Honey Mushroom Hunting Guide

honey mushroom species identification

What is a Honey Mushroom? How to identify a Honey Mushroom: 

Armillaria, is a genus of parasitic fungi that includes the A. mellea species known as honey fungi that live on trees and woody shrubs. It includes about 10 species formerly categorized summarily as A. melleaArmillarias are long-lived and form some of the largest living organisms in the world. The largest known organism (of the species Armillaria ostoyae) covers more than 3.4 square miles in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest and is more than 2,400 years old. Some species of Armillaria display bioluminescence, resulting in foxfire.

Armillaria can be a destructive forest pathogen. It causes “white rot” root disease of forests, which distinguishes it from Tricholoma, a mycorrhizal (non-parasitic) genus. Because Armillaria is a facultative saprophyte, it also feeds on dead plant material, allowing it to kill its host, unlike parasites that must moderate their growth to avoid host death,

In the Canadian Prairies (particularly Manitoba), Armillaria is referred to often as openky, popinki (Ukrainian: опеньки), meaning “near the stump” in Ukrainian.

The basidiocarp (reproductive structure) of the fungus is a mushroom that grows on wood, typically in small dense clumps or tufts. Their caps (mushroom tops) are typically yellow-brown, somewhat sticky to touch when moist, and, depending on age, may range in shape from conical to convex to depressed in the center. The stipe (stalk) may or may not have a ring. All Armillaria species have a white spore print and none have a volva (cup at base).

Honey fungus is a “white rot” fungus, which is a pathogenic organism that affects trees, shrubs, woody climbers and, rarely, woody herbaceous perennial plants. Honey fungus can grow on living, decaying, and dead plant material.

Honey fungus spreads from living trees, dead and live roots and stumps by means of reddish-brown to black rhizomorphs (root-like structures) at the rate of approximately 3.3 feet (1 m) a year, but infection by root contact is possible. Infection by spores is rare. Rhizomorphs grow close to the soil surface (in the top 7.9 inches (20 cm)) and invade new roots, or the root collar (where the roots meet the stem) of plants. An infected tree will die once the fungus has girdled it, or when significant root damage has occurred. This can happen rapidly, or may take several years. Infected plants will deteriorate, although may exhibit prolific flower or fruit production shortly before death.

The linkage of morphological, genetic, and molecular characters of Armillaria over the past few decades has led to the recognition of intersterile groups designated as “biological species”. Data from such studies, especially those using molecular diagnostic tools, have removed much uncertainty for mycologists and forest pathologists. New questions remain unanswered regarding the phylogeny of North American Armillaria species and their relationships to their European counterparts, particularly within the “Armillaria mellea complex”. Some data suggest that North American and European A. gallica isolates are not monophyletic. Although North American and European isolates of A. gallica may be interfertile, some North American isolates of A. gallica are more closely related to the North American taxon A. calvescens than to European isolates of A. gallica. The increase in genetic divergence has not necessarily barred inter-sterility between isolated populations of A. gallica. Although the relationships among some groups in the genus seem clearer, the investigation of geographically diverse isolates has revealed that the relationship between some North American species is still unclear.

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Honey Mushroom Species (Top 3 in North America):

(Armillaria mellea) Ringed Honeys:

Young Specimens

Mature Specimens

Ringed Honey Mushroom Growth

(Armillaria tabescens) Ringless Honeys:

(Armillaria ostoyae) Conifer Honeys:

Do Honey Mushrooms have any Poisonous Look Alikes? 

Deadly Galerina, growing singly or in pairs from a dead log.

Similar species include Pholiota spp. which also grow in cespitose (mat-like) clusters on wood and fruit in the fall. Pholiota spp. are separated from Armillaria by its yellowish to greenish-yellow tone and a dark brown to grey-brown spore print. Mushroom hunters need to be wary of Galerina spp. which can grow side-by-side with Armillaria spp. on wood. Galerina have a dark brown spore print and are deadly poisonous (alpha-amanitin). Although much more orange in color are “Jack O Lanterns shown below.

Jack O Lanterns growing in clumps at the base of a dead tree.

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Are Honey Mushrooms Edible? 

Warning: this is NOT A BEGINNER’s mushroom. 

This mushroom cannot be positively identified by observing features alone, a spore print must be done for positive identification. This mushroom has many lookalikes, some of which are deadly, others will make you very sick. Use the following tips as a guideline only, but confirm your identification with other reliable sources and a trusted local expert.   


As always, it’s your responsibility to make sure you are 100% sure of any wild plant or mushroom you consume.  


