Maitake Desk

Maitake, or hen of the woods, mushrooms are one of the northeast and midwests most prized flavors of Fall.  Wild-foraged maitake almost always have superior flavor to the cultivated varieties, and can be found in huge quantities through much of October-November growing around the base of trees, usually White Oak.  Maitake has been well-studied for its effects on the immune-system, cancer, and insulin sensitivity.

We usually think of white-wine and sherry as proper deglazing liquids for mushrooms.  Maitake is one of the mushrooms that takes to beer quite nicely.

Maitakes aren’t available year-round from Mycopolitan.  However, 9 months of the year we have King Trumpets available, which when torn apart instead of chopped, mimic Maitake quite well.  Trumpet texture is superior in my opinion- flavor is milder but similar in its “poultry-esque-ness”

This soup is one of my favorite fall treats.  Some of the ingredients are rather expensive, however you may consider charging your neighbors an exorbitant fee to enjoy a bowl of hot mushroom soup on a cool fall night to cover costs.


 Maitake+Trippel+Chevre Soup (vegetarian)

Serves 8

1.5 lbs fresh chopped maitake mushrooms

½ oz dried porcini musrhooms

4oz butter

1 pint of beer, preferably Belgian trippel or similarly complex, non-hoppy beer

8 medium sized shallots

2 cloves of garlic

4 diced carrots

3 diced celery stalks

1 diced medium sized whole fennel

3 bay leaves



¼ cup chevre goat cheese

¼ cup heavy cream

Dash of cinnamon (optional)

Dash of cayenne (optional)

3 twigs of tarragon

Handful of parsley



Soak Porcini in enough beer to cover the mushrooms.  It will take up to 30 minutes to reconstitute dried porcini.

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat to medium, then add butter, shallots, carrots, celery, fennel, bay leaves and salt

When shallots have become translucent, add the chopped maitake mushrooms.  Stir every few minutes for 20 minutes, allowing the maitake to slightly caramelize as they cook through.

Turn heat up to high and add the water, beer, and the reconstituted porcini/beer liquid.  When it reaches a simmer, turn down the heat and cook for another 20 minutes to develop the broth.

When you can taste all of the vegetables in the broth, cut the heat and stir in the cream and goat cheese .  Salt, Pepper, Cinnamon, and Cayenne to taste.  Pull the bay leaves.

Finally, add the minced tarragon and parsley Or sprinkle the minced herbs over the serving bowls.

Enjoy with a nice thick piece of sourdough and tall glass of Trippel.



If you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge fan of the species Stropharia Rugosoannulata.  It feeds nutrients to and hydrates plants, builds quality soil, feeds bees and humans.  It’s tasty, prolific and most importantly, easy to grow at home.  With so many uses, it’s the hemp of the fungi kingdom.

Stropharia mycelium is now running at Heritage Farm.  Heritage is becoming Mycopolitan’s hub for outdoor mycological research and will soon be our pickup location for  everything you’ll need to grow mushrooms in your yard or patio.  Farmer Adrian Galbraith-Paul, the interns, and volunteers have all been helping Brian and I to introduce fungi into the thriving community of lifeforms that co-exist on the 3-acre Philadelphia estate.  We’re looking forward to the Fall when our first products– shitake logs and stropharia spawn bags– will be available for pickup.

happy mycelium running onto new woodchips

happy mycelium running onto new woodchips

stropharia spawn bed and root cellar

stropharia spawn bed and root cellar

burlap spawn bags chilling in the cellar

burlap spawn bags chilling in the cellar

burlap before and after spawning

burlap before and after spawning

To protect mycelium from extreme temperatures, we built a sort of miniature “root” cellar for our stropharia spawn.  Adjacent to the cellar is a shallow bed where we will expand generations of stropharia mycelium, then bag and drag it into the cellar for storage.  Every Spring we’ll lay down virgin woodchips and throw in healthy stropharia mushrooms and mycelium to keep the genetics fresh, diverse, and adaptive so mushrooms will thrive in any garden.


