There’s much more to the world of mushrooms than the humble cremini mushrooms in your supermarket. With so many to explore, you might not be sure where to start. From your favorite stir-fry to your morning coffee and even your skin care, mushrooms seem to be everywhere.
In this guide, we’ll introduce you to songyi mushrooms. These wild mushrooms have been revered for centuries, and aside from being a delicacy, these little fungi are proving to be nourishing to your body inside and out. We’ll talk about those health benefits, their history, how you can enjoy them, and much more.
Songyi mushrooms (tricholoma matsutake), also called pine mushrooms or matsutake mushrooms, are culinary mushrooms more valued for their flavor than their medicinal properties. Although they aren’t without their health benefits, however (more on this soon).
These mushrooms are described as having a pungent flavor that is woodsy, earthy, and spicy with an aroma to match. Considered to be unlike any other mushroom, songyi mushrooms are often thought of as “multidimensional truffles.”
They’re also rare and can cost up to $2,000 per pound in Japan. As such, they’re highly prized ingredients (1).
Psst: Songyi mushrooms are the second most expensive mushroom in the world after truffles. They’re considered special enough to be a wedding gift and believed to symbolize prosperity and fertility (3).
The varieties of songyi mushrooms in the United States differ slightly from those in Japan. Western matsutake (tricholoma murrillianum) and Eastern matsutake (tricholoma magnivelare) are mushrooms that grow West and East of the Rocky Mountains, respectively.
Songyi mushrooms are robust-looking with thick stems, usually hidden under the soil. Their mushroom caps range in color from white to brown. Songyi mushrooms, in the early stages of their growing cycle, will have a veil underneath their caps extending down their stem. As they mature, this veil will fall away, revealing the gills beneath the rounded cap, with edges that curl inward rather than outward (2).
Regardless of the variety, variations in the environment where they grow can play a role in their appearance. Changes in the climate and soil quality may result in slight differences between the mushrooms in Japan, Korea, and China and those in the United States.
These wild mushrooms are native to Japan, although you can also find them growing in Korea, China, and parts of the United States.
Their name is a clue to where they grow. Songyi mushrooms have such a unique relationship with the pine forests in which they grow that cultivating them has proven to be far more complex and challenging than other mushroom varieties.
Like other species of plants and animals, songyi mushrooms are a threatened species. Development has contributed to habitat loss in Japan and Okinawa. But human activity isn’t solely responsible; nematodes, a type of roundworm, have also negatively impacted songyi mushrooms (1).
Nematodes aren’t all bad. Sometimes they play essential roles in a mushroom’s growing process (carnivorous oyster mushrooms paralyze unsuspecting nematodes so they can feast on their bodies), while other times, they can damage the mycelium or disrupt its growth.
Psst: These humble looking shrooms are resilient. According to biologist Merlin Sheldrake, matsutake mushrooms were among the first life forms to recover after the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II (3).
Songyi mushrooms have been treasured in Japan for centuries. One of the first mentions of songyi mushrooms appears in a collection of poetry, Manyoshu, which dates to the 7th century (4). During the 8th century, the forests around Kyoto and other parts of Japan were cleared entirely to supply the lumber needed to build and heat temples. This allowed the population of songyi mushrooms to flourish, and they grew abundantly in the aftermath.
And similar to other mushrooms, like tremella mushroom, songyi mushrooms were reserved for the most elite classes of society.
In the 20th century, the Japanese government took measures to regenerate the pine forests, and reforestation efforts were solidly underway during the 1950s. This came at a cost, however, and songyi mushrooms became harder and harder to find, leading to a shortage and driving up costs (3).
While it’s likely songyi mushrooms were reserved for the aristocratic classes because of their purported health benefits, we lack the documentation to conclusively state this as fact.
Aside from being a culinary prize, songyi mushrooms are also deeply nourishing and supportive to the body, inside and out.
Studies show that songyi mushrooms have broad-spectrum antimicrobial effects (it was tested on 11 microorganisms) and displays even stronger antimicrobial abilities against gram-positive bacteria over gram-negative. The difference between these two types of bacteria comes down to the thickness of the cell wall: gram-positive have thick cell walls while gram-negative have thin cell walls. Each type of bacteria affects the body in different ways.
Further research demonstrates how the songyi mushroom’s antitumor properties may be due to its ability to stimulate the immune system. Mice treated with the mushroom also displayed more significant activity and appetite (5).
While it may be unexpected, songyi mushrooms positively affect skin health. Songyi mushroom extract is brimming with polysaccharides, including beta-glucan. Scientists have found that songyi mushrooms may be an effective anti-aging treatment, as they can reduce fine lines and prevent damage to the dermal extracellular matrix (6).
Our extracellular matrix is susceptible to environmental damage, and over time, our collagen and elastin break down, and we begin to see signs of aging. Other common signs of aging include changes in skin tone, like dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and dry skin.
Since songyi mushrooms aren’t cultivated and are only found in the wild, you might be tempted to head out into your local area and search for them. Before you do, we think familiarizing yourself with the differences between foraging and ethical wildcrafting is essential.
