Thursday, July 5, 2012

Are you sure those two things are the same species?

Species name: Flammulina velutipes

Common name: velvet-foot mushroom, velvet stem mushroom, winter mushroom

Location: Ontario

The "nativeness" of a mushroom is always difficult to ascertain, but the likelihood of this mushroom being of Asian origin is pretty high (even though it is now incredibly common in North American forests). The pictures I took of this collection don't quite do it justice; it's actually usually a much brighter pink-orange and becoming more brown towards the top of the cap, although the colour of the mushroom is highly dependent on weather at time of growth. The more vibrant the colours, the more water was available.

Those of you who know your mushrooms will know that this species is edible, but the cultivated form looks nothing like its wild sister. The cultivated form of this mushroom is grown under high concentrations of carbon dioxide, which gives it a tall, spindly-looking appearance and is much less fleshy (and slimy). It also is purely white, and better eaten raw than cooked (but I wouldn't EVER recommend eating a wild mushroom raw). The Japanese call this mushroom the "enokitake"--"enoki" after the Japanese word for the plant on which it most commonly grows in Japan, the Chinese Hackberry, and "take" which means "mushroom."

Asian people in general believe very strongly in the healing powers of fungi, and the enokitake mushroom is no different; it contains very high levels of antioxidants and has shown some promise in animal studies as being an effective cancer immunotherapy treatment. No human studies have ever been conducted, but eating an enokitake every so often certainly won't do you any harm! A word of caution with all mushrooms: there is rarely a fungus that doesn't contain some sort of carcinogenic compound. Even the common button mushroom contains a chemical that has been linked to cancer in mice, but is very volatile when exposed to even moderate heat and breaks down to two non-toxic forms when cooking. Despite this, you should always eat mushrooms in moderation (having them with every meal, while tasty, perhaps isn't a good idea) and be very, VERY careful when consuming them raw. The only two mushrooms I would ever advocate eating raw are the button mushroom in moderation, and the enokitake (which also contains some cancer-linked compounds that have been shown to be non-toxic when absorbed orally).

(from Wikipedia)