Stroph 2



With the summer season upon us, mushroomers everywhere are dusting off their field guides.  Mushroom identification can often be tricky business, and for many of us a field guide is our first intro to the skill.  Figuring out which field guide to start with depends on a number of factors, including:

1) Where you’ll be hunting.  Region is important, but also habitat.   If you do most of your hunting in, for instance, the Jersey Pine Barrens, you can get away with a mid-atlantic guide, but a guide focusing on coastal pine forests of the eastern seaboard may include even more of the mushrooms you are likely to encounter.  “Where” also describes “when.”  Peak chanterelle season on the east coast is summer while in the west it’s winter.  

2) What mushrooms you’re interested in.  Perhaps you’re only interested in edible varieties.  That narrows the search down a lot. Maybe after a season of hunting you figure out that you’re most interested in boletes.  Even a field guide focused on the genera that comprise the boletes will leave some out because simply put, there are too many mushrooms to fit into one book.

3) How familiar you are with mushroom hunting methods.  While simply looking around the woods can sometimes yield great treasures, knowing the what, when, how of mushroom hunting is what makes it a lasting, fruitful hobby.  Tree species (oak vs. maple, white oak vs red), microclimates (south vs north facing slopes),  hydrology (flood plain, drainage) and indicator species (cup fungi appear around the same time that morels start to pop up) are all things to keep in mind.  Understanding the behavior of a species can be helpful too.  If you find one morel in an area, there’s a decent chance that if you stay still and scan the area, you will find more.  A good beginner mushroom book will include descriptions of some of these skills– or at least they should.  Over time, a hunter will instinctualize these things.  Finding the mushrooms you’re looking for is a behaviorally-rewarding experience that tends to bind environmental cues into memory.  You can’t just learn these things in a book, but a book can set you on the right path.

3) How much detail you’re looking for.  When you’re on a foray with experienced identifiers, they will often have thick booklets of textual keys.  Keys provide a bounty of information on each species and go into great detail.  A particularly meticulous russula expert once showed me hundreds of pages of color charts corresponding to cap and stem color within a single genus.  Distinguishing barely-perceptible variations in hue would make me and any other amateur identifier go crazy.  Leave it to the hardcore nerds.  Don’t be afraid of going for the field guide with the pretty pictures…  

…Scratch that.  Be afraid.

.  Just 12 years ago when I got my first guide, Gary Lincoff’s Audobon Field Guide was the only on the shelf.  A solid field guide that I’d recommend for a beginner, but I yearned for variety.   Recently, I checked out the nature section at Barnes and Noble and to my surprise there were a number of mushroom books and field guides.  I spent a few minutes checking out the covers and flipping the pages and in that short time I noticed two errors.

Now I don’t like being the tattle tale, but I when it comes to ID’ing mushrooms I feel it’s warranted.


The cover of this field guide features a chicken of the woods but if you look at the text, it says “hen of the woods.”  While this may not be the most dangerous mix-up, it suggests a lack of scrutiny on the part of the editors that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book. Also, it should be noted that chickens growing on locust and yew can possibly uptake toxins from those trees.  Hens aren’t known to grow on any toxic trees


The Falcon Guide to Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs made a more serious mistake.  The text, though curiously anecdotal, isn’t totally off.  It would have been helpful to mention that tree ears– those crunchy mushrooms you often find in hot and sour soup– can thin the blood.  The real issue is with the photo, which isn’t of a tree ear but a species of the genus gyromitra, the false morels.    In some parts of the country and the world, people do venture to consume false morels after careful preparation, but the genus has also been responsible for deaths due to the presence of gyromitrin which converts into hydrazine (MMH).  Hydrazine, a volatile toxin and carcinogen best known as a form of rocket fuel, should be presumed present in all raw mushrooms.  That’s one good reason to cook mushrooms.  The levels in some false morels can be so high that cooking them can release toxic levels of hydrazine into the air.  

It’s a tragedy to die from eating poisonous mushrooms.  It’s an even greater tragedy when you die from fumes even before you get a taste.  All because of a lousy picture.

So if you get a field guide, make sure it was written and edited by a mycologist.  Steer clear of new guides published in response to the growing popularity of mushrooms, especially those that cover plants and mushrooms together or include more anecdotes than factual details in the text.  Ask your local mycological association to help make a recommendation based on the above factors.  And when you take it for a spin, use the descriptions to make 100% confirmation.  If you plan to dine on your finds, 99% can land you in the hospital or worse.  