Finally, even when properly ID-d, ringless honeys are notorious for giving some people ACUTE GI problems. Always try a very small amount, like a single cap, for the fist time, then a small portion (3-4), before you consume a whole meal’s worth.

Risks and Side Effects of Honey Mushrooms:

Honey mushrooms should always be cooked prior to consumption. They are unsafe to eat raw and can cause serious side effects. Some people may not be able to tolerate honey mushrooms even after cooking and may experience symptoms like nausea, cramps and stomach pain. If you experience any side effects after consuming honey mushrooms, discontinue use immediately. It’s also not advisable to consume alcohol with the mushrooms, and certain species should not be eaten within 12–24 hours of drinking alcohol to prevent negative symptoms.

When foraging for mushrooms, be careful of honey mushroom lookalikes such as deadly galerina, a type of mushroom similar in appearance that can actually be toxic. Be sure to review the galerina vs. honey mushroom images carefully to familiarize yourself with the differences, and don’t consume mushrooms if you’re not completely sure that they’re safe.

Honey Fungus as Food?

Yes, these mushrooms are edible. They have, as you can imagine, a slightly sweet taste along with a chewy, first texture.

Precautions: 

Sometimes these mushrooms, especially the ringless species, can also be slightly bitter and are known to cause some gastric distress to some people. If you be sure to cook thoroughly or even parboil first, you should not have any issues.

Health Benefits and Uses of Honey Mushrooms:

1. Rich in Antioxidants

Honey fungus mushroom is a great source of antioxidants, which are compounds that help neutralize disease-causing free radicals and protect against chronic disease. In fact, in vitro studies show that several specific compounds isolated from honey mushrooms can be effective at scavenging free radicals and preventing oxidative damage to cells.

2. Could Help Fight Cancer Cell Growth

While more research is still needed to determine how honey mushrooms may affect cancer in humans, some studies show that it could help block the growth and spread of cancer cells in vitro. For example, one in vitro study found that armillarikin, a compound found in Armillaria mellea, was able to kill off liver cancer cells. Meanwhile, other research shows that it could even be therapeutic against leukemia and esophageal cancer cells as well.

3. Protects Brain Health

One of the most promising uses for the honey mushroom medicinal properties is its potential to enhance brain function and protect against neurodegenerative disorders. In fact, one animal model in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity found that extracts obtained from Armillaria mellea were effective at improving neuron function, preventing cell damage and decreasing the buildup of proteins in the brain that have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

4. May Stabilize Blood Sugar

High blood sugar can come with serious consequences, ranging from impaired headaches and increased thirst to impaired wound healing and vision problems. According to one 2015 in vitro study, Armillaria mellea extracts exhibited powerful antioxidant and blood sugar-lowering properties, suggesting that they could be used to develop dietary supplements and pharmaceutical products aimed at treating diabetes.

5. Versatile and Delicious

Besides their many health benefits, honey mushrooms are tasty, versatile and easy to enjoy in a number of different recipes. They have a slightly sweet yet earthy flavor and a distinct, chewy texture. They can be sautéed for a simple side dish or combined with other veggies to make a nutritious stir-fry. Alternatively, you can use these mushrooms in pasta dishes, soups or stuffings to give your favorite recipes a kick of extra flavor and antioxidants.

Are honey mushrooms poisonous?

Yes, if eaten raw… Faint acidic odour and taste strongly acidic. (Be aware if you intend doing a taste test that Honey Fungus is considered by some people to be edible only if it is well cooked;other people find this mushroom indigestible, and it may even be poisonous to a minority.)

What do honey mushrooms taste like?

Those who collect the honey mushroom for food prefer solid, young, unopened buttons. When cooked, it is firm and granular. To some it is moderately sweet in flavor, but its edibility is marred for others by a mild bitter aftertaste and a somewhat gelatinous surface.

How can I Store or Preserve Honey Mushrooms?

Like most other mushrooms, honeys should cooked before freezing, they also dry well, but I like to cut the caps into 1/4s or halves to ensure they’re not tough. Blanching in lightly salted water and freezing with butter or oil is probably my go-to.

Where can I find Honey Mushrooms, where do they grow?

The honey mushroom grows both on dead wood and on living plants. They are capable of attacking and killing many kinds of trees, especially oaks. I have seen hundreds of caps erupting in clumps from the trunk and roots of a single tree. Also common in round clumps growing in the grass in people’s yards from buried decaying roots/wood.

When can I find Honey Mushrooms?

