Trumpet of the dead, poor man’s truffle, black trumpet. Despite its unsettling common names, Craterellus cornucopioides is considered one of the most gourmet fungi in the world due to its subtle taste and unique color.
But research on these delicious mushrooms isn’t as extensive as with other edible species. Most of us have seen them in sophisticated plates in top restaurants—but what about their health benefits? Here’s all you need to know.
Black trumpet mushrooms comprise two very similar species: Craterellus cornucopioides and Craterellus fallax. Delicate, small, and subtly delicious, black trumpets are a top choice among gourmands who aren’t put off by their common names and color.
The two species are almost the same—so much so that they were previously considered only one species. Yet, DNA-based analysis later confirmed subtle differences between the two. While we’ll discuss C. cornucopioides in this article, you can also apply the same knowledge to C. fallax (1).
Black trumpet mushrooms are widespread in Europe, North America, and East Asia. They usually appear in groups near oak and beech forests, growing under the leaf litter. Their black color makes for the perfect camouflage among dead leaves, confusing even expert mycologists (2).
C. cornucopioides is often associated with the dead due to its color, earning it the common name “trumpet of the dead”—it’s called “trompette de la mort” in French and “trombetta dei morti” in Italian.
Other nicknames for the species include:
Black trumpet mushrooms are best suited for nuanced dishes that don’t overpower their subtle taste. Fresh C. cornucopioides can also add an unexpected black hue to any plate that’s sure to intrigue diners. Expert chefs sometimes recommend drying and powdering the specimens to season sauces and salads (3).
C. cornucopioides is a rather curious-looking fungus, showing a funnel-shaped 8–10 cm (3–4 in) cap resembling a trumpet’s bell end. Its margins are irregular and wavy, and the whole mushroom ranges from brown to black, depending on the specimen’s age.
The stem is directly attached to the cap, making it difficult to distinguish where each one starts and ends. The whole fungus is very delicate—the flesh is thin and cartilage-like, so they must be handled with care. The spore print shows a white or cream color (3) (4).
C. cornucopioides is considered a species complex—meaning it’s composed of several similar species instead of a single one. The lack of defined boundaries between these “subspecies” makes grouping them under a single name easier and more practical.
As such, most fungi lovers aren’t interested in keeping track of all the varieties, strains, and subspecies of black trumpet mushrooms. Instead, they consider C. cornucopioides the “type species” for all Craterellus mushrooms. A type species is the best-defined and gold standard species of a genus (5).
Previously, mycologists classified several C. cornucopioides varieties, including:
Today, all of these are now considered synonyms for the type C. cornucopioides or other similar species fitting inside the cornucopioides complex. If you find these mentioned online, just remember that they now refer to the same mushroom (6).
Unfortunately, not much is known about the history of black trumpet mushrooms. Experts point out that humans have eaten these delicious fungi for thousands of years, but there aren’t any specific clarifications as to how we ate them in ancient times (7).
The name “cornucopioides” comes from Greek mythology—the cornucopia was the horn of Amalthea’s goat. Amalthea is one of the most important foster mothers of Zeus, the Greek god of sky and thunder. According to one of the myths, baby Zeus accidentally broke off one of the goat’s horns, giving it the divine power of unending nourishment (8).
The cornucopia is correspondingly known as the horn of plenty—which is also one of the common names for C. cornucopioides. While the association between the two is clear, we don’t know if the Greeks were the first to relate these fungi to that story.
Instead, the first mention of the species we’re aware of dates back to 1753, when renowned botanist Carl Linnaeus first described the species. He originally named it Peziza cornucopioides, but this was later corrected by Christiaan Persoon in 1825, transferring it over to the Craterellus genus (6).
The species hasn’t changed names since—but that’s not to say that things have been completely quiet. As mentioned previously, there have been several reclassifications of varieties, subspecies, and related species since Persoon’s description. Luckily, DNA-based analyses are starting to clear things up, but research is still ongoing.
Black trumpet mushrooms are a perfect example of “functional fungi”—species with notable nutritional and health values. While C. cornucopioides isn’t as widely studied as other functional mushrooms, recent research shows it may have significant health benefits.
Nutritionally, a 100-gram portion of dried horns of plenty comprises about 69 grams of protein, 13 of carbohydrates, and 5 of fat. The leftover weight mostly contains ash, fiber, and other bioactive compounds (9).
These compounds, such as fatty acids, flavonoids, and phenols, are at center stage of the health benefits of black trumpet mushrooms. Experts point out these bioactive compounds have significant antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties.
