The shaggy mane mushroom (scientific name Coprinus comatus) is a widespread fungus that can be found in many places like gravel roads, lawns or rubbish dumps. Shaggy mane mushroom looks initially like a white cylinder, later the caps open and the species resembles a bell. The scales that cover the white caps give the species its popular name. Gills are located on the underside of caps and are initially white but later become black and start to produce a black liquid. This fluid is full of spores and gives the mushroom its alternative common name of "ink cap".
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A specific trait of this species is that it will only last a few hours after it starts producing spores or it is harvested. It liquefies and turns black very quickly. Young mushrooms are edible but must be consumed very fast. They have a limited shelf life and will start dissolving in no time.
There are a few ways to preserve the shaggy mane mushroom for longer. Just putting the fruiting bodies in a glass of cold water is enough to conserve them for one or two days. They last several days in the fridge after minimal cooking, such as sautéing, simmering or microwaving. Freezing is also a solution for an even longer storage. Regardless of the chosen method, it must be served in four to six hours after harvest or the mushrooms will already start to spoil. The species is also cultivated industrially, especially in China.
Shaggy mane mushrooms can be confused with several poisonous species, such as the toxic magpie fungus. Chlorophyllum molybdites, also known as the vomiter mushroom, is an American poisonous mushroom considered to be very dangerous because it resembles several edible varieties, including the shaggy mane.
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It is a common mushroom that is often found on lawns, most people know it well and can recognize it quickly. The shape and size are quite distinctive but the most obvious feature is the tendency of the gills to turn black at maturity, producing an ink-like liquid. Shaggy mane mushrooms grow in lines or clusters but can also form rings.
The species thrives on disturbed zones and in border areas. Shaggy mane mushroom is often found on the side of unpaved roads, sometimes in large numbers. It is easily harvested in the Rocky Mountains during the rainy season by just using an all-terrain car to drive on dirt roads and harvest the mushrooms from the sides.
The DNA of shaggy mane mushroom has been tested in depth in the last ten years. The results proved it is closely related to some varieties of Agaricus and Lepiota. However, it is only a distant relative of Coprinellus micaceus, Coprinopsis atramentaria and other species that also produce black ink. Scientists used to group all of the black ink mushrooms in the Coprinus genus. Today, only Coprinus comatus and a few others are still a part of it. Gills that liquefy into ink are no longer the main trait of the genus, but rather the presence of a strand of fibers similar to a string inside the stem's hollow cavity, or the ring located on the stem.
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Caps are oval or round when the mushroom is young, they later become bell-shaped and their margins start to lift. Caps have a diameter of 3 to 15 cm and turn into a black liquid at maturity. They are white with a darker brown center and their dry surface is covered in scales.
The stems are thin, with a length between 5 and 20 cm and a diameter of 1-2 cm. They have a smooth surface with a white color and detach easily from the caps. Their center is hollow, with hanging fibers, while the flesh is soft and white. Gills are densely packed and change their color in time from white to pink and eventually black.
Recent studies on the water extracts from Coprinus comatus have identified several bioactive compounds with a strong action against breast tumours. This is by far the most common form of cancer for women all around the world. It could be a major breakthrough, especially for estrogen-independent (ER-) breast cancer, which can't be treated in any way.
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The fruiting bodies of this species include y3, an alkaline protein with significant potential. It was tested on gastric cancer cell line with an IC50 of 12 µg/mL and found to inhibit it. The strength of a person's immune system can be judged by the serum lysozyme activity. Lysozyme decomposes the polysaccharides that make up the cell walls of bacteria but can also attach on the surface of pathogens, allowing white blood cells to ingest them. An increase in serum lysozyme activity was detected in Chinese tests performed on mice that were given polysaccharide solutions from the shaggy mane mushroom.