Some final thoughts on mushroom hunting using a guide.  Mushrooms, unlike plants, can be extremely variable.  The type of substrate, volume of substrate, temperature, light, age and even the strain itself all influence the appearance of a mushroom, and that appearance can range considerably.  Two mushrooms of completely different genus can look more alike than two mushrooms of the same species.  Use all the senses necessary to make an ID.  I find that smell is extremely useful.  Smells can be difficult to describe, but the mammalian brain has been filing olfactory signatures deep within the brain for millions of years so sniff freely and often.

My #1 tip:  don’t expect anything.  Unless you’re a professional forager whose income relies on finding something, look at a day spent in the woods with no mushrooms to show for it as a day spent observing and interacting with nature.  Well worth it.  And you also learned something about “when not” and “where not” that you can file away for future foraging decisions.

Happy hunting.  Black trumpets and cinnabar chanterelles are up in eastern PA.  



Agarikon dangling its feet

Agarikon dangling its feet


One day in recent decades, this particular Agarikon mushroom near a cliff on Queen Elizabeth Island, \British Columbia, decided to leave its perch atop an ancient sea-gazing douglas fir.  Individual Agarikon mushrooms like this can live on an old-growth tree for more than a century– the mycelium inside the tree for much longer.

When you make your way down the cliff, a Sasquatch’s stonethrow from the tree you will find whom Paul Stamets calls the “Mushroom Man” painted onto the rock face by the Haida Gwaii people.  Logic would suggest that this Agarikon, or an earlier incarnation, was present before the pictographs.  If that’s the case, I can’t help but wonder if, when the mushroom left its post for its current resting place,  it didn’t hop down for a better view of what the people had drawn… or rather (to really go out on a limb) perhaps it leapt down that morning to make itself visible to a team of researchers accompanying flesh-and-blood mushroom man Paul Stamets as they binoculared for Agarikon from a boat.

Mycelia configure into mushrooms in order to disperse their genes. After they’ve released spores, most mushrooms lower their immune defenses and break down hastily.  Chanterelles can remain above ground for a couple weeks, a long time for a soft mushroom.  Some rigid polypores are perennial.  Agarikon takes the persistent polypore idea to new heights… or rather lower heights if we assume gravity and not bipedalism was the means of transit.

After these oyster mushrooms were done dropping spores, they invited a cascade of  invaders-- from bacteria to insects to birds to plants-- converting an oil spill into a haven for life.

After these oyster mushrooms were done dropping spores, they invited a cascade of invaders– from bacteria to insects to birds to plants– converting an oil spill into a haven for life.

In his mind-altering talk at Wagner Institute Friday night, Paul explained that 70% of current pharmaceuticals have their origins in natural compounds.  Forest ecosystems build these molecules, then humans alter them in laboratories to form novel chemicals.  As we know, the only reason pharmaceutical companies can risk the often billions of dollars required to bring a new drug to market is that legal patents secure them exclusive access to a marketplace of eager, sick customers.  Are these new compounds better than their natural progenitors?  In some cases yes, but we can’t escape the reality that nature isn’t allowed behind your pharmacist’s counter unless it’s been altered.

The medicinal knowledge of indigenous people, accumulated over generations of curious exploration within the pharmacopoeia of the forest, is a technology we must take as seriously as modern marvels such as those found in nanotechnology and genetics.  Agarikon is significantly more effective against various strains of the flu and is an order of magnitude more active against smallpox than existing antivirals when studied in the lab.  Pharmaceutical antivirals are notoriously harsh on the body.  Agarikon like most mushroom medicine is gentle.  The worse you feel, the more you take without risking overdose (of course anything to excess can be problematic, even water).  Industrialized animal farms, antibiotic-filled hospitals, and guerrilla laboratories are breeding grounds for new pathogens, each of which has a chance of infecting a human and instigating a global pandemic.  Only 750 years ago, before the Black Death, human population was less than half a billion.  Today it’s over 7 billion.  We teeter precariously.

Agarikon, which once grew in forests across the planet and has only been rediscovered in uncut woodlands in the pacific northwest and small patches of old growth in Eastern Europe.  It is exceedingly rare.  Paul’s mentor searched for 40 years and found one specimen. As species become extinct at an estimated 200 per day, we must not only protect remaining intact ecosystems, but preserve and build from indigenous medicinal  wisdom.  Our survival may very well depend on it.

