in a frozen waterfall. Both H. americanum and H. coralloides have shorter teeth, typically an inch or less for americanum and half an inch or less for coralloides. The teeth of americanum grow from branches emanating from a central base, resembling H. erinaceus but with shorter teeth, while the teeth of coralloides are arranged in branch-like formations that can give it the appearance of ocean coral.
Hericium most often grows from the wood of dead or dying deciduous trees, often fallen oak, beech, or maple, from late summer to fall. It can be spotted on logs, on stumps, and sometimes in the wounds of living trees.
This mushroom generally follows the range of the state's mixed hardwood forests.
Gathering and Eating.
On lands where it's legal to collect mushrooms, Hericium can be gathered by cutting it with a long knife at the base. This mushroom has no poisonous look-alikes. Experienced foragers find the state's Hericium species to be a choice edible, but these mushrooms are much scarcer than popular fall edibles such as oyster mushrooms and hen of the woods. At least once every fall, someone on a foray with the Minnesota Mycological Society will find a Hericium species, according to Ron Spinosa of the MMS. Sometimes compared to crab or lobster in taste and texture, the mushroom can be substituted for seafoods in dishes or simply sautéed in butter. Hericium is best eaten when white; yellowing indicates aging that may present a bitter taste. Hericium is also cultivated and sold at Asian groceries, sometimes as the monkey head mushroom, but Alan Bergo of the Forager Chef blog notes that wild-grown Hericium tastes "far better" than the cultivated version.
Keith Goetzman, managing editor