Honey fungus is the largest living organism on Earth. It can cover massive areas and live to be up to 1500 years old. Honey fungus is actually a collective name for a handful of different mushrooms that are all visually striking and edible when cooked properly.
Where to Find It
Honey fungus lives off of trees, causing them to decompose as it grows inside of them. The mushrooms emerge once the tree has died, so look in old, dead tree stumps for the large, interconnected bunches of the fungus. A recently cut forest will create very good conditions for honey fungus for several years, but it can also be found growing at the foot of living trees—especially hardwoods. Though it looks like its growing directly on the ground, the fungus has actually taken hold in the roots of the tree, or in underground parts that are decaying.
Deciduous forests, coniferous forests, towns.
When to Find It
You'll normally find honey fungus from September until October, but the "dark honey fungus" variety can easily extend its season if the weather conditions are favorable.
Entire mushroom: September, October.
How to Spot It
"Real" honey fungus is generally a pretty, honey color—hence the name, which has been passed on to other honey fungi with different characteristics. They all share a distinctive ring on their stem and a brownish or olive-yellow cap, darkest in the center and often with distinct, loose scales that are concentrated in the middle of the mushroom. It grows up to 15 cm tall, with a cap between 5 and 10 cm in diameter.
How to Pick It
You can pick the very small, fresh honey fungi whole. It's best to choose the caps of larger specimens, but you can also use their stems if they look tasty. If the cap breaks off crisply when you twist it, it’s good for eating.
On the palate
Honey fungus is so named because of its color, not because it tastes like honey. In fact, it has a hearty umami flavor with bitter, nutty notes. The caps—and in small specimens, the entire fungus—have a pleasant resistance, while the stems are fibrous and tough.
Honey fungus has a mild, fruity scent, sometimes with notes of licorice.
Honey fungus contains a substance that can cause stomach problems, so don't eat it raw. Boil the small, whole mushrooms and caps of the larger specimens for 15-20 minutes before eating them. The parboiled honey fungus can then be braised, grilled, or sautéed.
Make a mushroom broth by simmering pre-cooked honey fungus, fresh water, and herbs. When heated, honey fungus can produce slime that can thicken stews or soups. Mix honey fungus with other edible mushrooms and try pairing it with lamb, tarragon, parsley, shallots, capers, parmesan, and chilli peppers—especially in a pasta dish or as a filling for pierogies. Put a bit of honey fungus in French onion soup to add a delicious, earthy sweetness. You can dry and grind the stems and use them as mushroom flour.
Dry, freeze, salt, or pickle mushrooms after boiling them to extend their shelf life. You can also wash and store them in olive oil with some herbs like thyme or marjoram, but this will shorten their shelf life.
No equivalent substitutions.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
Honey fungus can be confused with the shaggy scalycap and other inedible scalycaps that are recognizable by slimy or scaly caps that are attached much more firmly than those of the honey fungus.