Lucky for us, at the moment we enjoy a free internet   All rediscovered and reaimagined knowledge of the natural world that surfaces at the fringe of civilization channels back to the “hive” and is propogated instantly around the world.  By the same process, we’re able to bear witness to a planetary shift in biological diversity that rivals mass extinctions caused by asteroids.   We’re changing the world in ways we can’t see yet, but with the internet we are able to see much more and therefore anticipate and remedy challenges.

Let’s all be better stewards of our planet, if only for our own sake.  And let’s be sure to keep the internet as free as it was mycelially intended.  For me, mushrooms were the tool that began lifting the veil.  Beyond the mushrooms themselves, the work of people like Paul Stamets has pulled that veil back even further.  It was an honor to spend time with Paul and Dusty, and Brian and I felt the veil lift a bit more after our dinner with the Stamets’ and fellow local mushroom farmers.

Lots of things in life lift the veil, but if you’re in search of one I recommend a book:  Mycelium Running.  Best read perched on a branch, though you need only skim the pages for pictures of the mushroom man.


Stroph 1

Now that the rains and Stamets’ have inundated the east coast, the mushrooms season is finally underway. Oysters and Morels are out there now. Check your Stropharia patch for babies and make sure the grill works.


To Join MUFN, our local mushroom listserv, email Tyler at

Hi Folks, after 2+ years of planning and re-planning, finding the right people, the right place, the funding, the nerve to leave the day job, some downs, more ups, It’s finally time to announce that we’ve broken ground on our new mushroom farm.


brownbellvert(thanks to friend of the mushrooms Patrick Salamon for this logo)

I’m going to defer to our soon to be launched website for all the words on this endeavor.  In short we’re building Philly’s first mushroom farm where we plan to:

1-Grow gourmet varieties for local restaurants + a retail establishment or two

2- Grow + make stuff for hobbyist mushroom growers of all levels

3- Research new varieties such as the namesake of this blog which hasn’t had much press lately

4- Research new agricultural and environmental applications for fungi

5- Go wherever the mushrooms lead us.


At this point we’re almost done our shelves.  Soon to rig up a steam sterilizer, low-tech lab, a hoop house for incubation and another environmentally controlled hoop house where the blocks will go to fruit mushrooms.


Wooden shelves for incubation

Wooden shelves for incubation


There are some interesting things in the pipeline I will explain in due time.  In the meantime if you haven’t ordered a ticket yet, get on it:

Paul and Dusty Stamets are coming to Philly!!!

I’ve been enjoying meeting and email folks from the MUFN (Mycopolitan Urban Fungi Network) listserv.  If you wanna learn more or join our local mushroom community, email

Much Love,


Last post we gave props to a non-native oyster variety.  This week I gotta shout out to a local oyster strain we’re lucky enough to have in our culture library.  Our Philly Oyster strain started out on a fallen poplar in the fall of 2012 and is the same strain we’ve used for all our Philly Oyster Kits.


Here’s a snapshot of how we make kits.  First, I take a benadryl.   Then we set up our pasteurizer, which you can see behind me and my assistant.  There are a number of ways to pasteurize.  Right now our rig is simple- a slightly below-ground, propane-fed burner (the kind you’d use to steam a cauldron of crawfish) with a cinder block firmly set on either side supporting a 55 gallon food grade drum filled 2/3 with water.  I use a grill cover and some pillows on top to help break the wind and hold in some of the heat, which really helps during the winter.


Once the burners on and the water’s on it’s way to 170F, we turn our attention to the substrate, first making sure the straw bale is mold-free inside before we shred it.  We used to use a lawnmower, but the yellow shredder pictured above does the job a little faster.  It’s easier with two people, even if one of them is 3’6″.  Oh this is also when the benadryl comes in handy- in addition to oyster spores, I’m allergic to fine particulates of their preferred substrate.  Maybe I’m in the wrong business!