Eating shaggy mane mushroom can balance the amount of sugar in the blood, an effect attested by several modern research studies. In a scientific study, mice were intensively fed with a powder prepared from fruiting bodies of shaggy mane mushroom, equivalent to a third of their total diet. Their intraperitoneal glucose tolerance increased, while the concentration of glucose in the plasma was reduced. Even though the energy value in their diet did not change, the mice no longer increased in weight. Shaggy mane mushroom powder was also administered intragastric, in a dose of 3.6 g for every kg of body weight, and a reduction in plasma glucose was detected after 10 hours. A diet rich in shaggy mane mushroom generated a mild hypoglycemic effect on mice, while weight gain was stopped through metabolic action.
Fermented fruiting bodies of shaggy mane mushroom are rich in the rare mineral vanadium. These were tested in a number of studies to determine their usefulness in the treatment of diabetes. Chemicals that include vanadium are now considered a possible oral replacement for insulin because salts of this mineral are insulin-mimetic. Tests in vitro have proven that vanadium compounds have almost the same effects as insulin. Rats with diabetes and a lack of insulin or resistance to it that were treated with these compounds displayed improved glucose homeostasis as well as normoglycemia.
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A separate study on mice discovered that a combination of fermented shaggy mane mushrooms and sodium vanadate kept the blood glucose at a reasonable level. Researchers measured the level of both blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), which indicated the amount of blood in plasma. As a benchmark, the glucose tolerance of healthy mice was determined. The animals were given shaggy mane mushroom mycelia, which is a good source of vanadium. Healthy mice increased their tolerance of sugar while the ones with diabetes had a lower level of HbA1c and blood glucose spikes caused by adrenalin were reduced. Alloxan-induced hyperglycemic mice also gained weight in time. The levels of blood glucose and HbA1c in mice with diabetes decreased significantly after a treatment with low doses of fermented shaggy mane mushroom.
The shaggy mane mushroom was also tried as a cure for cancer. The development of solid cancers like Ehrlich and sarcoma 180 was reduced by 90-100% in mice that were administered intraperitoneally with polysaccharides extracted from the mycelial culture of shaggy mane mushrooms. Ergothioneine, an antioxidant thiol compound, has been isolated from shaggy mane mushroom more than 50 years ago.
The organic solvent extracts have an important immuno-modulatory effect mediated by polysaccharide but also a strong anti-androgenic activity. As a result, consuming the shaggy mane mushroom can limit the expansion of cancer cell in prostate tumours that depend on androgen.
A dose of 50mg/kg of shaggy mane mushroom polysaccharide extract administered every day was found in animal studies to have important liver protection abilities. It significantly decreased the effects of alcohol on the liver structure and allowed it to function properly.
The shaggy mane mushrooms are edible but have to be consumed fast, they become of poor quality once their caps transform into ink. All Coprinus varieties must be consumed immediately or dried for further use. Harvesting greatly accelerates the process of decomposition of the caps. They are actually edible even after they begin to dissolve but they have an inferior taste and many people dislike their slimy texture.
Washing the mushrooms speeds up the dissolution process, so you should try to clean the dirt with a brush instead. For the same reason, slice them in half instead of cutting the mushrooms in small pieces. It is not needed anyway, since they cook fast due to the soft texture. The mushrooms can be added to soups and pastas or sautéed with butter, onions, salt and pepper. They release a lot of liquid that should be removed to cook them faster.
The fluid can be used to improve the taste of other dishes; a small amount of mushrooms is also a great aromatic ingredient. It works very well with soups, poultry, dairy or pastas.
Shaggy mane mushrooms can be frozen for storage, after 3-5 minutes of sautéing. Drying the mushrooms is another option, but most of the flavour is lost.
The species feeds on dead or rotten organic matter, which classifies it as a saprotroph mushroom. It is very common and grown naturally on meadows, lawns or fields. It thrives in zones with disturbed soils, as well as sides of rods or paths. Coprinus comatus has an extended range and lives in temperate climates in Europe, North America as well as Australia. It is rarely found isolated, large clusters being a lot more common. The species is very easy to harvest, if you find one mushroom it is very likely that a large number will also be nearby.