The Short Shelf Life of the Shaggy Mane
Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
While edible and abundant in western Ohio and throughout North America, shaggy mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus, or “shaggy ink caps”) have one of the shortest windows of opportunity when it comes to cooking and eating them.
Due to a rare process known as autodigestion, once picked, or after they spore, the caps of shaggy manes become inky within four to six hours. This black ink, which is filled with spores, is not poisonous, but it apparently doesn’t taste very good.
For this reason, mushroom enthusiasts prefer to pick shaggy manes well before the caps become inky and to dine on them shortly after picking. However, there is anecdotal evidence that soaking the caps in ice water will prevent inking for up to 24 hours.
According to Mushroom-Collecting.com, shaggy manes are known for their pleasant, subtle flavor and are best served sautéed as a stand alone dish or deep fried in tempura. They are said to go well with eggs, cheese, white sauces, milder vegetables and chicken and fish.
The growing season for shaggy manes in Ohio is typically summer and fall and they can be found in grassy areas and lawns, near woodchips, and in rocky and hard-packed soil, including along gravel paths. The mushrooms can grow fairly tall, often reaching over a half-foot, and they grow in clusters, so they’re hard to miss. The mushroom gets its name from the shaggy white and brown scales found on its cap. Once the mushroom spores, the cap turns to ink and then dissolves into nothing, often leaving the stem standing with no cap.
Because many hiking trails are covered with gravel, shaggy manes are a common sight at a number of local parks. This includes a faithful display at Maple Ridge Reserve in Covington, which is part of the Miami County Park District.
Maple Ridge Reserve, as well as Garbry Big Woods Sanctuary near Piqua, is one of the best places in the region to see not only shaggy manes, but also dozens of other species of mushrooms and fungi. Brukner Nature Center also has a diverse display. (NOTE: Picking mushrooms and other wild plants is prohibited at each of these locations.)
A loop trail at Maple Ridge Reserve first passes along the through a wooded area. During the summer and fall, this trail is lined with mushrooms and wildflowers, especially near the roots and bases of trees, both dead and living.
While the shaggy mane is considered one of the “Foolproof Four” mushrooms, because it is easily identifiable, it should not be confused with magpie fungus, nor should it be eaten if picked from a polluted environment.
Along with being edible, shaggy manes have long been used as a dye. According to writer Linda Crampton, if the mushrooms are heated in water in an iron pot, an olive green dye is produced. The dye can be used to color wool, fabric and paper.
Crampton also notes the strength of the mushroom, writing that “when there is enough moisture in the environment, a new shaggy mane mushroom may grow with such force that it can break through old asphalt and concrete.”
This summer and fall, keep an eye out for this unique and edible mushroom. And if you plan to add shaggy manes to your next meal, make sure to act quickly!