Foraging is a catch-all term meant to describe gathering wild food resources in nature. On the other hand, ethical wildcrafting refers to harvesting local resources for medicinal needs. While the distinction may seem subtle, the differences in approach set foraging and wildcrafting apart.
Ethical wildcrafting takes much more into account beyond harvesting wild mushrooms (or plants, herbs, berries, etc.). There’s an emphasis on being mindful and caring for the local ecosystem and environment.
It’s always a wise idea to secure any permissions or licenses needed to harvest wild mushrooms. This is especially important with songyi mushrooms, as many are in National Parks.
Another essential element of wildcrafting is learning more about any endangered or threatened species in the area where you’ll be gathering mushrooms. Are there any dangerous lookalikes you need to be aware of? Work with a professional if you’re unsure of what you’re harvesting.
Remember that there’s much more to harvesting wild mushrooms than simply plucking them from the ground. Some mushrooms benefit from being gently twisted or loosened from the soil, while others should be trimmed at the stem closest to the ground.
One goal with wildcrafting is to preserve the natural environment, and careful harvesting techniques will keep the delicate mycelial network intact. Most of the time, the part of the mushroom we eat is the fruiting body, but there’s much more to mushrooms beneath the surface.
A network of delicate filaments called hyphae communicate changes in the environment, exchange nutrients, and alert plants to the predators in the area. This communication network is so sophisticated it’s often called the “wood wide web.”
Spending the extra time learning how to best harvest the natural resources around us shows respect for nature’s gifts and avoids overharvesting. There’s a delicate balance we can help maintain in an ecosystem, ensuring we’ll enjoy it for years to come.
Since songyi mushrooms are more commonly revered as a delicacy, if you can find them, we suggest enjoying their unique flavor by getting creative in the kitchen. Whether you keep things simple and enjoy them as-is in a simple saute or use them as a meat substitute in your favorite plant-based dish, we recommend treating them as the main event.
When you’re ready to eat your songy mushrooms, avoid rinsing them underwater. Instead, use a damp paper towel to remove debris.
There are other ways to enjoy songyi mushrooms, and that’s by looking for them in your skin care products. That’s right. Mushrooms have made the leap into personal care. Songyi mushrooms are quickly becoming a rising star outside of the kitchen due to their positive effects on the skin. Here are some tips to get you started.
Look for natural ingredients over harsh synthetics—this can be especially helpful if you have sensitive skin. Coconut oil and shea butter are effective moisturizers and are often more compatible with skin than petroleum-based options. Also, avoid questionable preservatives like parabens and other potentially harmful ingredients such as phthalates. There are safer, natural alternatives depending on the formulation (like vitamin E). Your skin and body will thank you.
Sometimes, different skin types need different products. Oily skin needs are different from dry skin. And it can change depending on the season—a light lotion may be a better fit during warmer seasons, whereas an oil serum could be just the ticket when temperatures drop. Look for ingredients that support hydration, like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, to keep your skin barrier intact.
You don’t need to overhaul your entire skin care routine to enjoy the skin-loving benefits songyi mushrooms have to offer. Feel free to start with a cleanser or brightening serum. See what works for your skin; sometimes, it takes the slightest tweak in our routine to see a significant difference.
Songyi mushrooms are a prized and highly valued wild mushroom that can be enjoyed in the kitchen and offer several benefits for skin health. So whether you incorporate them into your meals or explore their presence in skincare products, songyi mushrooms have proven themselves well worth the effort of finding them.
Craving more shrooms? For more mushroom happenings, including news and breakthroughs on medicinal and psychedelic mushrooms, be sure to keep up with us on shroomer.
Jones, Alexandra. “What Are Matsutake Mushrooms?” The Spruce Eats, February 10, 2023. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-are-matsutake-mushrooms-5212688
Yan, Pascal. “How to Identify Matsutake Mushrooms.” Eco Friendly Income, May 1, 2023. https://www.ecofriendlyincome.com/blog/how-to-identify-matsutake-mushrooms
Métayer, Catherine, and Eirik Johnson. “The Empowering Mushroom.” Beside. August 15, 2022. Accessed July 2, 2023. https://beside.media/through-the-lens/empowering-mushroom/
Hugo.Mccafferty. “What Are Matsutake Mushrooms and Why Are They More Precious Than Gold?” www.Finedininglovers.com, March 30, 2022. https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/matsutake-mushrooms
Hou, Yiling, X. H. Ding, Wanru Hou, Jie Zhong, Hongqing Zhu, Bin-Xiang Ma, Ting Xu, and Junhua Li. “Anti-Microorganism, Anti-Tumor, and Immune Activities of a Novel Polysaccharide Isolated from Tricholoma Matsutake.” Pharmacognosy Magazine 9, no. 35 (January 1, 2013): 244. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-1296.113278
“Extract of the Mycelium of T. Matsutake Inhibits Elastase Activity and TPA-Induced MMP-1 Expression in Human Fibroblasts.” International Journal of Molecular Medicine 34, no. 6 (October 14, 2014): 1613–21. https://doi.org/10.3892/ijmm.2014.1969