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Stropharia Ambigua, or the Questionable Stropharia is an oft maligned mushroom. There are two reasons for this:
- Uncertainty about edibility. If one source questions it, others follow, and no one wants to be the person sued because they said it was edible and someone got sick! This is a traditionally consumed edible, which MAY cause problems for some people. Since it is a Stropharia, and shares many characteristics with King Stropharia (or Wine Cap), we may assume that it shares the caution about overindulging, and not eating it in large amounts, or daily, and in cooking it well before eating it.
- The description of the flavor and smell. This is an unmistakable mushroom, because it has a completely identifiable odor. It smells EXACTLY as it is described - like sticking your nose down into the dirt in the forest. Rich, strong, fungusy, leafy, decaying humus. Just like that. And the flavor is reportedly just as earthy. People either love it, or hate it.
It is a good woodchip garden mushroom, and may be grown in leafy compost. It likes conifer forests, and shady spots with lots of leaf litter. It is a good mushroom for helping plants grow better.
It may have medicinal benefits similar to King Stropharia (helping heal the skin), and can be applied topically to problem areas on the skin (rub a little raw mushroom on it).
This is a pretty yellow gold mushroom with a slightly tacky feeling cap when it is dry, and a slimy feeling cap when it is wet. The veil breaks into little points that hang around the edge of the cap giving it a lacy appearance, and the ring on the stem will look black due to the dark spore print on the dark lilac gray gills (in fact, if you get a mushroom that still has the veil partially intact, you can see a nice dark spore print on the upper side of the veil if you break a bit of it). It typically stands atop a fairly long stem that has quite a bit of fuzziness below the ring, and yellow patches showing between the sticky-outty bits on the stem. It does not seem to particularly bruise any color, but exposed parts will darken to a brownish color over time. The mushroom will turn lighter colored as it ages, and then eventually it browns some, and the cap will flatten and turn slightly up at the edges, making the gills round out a lot on the bottom of the mushroom. The gills will darken with age.
Some people might confuse this with the yellow Amanita. There are key differences. This one NEVER has white spots on top, and the veil has a particular spiky look to it as it breaks. It does NOT have a universal veil (egg sac at the bottom of the stem). Most importantly though, it has GRAY gills, not white - this is an absolute indicator that you do not have an Amanita, no matter whether the other elements are confusing or not.
It can range in size from a few inches across when fully open, all the way up to 6-8" wide. The flat cap in the image above is about 7" across. The tall one in the center is almost a foot tall. We originally picked these in a patch where the fully open caps were 3-4" across, and the partially open umbrella shaped ones were about 2" across. When we came out to pick again in the same spot, we were able to see these from quite a ways off, even though it was late evening on a cloudy day and the light in the deep woods was pretty dim. My husband said, "Wow!" before we were even close to the patch. There weren't many there that day, but the ones that were there were fairly large. They were growing up from inside a pile of wood debris that had been piled after cutting trees for firewood - the debris was loosely piled, and caught plenty of leaves and needles which provided a compost bed for the mushrooms.
Use with caution - just as you would Wine Cap mushrooms. Cook it well, and eat moderate amounts not more than every other day.
Recipe for this mushroom is in our In the Kitchen section on the right side of this page. Yeah, we've eaten it. Nobody got sick. The jury is still out on whether I like it or not, I'm going to try it with a strongly savory and spicy dish next time.
We sell this mushroom in our mushroom store.