I recently saw a sight that makes the hearts of mycophiles everywhere go
pitter-pat. I saw some shaggy manes. In the fall amateur and professional
mushroom lovers start to pray for rain. If we are lucky, when it rains and when
it freezes will be well placed in time, and mushrooms will appear in woods, and
pastures, even gravel roadsides, in great variety and number.
Among the easily identifiable edible mushrooms are the shaggy manes, which
pop up through the gravel along our local logging roads, some years, in great
abundance. They stand, sometimes in clusters, like British soldiers in white
shaggy busby hats with a touch of brown on top. Mycologists, those of us who
study fungi, and mycophagists, those of us who eat fungi, call the shaggy mane
by its scientific name Coprinus comatus. Coprinus, from the Greek, meaning dung,
for many of its smaller coprophilous, dung-loving relatives, and comatus from
the latin meaning long-haired, as in a shaggy mane. For you mycophagists who
might worry about such things, the shaggy mane gets its nutrition from other
sources in the soil.
As it ages, strange things happen to the shaggy mane. Its gills and cap
deliquesce; that is, they self-digest and turn into a black fluid, as does its
relative the inky cap, C. atramentarius. It is said the black fluid can be
diluted with water and used as ink.
But the shaggy mane is better eaten. Picked when young, the mushroom is
edible and choice, though somewhat watery and delicate of flavor when compared
with other mushrooms. Flavor can be intensified by boiling off the water during
cooking. Denis Benjamin, in his excellent book Mushrooms: Poisons and Panaceas
suggests shaggy manes should be treated like corn. . . the butter should be
melted in the pan before you pick them. He is joking, of course, but the speed
with which they mature to deliquescence makes fast action necessary.
Although among the safest mushrooms, the shaggy mane may, very rarely, react
with your physiology like the inky cap usually does with everyone when consumed
with alcoholic beverages. Ears and nose turn red, and strange metallic tastes,
lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat, and sometimes nausea or even worse are
experienced. As some of you may know, these are the same symptoms of Antabuse or
Disulfiram, the drug sometimes given to alcoholics to make consumption of booze
an unpleasant experience. The toxins coprine and antabuse both interfere with
alcohol metabolism causing acetaldehyde to accumulate in the blood. Fortunately
,for alcoholics and unwary mycophagists, recovery is normally spontaneous and
Start looking for shaggy manes soon after the first rains. They pop up as if
by magic. Eat them quickly for soon they turn to ink. Don't worry about coprine
poisoning from shaggy manes; it is very rare and seldom fatal, just unpleasant.
If you are really concerned, don't drink alcoholic beverages and dine on shaggy
Dr. Frank Lang