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The Complete Guide to Oyster Mushrooms
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The Complete Guide to Oyster Mushrooms

Angelina Dickinson
Angelina Dickinson
May 26, 2023
7 min

Mushrooms have been treasured in ancient medicine for centuries, and they continue to be popular today for their numerous health benefits. One of the most prized varieties is the oyster mushroom, known for its distinctive taste and many health benefits.

This guide will explore everything you need to know about oyster mushrooms. You’ll learn about how they were used in traditional medicine schools and what modern science has uncovered about their positive influence on the body. We’ll also talk about how you can grow your own oyster mushrooms and much more. Let’s jump in!

What are oyster mushrooms?

Oyster mushrooms (pleurotus ostreatus) are edible mushrooms long valued for their medicinal properties. Interestingly, these mushrooms are also playing a fascinating role in mycoremediation, which involves using fungi to help restore balance to the environment; mushrooms have demonstrated an ability to break down petroleum byproducts and plastic, filter waterborne pollutants and bacteria, and even remove heavy metals (1).

What do oyster mushrooms look like?

Oyster mushrooms come in different colors as there are different types of oyster mushrooms. They can be white, pink, gold, blue, brown, and gray. Common oyster mushrooms are typically white and can turn light gray with age. They also have a brownish hue to them and well-defined gills (2).

Unlike other mushrooms that grow as a single mushroom, oyster mushrooms grow in clusters, with fan- or shell-shaped caps (hence being called oyster mushrooms). You might also recognize them by their scent—some people report a briny odor reminiscent of seafood, while others compare it to anise. 

There are other varieties of oyster mushrooms too: 

  • Pearl oyster mushroom
  • Pink oyster mushroom
  • King oyster mushroom
  • Golden oyster mushroom
  • Blue oyster mushroom
  • Phoenix oyster mushroom

Psst: Remember that while some grocery stores may carry several varieties of oyster mushrooms, the most common type you’ll see is the common oyster mushroom.

Historical and medicinal use

For centuries, oyster mushrooms have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), known as ping gu or hao gu in Mandarin. Since oyster mushrooms are classified as a warming food with sweet and pungent qualities, according to TCM, they help support the liver and kidneys, and improve the body’s yang energy. Additionally, traditional Chinese medicine recommends oyster mushrooms in cases of impotence, cold hands and feet, general weakness, low back issues, and low energy.

For the Westerner, this means oyster mushrooms nourish your immune system and help you have more energy (3).

Health benefits of oyster mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms

Like many mushrooms, oyster mushrooms are low in carbohydrates, nutrient-dense, and brimming with antioxidants. They contain protein, polysaccharides, healthy fat, and vitamins and minerals such as folate, calcium (3), choline, potassium, iron, phosphorous, and zinc (4). It’s worth noting that while oyster mushrooms have traces of vitamin C and selenium, they’re not necessarily a good source of either. 

Modern science is confirming what traditional medicine schools have known for centuries: oyster mushrooms have a positive influence on cholesterol levels, the immune system, heart health, blood sugar, and on our microbiome. Here’s a brief rundown on how oyster mushrooms work their magic in the human body:

  • Improves cholesterol levels: Oyster mushrooms contain a molecule strikingly similar to the cholesterol-lowering drug Lovastatin, which is why eating oyster mushrooms can lower your cholesterol. Even more, oyster mushrooms also contain beta-glucan, which supports your body’s ability to metabolize fat.
  • Bolsters your immune system: This humble mushroom stimulates your immune system (which includes protecting against allergic reactions) and has anti-cancer properties; oyster mushrooms have a therapeutic effect and may minimize the spread of breast and colon cancer cells (3).
  • Blood sugar regulation: Research has demonstrated that eating oyster mushrooms can reduce post-meal blood sugar levels. These changes aren’t limited to consuming fresh oyster mushrooms either; another study showed how ingesting oyster mushroom powder significantly lowered hemoglobin A1c, a marker for long-term blood sugar control (4).

Where do oyster mushrooms grow?