The reason we shred the straw is that shredded straw, when it’s ready to be loaded into grow bags, can be packed in much tighter than straw straight from the bale   When using sawdust you usually want to avoid packing as it’s already quite dense, but with straw shredding will not only provide more base substrate for larger flushes, the mycelium runs faster when there are fewer leaps to be made between pieces of substrate.  Optimally shredded straw averages 4″ in length and is split lengthwise a couple times.  Sometimes this takes a second pass.  Shredding also abrades the waxy surface of the straw so water can absorb more readily during pasteurization.  Oyster mushrooms being over 90% water, this is pretty important.

The next step is loading burlap bags 2/3 of the way full with the shredded straw and tying them off with twine.  Fill them up too much, and it’s hard to pull them out when they’re full of water.  It’s also pretty dangerous considering you’re hoisting them out of 35 gallons of scalding liquid.  At this point, the water should be nearing 170F which means it’s time to toss two bags in.  Once in, they need to be pushed down and dunked a few times so they stay submerged.  Then, lid goes on, pillow etc. and you set your alarm for 1 hour.

Before pasteurizing it’s important to understand the rational behind it.  The point of pasteurizing is to kill off mold spores and bad bacteria while leaving a population of heat-loving bacteria that act as the substrate’s immune system during colonization.  The mycelium readily chomps this bacteria up.  Other contaminants can outrun mycelium early in the process and render the substrate useless.  There is a time-temperature curve for pasteurization.  Pasteurizing at 160 can be done in an hour.  At 140 it might take 3 or more hours. Over 180 and you’ve over pasteurized at least part of your substrate.  You don’t want to under or over-pasteurize.  You also have to keep in mind that the further into the core of the bag you go, the longer it will take for that substrate to get to temperature, and the longer it will take to cool once removed from heat.  It’s just like cooking a bird and letting it rest.  This is much less a factor when using hot water than with steam.

If the straw goes in at 170, the temperature immediately drops a few degrees.  The large volume of water holds so much heat that as long as it’s not freezing or windy outside, the water temperature after an hour only drops to around 155 even with the burner off.  In the winter I leave the burner on just enough for it to follow the same cooling curve.

Two bags out to drain and cool.  Two more in to the same water.  You can do a lot of bags, probably 8 or so before the sugars etc. in the water begin to caramelize.  Caramelized stuff is generally myco-phobic.

making oyster kits is fun, maniacally so

making oyster kits is fun, maniacally so

Once the bags cool, we mix with spawn, load bags, seal them and let them sit for a couple weeks.  Here, Miss McAtamney’s students at Saul are helping out.  By then they’re fully colonized, the mycelium is dense, and they’re ready for fruiting conditions.

Caring for your oyster kit at home is relatively simple but does require daily attention.  Winter is the most challenging time to grow mushrooms at home due to dry conditions inside, so extra attention and/or a humidifier nearby help.  In the spring and fall, you can basically keep kits outside- outdoor mushrooms are always tastier 🙂

IMG_20140113_085531_677 (1)

sometimes, they grow inside the bag, and BIG

sometimes, they grow inside the bag, and BIG

We try to be as supportive of the folks who buy our oyster kits as possible, offering updates like “time to cut those holes!” or “it’s going to be 55 and rainy today, put your kit on the porch!”  We’re also experimenting with some new features we hope will lead to more self-sustaining kits = more mushrooms, less work.

If you’re interested in kits, email

At, we always try to feed your brain with information.   Hopefully this post will feed your brain with information that will inspire you to feed your brain at home, literally.

Lions Mane (Hericium Erinaceus) is a really cool looking mushroom. For one, it’s covered in what are called in myco-terms “teeth,” although in reality they more closely resemble tapered spagetti.  These teeth contain the hymenium, the layer of cells reponsible for forming spores, the same way that gills work in agaricales and pores work in polypores.  It’s almost pure white and can grow into gargantuan blobs, making it fairly easy to spot (although not always so easy to reach!).  In our area I usually find lions mane on dead or dying beech and inside the hollow of a maple.

Perhaps you’ve seen the list of foods that resemble the body parts they’re good for.  Ginger for stomach, avocado for ovaries, tomatoes for heart.  Some are a bit of a stretch if you ask me.

