Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Familiar and seasonably abundant, the ink cap mushroom is hard to mistake for anything else. Also known as the shaggy ink cap or shaggy mane, the ink caps are one of the very last fungi to emerge each year. In Northern Iowa, we’ve had the season’s first hard frosts during the past week. In spite of the cool down, shaggy manes continue to appear at an accelerated rate. During the past couple of days, I’ve found them on the lawn beside my driveway as well as along the edge of a brushy woodland. While leaving one my favorite duck hunting areas, I almost tripped over a patch growing right alongside the boat ramp. Ink caps are everywhere.
People often ask if ink cap mushrooms are safe to eat, or if they are inedible. The answer is yes.
If captured when young, ink cap mushrooms are safe, surprisingly mild, and just plain delicious. Wait until the same mushroom matures and its gills begin to weep black ink and, well you might have a bit of problem with the culinary result.
Although prime ink caps feel dry to the touch, they have the annoying habit of producing copious amounts of liquid when cooked. They also don’t keep well. Reminiscent of those old Mission Impossible audio tapes, ink cap mushrooms “self destruct” in an incredibly short period of time. Once the mushrooms are harvested, you’d better plan on eating them immediately — if not sooner. Learning that lesson hard way, I’ve picked prime specimens during the morning hours only to have them already producing goodly amounts of nasty black ink before I could cook them for supper . Ink caps can go from good mushroom to bad mushroom just that quickly. If left standing in the wild, ink caps will completely dissolve themselves until all that remains is a disgusting, inky stain on the grass.