Like many mushrooms, oyster mushrooms are common in temperate climates. However, they have been known to grow in tropical regions as well. Because they are so hardy and adaptable, they grow in many different environments, from forests and woodlands to urban environments, and on agricultural byproducts such as straw and sawdust.

Ethically wildcrafting oyster mushrooms

Person carrying a basket

Gathering your own oyster mushrooms out in the wild can be an intriguing notion. But learning the difference between foraging and wildcrafting your mushrooms is an essential first step. 

Foraging is a term that describes gathering food from wild resources found in nature, while ethical wildcrafting focuses more on sustainably harvesting resources for medicinal needs. While the differences seem subtle, their approach can be miles apart. 

Ethically wildcrafting oyster mushrooms (or any other mushrooms, herbs, berries, nuts, or other plants) is mindful of the impact harvesting will have on the local ecosystem. Great care and knowledge are taken to learn about the native species in the area. This is essential for avoiding potentially dangerous lookalikes while ensuring you don’t harvest an endangered or threatened mushroom species. 

Another aspect considers the appropriate harvesting process. Just beneath the fruiting bodies, we see above ground lies a delicate and intricate web of communication; the mycelial network.

Sometimes called the “wood wide web,” mycelium connects mushrooms and plants through a network of branching filaments called hyphae. Much more than a rudimentary root system, this network facilitates communication between mushrooms and plant roots. Aside from breaking down organic plant matter and delivering nutrients to its hosts, this sophisticated communication system warns of danger and changing environmental conditions. Learning to keep this network intact during harvesting is well worth the effort. 

As eager as we may be to gather wild mushrooms, keep in mind we aren’t the only ones who enjoy having them as part of a meal. Many animals and creatures, from birds to insects and even deer, will have mushrooms on their menus. 

Once you harvest your wild oyster mushrooms, consider making a spore print. A spore print is precisely what it sounds like. After you’ve gathered your mushrooms, take the cap and rest it on a piece of paper where it won’t be disturbed for several hours (ideally overnight). The cap will shed spores you can use to grow mushrooms at home and will serve as a way to identify the same mushroom species should you gather them again in the wild.

Psst: While it may be hard to believe, oyster mushrooms and Venus fly traps share something in common—they’re both carnivores. Oyster mushrooms secrete a toxin that paralyzes passing nematodes (a roundworm), so the mushroom’s mycelium network will infiltrate the nematode and release enzymes that breakdown the nematode’s tissues, allowing the oyster mushrooms to absorb the nutrients released through the digestion of the worm. Spooky! (5)

Growing oyster mushrooms at home

Not sure you’re ready to test the waters of wildcrafting? No problem. Instead of harvesting mushrooms out in the wild, consider growing your own mushrooms at home. Even if it’s your first time, oyster mushrooms are one of the easiest mushrooms to grow for home cultivation. They’re adaptive to many different environments and grow exceedingly well on most wood byproducts like sawdust, paper, pulp sludge, cereal straws, coffee grounds, and even banana fronds (2). Grow kits make home mushroom cultivation even easier and include everything you need to get started. 

Looking for another reason to consider growing your own oyster mushrooms? Depending on where you live, the supermarkets in your area may not stock oyster mushrooms. By growing your own, you can skip grocery stores and farmers’ markets and instead harvest your mushrooms right in your kitchen. 

There are plenty of helpful mushroom forums you can explore if you’re looking for growing tips or want to connect with other like-minded fungi fans. Whether you’re looking to troubleshoot an issue growing your mushrooms or wish to learn more about growing mediums and how to increase your home harvest, these online communities will have you covered.

How can you enjoy oyster mushrooms?

Person preparing mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms are home in so many dishes that it’s well worth keeping them on hand for your culinary creations. They add delightful texture and up the nutritional value of any meal. They’re a popular ingredient in various cuisines worldwide for a good reason. 

Oyster mushrooms taste like a delicate and almost nutty mushroom; you get all the earthy, umami flavor a typical mushroom has to offer, with a mildness that fits into nearly any dish. Here are some of our favorite oyster mushroom recipes to get you started.