Not so for the delicious lions mane mushroom.  The inside of the lions mane hearkens strikingly to the ventricles (fluid cavities) as well as the pattern of white and gray matter inside of our noggins.  On top of that, it’s covered in teeth that resemble the axons (neural tracts where electronic impulses are conducted) that the mushroom is particularly good for.  Step aside walnut!

Lions Mane mycelium on agar looks like a neuron!

Lions Mane mycelium on agar looks like a neuron!

white matter

white matter

When evaluating the efficacy of mycological compounds, there are several important distinctions to make.  The two most important are the source material (mushroom vs mycelium) and the manner of extraction (water vs alcohol).  Lions Mane is a good case study in these distinctions- the fruitbody (mushroom) itself contains compounds called hericenones whereas the mycelium produces similar compounds known as erinacenes.   Both can be extracted into alcohol.   It turns out the erinacenes have the greatest efficacy when it comes to increasing the level of NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) in the brain.  NGF serves a number of purposes in the brain, protecting it against various harms and increasing the production of axon-protecting myelin.  Myelin is the stuff that goes away when someone’s suffering from some of the effects of Lyme Disease or Multiple Sclerosis.  NGF also protects the brain from the effects of Alzheimer’s.  Good stuff.

Although the mushroom itself contains the lesser of these compounds and its volatile nature means that cooking it may very well deplete some of the effectiveness (remember, avoid eating all mushrooms raw), this doesn’t mean that eating cooked lions mane doesn’t do anything for your noodle.  Nagano et al. 2010 found that women who ate cooked lions mane were less depressed and more able to concentrate, suggesting that those hericenones were doing their thing.

My littlest nephew holding a medium sized lions mane

My littlest nephew holding a medium sized lions mane

Last week I had about 8 lbs of lions mane to play with so I decided to make crab cakes.  The texture of lions mane can be very crab-like and you can even draw a seafoody taste out of it by preparing it a certain way.

When I attended the Stamets Seminar last year, they prepared lions mane by tearing them up and cooking along with butter and spinach.  The butter and the addition of spinach brought out the seafoody flavor of the mushroom.  If you wanna play up the sweetness instead, I’d recommend cutting it into thick chunks and caramelizing in a pan using coconut oil.  Yum.

I wanted to make crab cakes that are not only good brain food, but good health food in general.  Hence Vegan, Gluten-Free Crab Cakes:  Don’t be scared because they’re healthy.  They’re actually really good.



Here’s the recipe as best I can remember.  I’m not one to measure.

Makes 12 crab cakes:

5 medium sized zucchinis

1/2 cup chia seeds (soaked in 1/2 cup water)

4 lbs. lions mane mushroom (shredded where shreddable, chopped everywhere else)

1/4 oz. dried porcini (reconstituted in water) (optional)

1 Squirt liquid aminos (optional)

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp vegan butter

2 tbsp dijon mustard

2 tsp old bay

1/2 cup chopped parsley

2 sheets nori (toasted lightly)

4 cloves garlic

salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

Lions Mane roasting down

Lions Mane roasting down

Mix 2 teaspoons of salt into shredded zucchini, let site for 20 minutes, then squeeze out all the liquid you can (you can use this liquid in place of water for hydrating chia but be mindful of saltiness).  Soak chia seeds in water.  Roast lions mane and vegan butter + olive oil   + a little salt in pan  at 350 until it loses all water and starts to brown.  Throw in minced garlic, porcini + liquid from porcini, liquid aminos, half the parsley, and shredded nori and allow to roast until the lions mane are deeply carmelized, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Mix the zucchini, chia seeds, mustard, remaining parsley, spices and roasted lion concoction mane together.  Form into balls and push down onto wax paper.  when you push them down, they will crack around the edges so reform them as tightly as possible into traditional crab cake shape.  Heat a large pan at medium heat, throw in the vegan butter and brown the cakes on each side for about 5 minutes, lid on.  Use your greatest chef skills when flipping and removing the cakes because they don’t have gluten and egg to hold them together!  Serve immediately or allow to cool, wrap in wax paper, bag em up and freeze them.


These crab cakes are so good on their own I wouldn’t even recommend a roll.  Just some nice tartar sauce or tangy garlic dijon mayo.  mmmmmmm.

After dining, go ahead and figure out the Unified Field theory, write the great American novel, and embarrass your friends at Scrabble.