The antioxidant activities mostly come from the phenolic contents of C. cornucopioides. As such, black horns may be useful in managing degenerative disorders such as cancer, brain dysfunction, and cardiovascular diseases (10).
Similarly, fatty acids may positively impact inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and obesity. Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease may also be treated with anti-inflammatory compounds (9).
A recent study also shows that polysaccharides extracted from C. cornucopioides have significant immunomodulatory activities. While the trial was done on mice, the authors theorize that these extracts may also promote human immunological activity (11).
Still, it’s crucial to remember that black trumpet mushrooms aren’t well-studied yet. Research is still in the very early stages—so check with a doctor if you want to use these trumpet-shaped friends for health purposes.
Black trumpet mushrooms are widespread and frequent in Europe but are also present in East Asia, North America, and West Africa. They’re most common in countries or areas where beech trees are abundant, such as central Europe and Southern British Isles.
C. cornucopioides tends to appear from late summer to late autumn, growing underneath the leaf litter near oak and beech forests. It usually grows in large groups, although it’s also possible to find it isolated (2) (3).
While it’s easy to identify the species when compared to other chanterelle mushrooms, black trumpets are notoriously hard to find in the wild. Their dark color camouflages them perfectly with the forest floor—so experts often recommend looking for small black holes or nonsensical shadows on the ground to find black trumpet mushrooms (1).
Ethical wildcrafting refers to harvesting natural resources following guidelines designed to keep the local ecosystem healthy. Picking mushrooms without care can damage the nearby animal, tree, and fungi populations—not just the surrounding patch.
People often confuse wildcrafting with foraging. While the two terms are similar, the first refers to harvesting for medicinal purposes and the latter for eating. Whether you want to forage or wildcraft black trumpets, make sure you remember these simple rules:
If you’re a beginner harvester, we recommend you look for local wildcrafting groups you can join. Veteran mushroom hunters will gladly help you with your harvesting adventures—both in finding the right species and keeping fungi populations healthy.
It’s never 100% safe to eat wild-picked mushrooms, no matter the species. Even experienced mycologists are at risk of picking a poisonous lookalike (or a non-edible one).
While black trumpets don’t have many lookalikes, a beginner wildcrafter could confuse it with a decomposing blackening brittlegill (Russula nigricans), which causes gastrointestinal upset. Another lookalike is the devil’s urn (Urnula craterium)—but that one isn’t inedible.
Furthermore, wild mushrooms often carry toxins from the environment. Black trumpets are particularly prone to becoming filled with small insects and impurities inside the funnel-shaped cap. If you’re set on eating wild C. cornucopioides, wash and cook them thoroughly!
Black trumpet mushrooms have a delicate and subtle smoky flavor perfect for sophisticated dishes. Renowned chef Antonio Carlucci recommends eating them alone sautéed with butter and spices, or adding them to sauces, soups, and stews (3).
Despite being a choice edible, several black trumpet mushroom recipes are suited even for novice cooks. Here are some ideas on how to cook mushrooms—but as always, don’t be afraid to experiment with other ingredients or cooking methods.
Preheat your oven (about 350° F) while you sauté the mushrooms in butter for five minutes. Add sage, thyme, salt, and pepper, and let cool in a mixing bowl. Then, beat a few egg yolks into the mixture and whisk the whites in a separate bowl until they become stiff. Pour everything into a buttered souffle dish and bake until firm, about 30–40 minutes.
Cut and sauté some squash for about five minutes while you warm some chicken or vegetable stock in a pot. Add shallot and garlic to the squash—once everything is cooked, splash in some white wine and add rice while stirring. Keep stirring while adding some of the stock, and repeat until the rice is done. While it’s cooking, sauté the black trumpets and add when the rice is al dente. Finish the risotto off-heat by adding sage, olive oil, salt, and any other ingredients you like.
The subtle taste of black trumpets makes them the perfect choice for mixing with other edible fungi, such as morels, porcinis, and other chanterelle mushrooms. As such, they can also be used in mushroom salads or as toppings on pizzas and pasta.
Black trumpet mushrooms are a top choice among gourmet chefs worldwide. Their subtle smoky flavor and unique color make them the perfect addition to any sophisticated plate, ranging from risotto to stews. And while they haven’t been studied as extensively as other fungi, recent research shows they may have significant health benefits.
If you want to find out about other types of mushrooms, keep up on shroomer. Here, you’ll find everything you want to know about psychedelic and functional fungi from around the world. Plus, get the latest news on medicinal research on edible mushrooms.