Shaggy Mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) are incredibly easy to identify, and a great choice for beginning foragers. They’re one of the “foolproof four” or the four most easily identified mushrooms, along with chicken of the woods, giant puffballs and morels. Also known as lawyer’s wig because they look a bit like the old school wigs used in historical courtrooms. They have only one common look alike, which is also edible, reducing the worry of harvesting the wrong species.
Shaggy Mane Mushroom Identification
With their distinctive scaly conical cap, shaggy mushrooms are easy to identify. Look for a whitish cone mushroom cap with upturned scales. The scales, or the shaggy parts of the shaggy mane are often grey, tan or reddish brown which makes them easy to see against the light colored background of the mushroom cap.
The flesh of the mushroom cap is fragile and easily broken. Be very careful when handling shaggy manes because they’ll fall apart easily, even when fresh. Once they’ve aged even slightly, they disintegrate even more easily.
The gills start out as white, but they quickly become black and inky. These mushrooms degrade rather quickly, and that’s how they get their other common name, inky cap. The ink itself is used to color dishes and in recipes for its distinctive natural food dye. The spores themselves are a deep black color.
Stems of shaggy manes are fibrous and hollow. They start out wider at the bottom and taper slightly towards the top where they attach under the mushroom cap.
When you touch a shaggy mane past prime, or the gills of just about any specimen, they’ll color your hand with a black ink-like substance. This mushroom ink was once used as an ink substitute, and they’re sometimes called inky cap mushrooms, though that usually refers to their look alike. More on that later.
If you look closely under an older mushroom, the inky substance may have already started shedding. There will be a pool of “black mushroom goo” accumulating on the grass or soil under the mushroom. This one’s still good, if you cook it immediately.
Where to Find Shaggy Mane Mushrooms
Shaggy manes grow in late summer and fall, appearing directly out of the ground. You can find them in lawns, wood chip piles, rocky soil or any patch of compacted and abused land.
They’re a great mushroom for urban foragers since they tend to prefer compacted or degraded soils. They’ll often appear in compacted soils along the edges of driveways right after a rain.
Shaggy manes often appear singly, growing alone out of a patch of grass. Sometimes they’ll appear in tightly packed groups, making them easy spot. If you do happen to find a large quantity at once, take care to only harvest as many as you can use that day. The mushrooms won’t keep, and they need to be used within hours of harvest.
Shaggy Mane Look-Alikes
The common ink cap (Coprinus atramentarius) or inky cap looks quite a bit like a shaggy mane. Both mushrooms produce a black ink-like substance, and both have an elongated bullet-like shape when fresh, but the inky cap lacks the “shaggy” portions on the cap that help to positively identify shaggy manes. Shaggy manes usually grow singly, while inky caps are commonly found in groups.
Inky cap is also edible, but it can cause adverse reactions in combination with alcohol. Drinking after eating inky cap mushrooms results in nausea, vomiting, heart palpitations, and gets worse if more alcohol is consumed.
This issue only happens in combination with alcohol, so avoid consuming alcohol and you won’t have to worry. Keep in mind, that the issue can arise even drinking alcohol up to 48 hours after consuming inky caps.
How to Cook Shaggy Manes
Collect shaggy manes when they’re young, before they start to degrade. Once they’re picked, shaggy manes will become inky and degrade within hours. That’s one reason you wont find them in fancy restaurants. Putting them in the refrigerator will slow the process and buy you a few more hours, but they still need to be prepared before the day is out.
They’re commonly used in risotto, a creamy rice dish, where they dissolve and create a dramatic black colored dish.
How do shaggy manes taste?
When fresh, shaggy manes have a very subtle earthy flavor. They’re good for pairing with simple dishes, like pasta or chicken. Don’t bother combining them with anything strongly flavored because they’ll just be lost.
Once shaggy manes begin to age, their flavor changes. Forager Chef describes the transition, “Something interesting happens when the mushroom begins it’s transformation into a puddle of black goo though, the flavor changes slightly, becoming intense and aromatic, something you could describe as being more ‘mushroomy.'”
Shaggy Mane Recipes
- Fried Parmesan Crusted Shaggy Manes from Forager Chef
- Shaggy Manes in Cream from The Morning Sun
- Cream of Shaggy Mane Soup from The Myco Boutique
- Shaggy Mane Poppers from Wild Mushroom Recipes
- Shaggy Mane Risotto from The Baked Alaska Project