Different types of honey fungus are found all over the world. They fruit nearly year round in warmer ecosystems, and in the late summer to fall in North America. The ringless variety appears much earlier than the ringed species, sometimes as early as June is the southern states.

Interesting Facts about Honey Mushrooms:

  • Some species are bioluminescent (they glow in the dark).

  • It’s called the honey mushroom because of its color not flavor. So the color resembles honey it’s slightly yellow to brown.

  • One patch of honey fungus, Armillaria ostoyae, is thought to be the largest organism in the world. Mainly growing underground, the mycelia of this patch covers over 2,400 acres in Oregon. It’s estimated to be over 2,200 years old.

  • Honey Mushrooms have impressive antioxidant content.

  • The honey mushroom has also been shown to have cancer-fighting, blood sugar-lowering properties that could be therapeutic in the treatment of several chronic conditions.

How do you cook honey mushrooms?

COOKING

There’s plenty to be done with them. They can be blanched and pickled, roasted to concentrate their sugars and then marinated, sauteed, cooked in cream, dehydrated for soup in the winter, you get the idea. There is a lot more to do with them than just treat them like another mushroom though. Honeys are loved in Eastern Europe, as well as Italy, so if you’re looking for inspiration, try looking for recipes for mushroom from those cuisines-there’s a good chance some recipes could originally be made with honeys, but had their names changed due to availability. They also make great substitutes for mushrooms in Asian cuisine, where they’re natural thickening property can be used a bit like cornstarch. See below on mucilage for more on that.

ALWAYS COOK HONEY MUSHROOMS THOROUGHLY

Many mycological societies ban the serving of honey at mushroom gatherings and cookouts since some people have become ill after eating them. The biggest thing to remember is that they need a bit of extra cooking to make sure that they don’t give you any gastric upset.

Apparently some people are more sensitive to certain species too, so start out serving small amounts to check for allergies. I’ve also heard people say that the suspect species that can give intestinal upset is not the complex of honey mushrooms that grow in deciduous woods, but the coniferous species, Armillaria gallica. My advice is just make sure to cook them all completely through.

Don’t be scared though-I’ve seen more people become sick after eating thoroughly cooked black morels than I have honey mushrooms. When properly cooked, the Honey mushrooms are delicious and rich, with a slightly sweet finish.

Sauteed Honey Mushroom Caps and Stems

Heat a pan with oil until lightly smoking and add the mushroom caps, cook the caps for 3 minutes on high heat until lightly colored, then add the stems and saute for another 3 minutes. Continue cooking the mushrooms until they are well colored and thoroughly cooked.

Honey Mushroom Recipes: 

Recipes

Sauteed Honey Mushroom Caps and Stems
Forager Chef

 

 (1)

25 min
Honey, lard
Honey Balsamic Garlic Mushrooms
The Recipe Critic

 

 (3)

15 min
Balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, whole mushrooms
Honey Balsamic Glazed Garlic Mushrooms
BeastFeast.eu

 

 (2)

15 min
Balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, whole mushrooms
Honey Roasted Balsamic Mushrooms
Food.com

 

 (3)

35 min
Balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, cremini mushrooms, black pepper
Honey mushroom pierogies
Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club
No reviews
1 hr
Sour cream, mushroom caps, butter, mushroom filling, egg
Butter’d Honey Grilled Mushrooms
The Homesteader’s Finest
No reviews
Honey, cremini mushrooms
Mushrooms with a Soy Sauce Glaze
Allrecipes

 

 (939)

15 min
Soy sauce, butter, garlic, black pepper, white mushrooms
Mushroom Honey Lager Sauce
Allrecipes

 

 (2)

50 min
Baby portobello mushrooms, honey, red onion, cajun seasoning, garlic
Wok- Fried Mushrooms with Honey and Soy
Australian Mushrooms
No reviews
10 min
Oyster sauce, soy sauce, honey, sesame seeds, swiss brown mushrooms
Honey Garlic Chicken
Campbell’s
No reviews
30 min
Mushroom soup, brown rice, boneless chicken breast, soy sauce, honey
Honey Mushroom Stir Fry
Weightloss.com.au
No reviews
Udon noodles
Steak with Mushroom Sauce
Waxing Kara

 

 (3)

25 min
Beef tenderloin steaks, red wine, red wine vinegar, beef broth, mushroom caps

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armillaria

https://www.mushroom-appreciation.com/honey-fungus.html

https://www.mushroomexpert.com/armillaria_mellea.html


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