Sauteed oyster mushrooms with garlic butter

An easy recipe that’s weeknight-friendly and fancy enough for company, Family Style Food’s sauteed oyster mushrooms make it easy to have a delicious side dish on the table in just 20 minutes! Butter and olive oil combine with garlic (a match made in flavor heaven) for an elevated dish that’s easier to make than it looks. Another bonus? These crispy pan-fried oyster mushrooms can be added to a soft scramble for a delightful morning breakfast or tossed into a favorite pasta recipe for a tasty twist on an old favorite.

Oyster mushroom galette

Better suited to the weekend or a relaxing weekday afternoon, this oyster mushroom galette from DHS Kitchen Studio is a fabulous opportunity to experiment with oyster mushrooms. A mix would be lovely; shiitake, maitake, cremini, or button mushrooms would all be delightful here. Black pepper, chili flakes, mint, and green onions combine with gruyere and parmesan cheese for a beautiful depth of flavor. Skip the usual veggies and give this galette a go.

Oyster mushroom noodle stir-fry

Asian-inspired and kid-friendly, this plant-based oyster mushroom noodle stir-fry from Cooking for Peanuts uses (mostly) common pantry ingredients and is easy to customize. Tamari, rice vinegar, maple syrup, sesame oil, and gochujang (a fermented chili pepper paste) create a flavorful sauce. If you feel like experimenting and going for a more authentic flavor, try adding star anise. This spice is a common ingredient in Asian cooking and can add more complexity and sweetness to a dish.

Psst: Whether you plan on using your oyster mushrooms for soups, stews, or anything in between, you’ll want to store them properly so they’re ready when you are. Don’t wash your oyster mushrooms. Instead, keep them in a paper bag with a damp paper towel. They’ll stay fresher for longer, and you’ll avoid winding up with dried-up or slimy mushrooms. When it’s time to get cooking, wipe away any dirt or debris with a wet paper towel, and you’ll be good to go.

Oyster mushrooms: a versatile and savory mushroom

With a delightful flavor and stellar nutritional value, oyster mushrooms are a versatile ingredient you’ll want to keep on hand for all your cooking adventures. Since they’re easy to grow at home, they could be the perfect way to explore growing other varieties of mushrooms too. 

Craving more mushrooms? Stay updated on the latest discoveries, news, and other happenings on the shroomer blog. It’s a fantastic place to keep learning about mushrooms and what these incredible fungi offer!

References

  1. Kapahi, Meena, and Sarita Sachdeva. “Mycoremediation Potential of Pleurotus Species for Heavy Metals: A Review.” Bioresources and Bioprocessing 4, no. 1 (July 10, 2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40643-017-0162-8.
  2. Stamets, Paul. Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms. Ten Speed Press, 2011. https://fungi.com/collections/books-by-paul-stamets/products/growing-gourmet-and-medicinal-mushrooms.
  3. Acupuncture, Inner Works. “The Mighty Oyster Mushroom in Portland’s Forests: Culinary, Medicinal, Cleansing.” Inner Works Acupuncture, September 19, 2020. https://innerworksacupuncture.com/the-mighty-oyster-mushroom-in-portlands-forests-culinary-medicinal-cleansing/.
  4. RD, Jillian Kubala MS. “7 Impressive Benefits of Oyster Mushrooms.” Healthline, May 26, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/oyster-mushroom-benefits.
  5. “Oyster Mushroom | The Wildlife Trusts,” n.d. https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/fungi/oyster-mushroom.

Fact Checked: Mar Yvette


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ShroomWiki
Angelina Dickinson

Angelina Dickinson

Content Writer

Table Of Contents

1
What are oyster mushrooms?
2
What do oyster mushrooms look like?
3
Historical and medicinal use
4
Health benefits of oyster mushrooms
5
Where do oyster mushrooms grow?
6
Ethically wildcrafting oyster mushrooms
7
How can you enjoy oyster mushrooms?
8
Oyster mushrooms: a versatile and savory mushroom

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