Honey mushrooms are one of the best fall mushrooms I’ve eaten. If the conditions are right, you could walk out of your favorite patch of woods with a literal truckload of these, it’s all about timing though. When I describe them to people who want to start picking them, I usually say something to the tune of “lookout for patches of mushrooms that grow like an infection”. Honeys are a parasitic mushroom, infecting trees and whole swaths of woods. Even when they’re not fruiting, you can be on the lookout for areas they might like, my favorite variety grows on oaks, so I look for forests with hardwoods filled with dead and dying wood.
What gets confusing about honeys though, is that there are a bunch of different species with very slight differences, you could pick some with yellow caps (my favorite) and then a few feet away you could pick some that have dark brown caps. Some things to know to make things easier are:
- Honey mushrooms will have rings on their stems, unless they’re Armillaria tebescens, or ringless honeys
- The will also often have small iridescent hairs on their caps
- Honey mushrooms love to grow in clusters, fruiting from a central base, like the picture above- a characteristic called growing “cespitose”
- They could be growing from the ground, or directly from dead, dying or infected trees
- Honey mushrooms will always have a white spore print
Always Cook Honey Mushrooms Well
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.
It’s not technically correct, but I like to think of honey mushrooms in a greater sense as being one of two different kinds: conifer honeys (Armillaria gallica) and deciduous honeys (Armillaria mellea). There isn’t a real difference in the flavor, but its important to know what you’re picking to eat.
To make things even more interesting, aside from the variety of species of edible honeys there are a few mushrooms out there that could be confused with honeys that should not be eaten. From my experience, species that could be confused with honeys could be, but shouldn’t be limited to:
So you already know that honey’s always need to be cooked through, other than that very slight limitation, when you have some honeys there are plenty of things that can be done with them. They can be pickled, roasted to concentrate their sugars and then marinated, there are plenty of ways to enjoy them. You should know though, honeys, like some amanita, lactarius and fried chicken mushrooms give off mucilage when cooked in liquid. To avoid this, blanch the honey mushrooms in salted water before adding to a pickle liquid.
People around the world have been enjoying honey mushrooms regardless of the mucilagenous qualities for years though. Packed in pickling jars they can be a little snotty, but if you cook them in something like a soup or broth they will thicken it nicely, which means you can thicken a broth or soup without adding roux.
I should mention, when possible I like to serve honey mushroom caps whole, they just look better like that. The long stems can be reserved for duxelles or broth.
Honey Mushroom Recipes
Here’s some favorites of mine