Oyster mushrooms are some of the most functional mushrooms in the world. They are mainly found under the ideal conditions of rain and moderate temperatures and tend to grow on decaying hardwood or conifer trees. Oyster mushrooms get their unique name because they look very similar to freshly shucked oysters.
Oyster mushrooms primarily grow on decaying wood and stack themselves in layers and clusters to maximize their space and availability. They are easy to grow and require very little maintenance, making them one of the most easily cultivated mushrooms on the planet, following button and shiitake mushrooms. While commercial cultivation of oyster mushrooms is relatively new (only about 100 years old), it’s quickly becoming the norm for the harvesting and distribution of oyster mushrooms commercially worldwide. In fact, China currently produces 85% of the world’s oyster mushrooms.
There are three different species of oyster mushrooms: the Pleurotus populinus, Pleurotus pulmonarius, and Pleurotus ostreatus. The main difference between the three is primarily the season in which they grow. Otherwise, it’s pretty difficult to tell them apart.
Oyster mushrooms have deep historical roots in both cuisine and medicinal uses. It’s believed that they also help to break down toxic chemicals in the environment naturally. That’s a fun fact worth exploring!
Fun Facts About Oyster Mushrooms
The oyster mushroom is a saprotroph, which means that it feeds on dead or decaying organic material (usually wood).
The caps of the oyster mushroom can range in size from 5 to 25 centimeters (or 2-10 inches) in diameter and are shaped like an oyster or a fan. When the mushroom is young, it will have more of a rolled convex shape. As it matures, this will flatten and turn up. Oyster mushrooms can be many different colors, including white, yellow, brown, and pink!
The mycelia (which is the intricate system of compound cells that make a vegetable, a vegetable) of the oyster mushroom will kill and eat nematodes (which are small roundworms) and other bacteria. This makes them one of the very few carnivorous mushrooms.
Oyster mushrooms are also involved in mycorestoration, which is the process of using mushrooms to reduce pollution levels in a specific area. The oyster mycelium will eat through wood, paper, coffee grounds, and at times, even some petroleum products.
Oyster mushrooms can do this due to the enzymes that are released as they grow, breaking down bonds in organic material such as wood into smaller molecules. The carbon-hydrogen bonds found in wood are surprisingly similar to some of the bonds found in oil and pesticides. Oyster mushrooms are miraculously nature’s ultimate recycle factory.
Yes. It’s possible for oil spills or pollution to be decreased by mushrooms. In fact, in San Francisco, there is a plan to involve oyster mushrooms to help minimize the effects of a recent oil spill. It’s still an ongoing process and has engaged several political hurdles. However, proponents of the unique solution seem steadfast in moving forward.
Oyster mushrooms have also been found to be able to absorb and process mercury. They suck the mercury from the ground. After the mushroom is picked and destroyed (do not eat oyster mushrooms that have consumed mercury), the mercury is then successfully removed from that particular environment.
Health Benefits of Oyster Mushrooms
Some of the same environmental benefits that oyster mushrooms provide can be utilized in humans. Most notably, oyster mushrooms have shown benefit for reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol levels, and helping to prevent cancer.
An article featured in Mycobiology notes that oyster mushrooms produce compounds known as statins. Statins reduce “bad cholesterol” (LDL) by stimulating receptors to process and clear LDL cholesterol from the body.
The antitumor effectiveness of oyster mushrooms has also been researched. In a study published in Bioresearch Technology, scientists discovered that polysaccharides similar to those found in oyster mushrooms are believed to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer in laboratory animals.
Wild mushrooms are also a natural food source of vitamin D. One cup of oyster mushrooms contains about 4% of the recommended daily requirement for vitamin D. The cap provides the most nutrients.
Mushrooms, including the oyster mushroom, contain a powerful antioxidant called ergothioneine, which has been shown to reduce instances of cardiovascular disease by helping to prevent dangerous plaque from building up in the arteries.
Oyster mushrooms, like many other mushrooms, are also rich in protein, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, and folate.
The Delicious Edible Oyster Mushroom
Oyster mushrooms have a subtle nutty flavor that complements many soups, stews, and sauces. They are typically available at your local grocery store, although it’s also possible to grow your own or to forage for them in the woods. (However, it is not recommended to pick wild mushrooms. Many dangerous lookalikes can throw off a novice mushroom harvester. Please consult with at least two field guides and someone who is familiar with picking wild mushrooms before consuming any mushrooms that you find in the wild.)
Wild oyster mushrooms smell sweetly like licorice or anise. Cultivated oyster mushrooms have a slightly more seafood-like aroma and taste.
Cooking with Oyster Mushrooms
Oysters (even those purchased at a grocery store) can be home to beetles and other bugs, so clean them thoroughly before cooking. Some people have a sensitivity to oyster mushrooms. In fact, it’s believed about 10% of the population may have an allergic reaction of some kind to eating any fungus. If you are new to oyster mushrooms, introduce them slowly and over time.
Wash oyster mushrooms thoroughly before cooking. The stem and any other tougher parts of the oyster mushroom aren’t as edible and are a bit chewy (although they can be eaten). You can use them in a vegetable stock and they will add a sweet, rich flavor.
Oyster mushrooms cook quickly, so if your recipe requires oyster mushrooms, cook them last if possible. While oyster mushrooms indeed complement many dishes, they are most commonly sautéed or stir-fried in olive oil with herbs or spices. Toss them with some freshly minced garlic or butter as another option.