If you’re interested in foraging for choice edible (forager terminology for delicious!) mushrooms, then we highly encourage you to learn all about hedgehog mushrooms! These mushrooms are delicious and great for beginners to forage as they’re easy to positively identify.
So, in this guide, we’ll cover all the features of this mushroom you’ll need to know to identify it, plus where it grows, its fungal classification, cooking tips, and more.
Alright, without further ado, let’s jump in!
Hedgehog Mushrooms: Classification
Hedgehog mushrooms are unique-looking fungi that belong to the Hydenaceae family. Hedgehog mushrooms comprise several species (the exact number is unknown) in the Hydnum genus.
In this guide, we’ll talk about the Hydnum genus in general, and also focus on a handful of choice edibles. While mycologists do not yet know the exact number of hedgehog mushroom species, recent evidence suggests there are at least 16 species in North America alone.
The North American species are generally divided among the East and West Coasts. Well-known West Coast species include:
- H. washingtonianum
- H. neorepandum
- H. olympicum
Well-known East Coast species include:
- H. umbilicatum
- H. albomagnum
- H. aerostatisporum
The two most common hedgehog species in Europe are:
- H. repandum
- H. rufescens
Where Do They Grow?
So, the Hydnum genus is mostly distributed throughout temperate regions of North America and Europe. Some reports include species in parts of Asia, Central America, and Australia, but most guides largely focus on widespread distribution in North America and Europe.
In what part of forests and near what type of trees depends on the hedgehog species since different species form unique, beneficial fungi-plant relationships (mycorrhizal relationships), with specific tree families. For example, H. washingtonianum is associated with growing in soil under conifer trees along the mid-northern West Coast of North America. As such, when trying to identify a species of hedgehog mushroom, noting the region where you found it and what type of trees it’s growing near/under can significantly aid in species identification.
Identifying Features of Hedgehog Mushrooms
While features vary by species, all hedgehog mushrooms share some common morphologies that you should look out for when foraging.
Now, these mushrooms are generally known as excellent for beginners to forage as they are reliably easy to identify. In fact, some consider hedgehogs to be the “safe chanterelles” because, unlike their edible chanterelle relatives, hedgehog mushrooms don’t have any poisonous look-alikes.
Look for Teeth Under the Cap
When looking for a member of the Hydnum genus, you’ll want to look for teeth instead of gills. Yes, hedgehogs are considered toothed mushrooms, and it is this feature that gives this genus its common name. If you think you’ve found a hedgehog, look under the cap for short, shaggy, fibrous spine-like projections. That’s your first big clue that you may be looking at a hedgehog mushroom. These spines should easily detach from the mushroom when brushed or pressed.
Check Out the Cap
The cap is also rather distinctive once you get familiar with them, as they have plump, tan-pale orange caps that are smooth, dry, and somewhat resemble a peach. The teeth should also be a pale orange-ish color. The caps are convex and flatten out with (often) a central depression as the mushrooms reach full maturity. Additionally, the caps are often slightly fuzzy to the touch.
Take a Whiff
Many people report that hedgehogs often have a slightly sweet, pleasant, apricot smell to them. Remember, however, that smell is rather subjective, so while smell can be a part of your mushroom ID toolbox, don’t rely on it for identification.
Is it Brittle?
Another identifying feature of a hedgehog mushroom is its brittleness. Both the cap and stip should easily snap or crumble and have a chalky texture when broken.
Hedgehog Mushrooms: Comparing Three Common Species
Now that you know the most distinctive features of the Hydnum genus, we’ll cover specific identifying features of three well-known, choice hedgehogs: H. repandum, H. umbilicatum, and H. albomagnum.
Hydnum repandum, commonly known as “wood hedgehog” is a characteristically stout mushroom with a thick stipe. Its cap can reach 2-8 inches across. This European hedgehog mushroom usually has a non-uniform cap with lobed edges and an off-center stipe. H. repandum’s stipe thickness usually reaches between .5-1.25 inches across. This hedgehog is mycorrhizal with conifer or hardwood trees and has a particular affinity for spruce and beech trees.
Hydnum umbillicatum, commonly called the “depressed hedgehog” is known for the distinctive depression in the center of its cap. H. umbilicatum typically only reaches 1-2 inches across. This small hedgehog species normally has a more rounded, uniform cap with a centered stipe. H. umbilicatum also has a thinner stipe, which is normally .25-.5 inches wide. This little North American East Coast hedgehog usually grows in conifer forests or mixed hardwood forests close to conifers.
Hydnum albomagnum, commonly known as the “giant hedgehog” is native to the East coast of North America. The cap of this mushroom can reach up to 12 inches across and is notably paler than most other hedgehog species. Rather than displaying a pale to tawny orange cap, H. albomagnum has a cream to pale grey cap with equally pale teeth. You can often find this East coast mushroom growing in leaf litter under conifer trees in conifer or mixed-hardwood forests.
Preparing and Cooking Hedgehog Mushrooms
Once you’ve foraged a basket of delectable hedgehogs, you’ll want to make sure you properly prepare and cook them. First, since they’re brittle, you’ll want to ensure that you put them gently in your basket or foraging bag, so they don’t break or crumble on the walk back home.
Now, cleaning hedgehog mushrooms can be a bit tricky as dirt and tiny bugs can be difficult to remove from the shaggy teeth. Many foragers carry a soft-bristle toothbrush to clean their mushrooms. You generally don’t want to wash them as this will make your mushrooms soggy. If you haven’t eaten mushrooms in the Hydnum genus before, and you’re worried about stomach upset- some people have mild GI upset after eating hedgehog mushrooms – then simply thoroughly cook a small piece for at least 15 minutes, wait 6-12 hours, and see how you feel. If your stomach is feeling fine, then it’s likely of no concern to whip up the rest of the batch and dig in!
All parts of hedgehog mushrooms are delicious, and are particularly good grilled or sauteed in butter (plant-based or dairy works great) and garlic. Some people also sautee them and then add them to a hearty stew. The choice species of hedgehog have a mild, slightly sweet, nutty flavor to them that is often compared to chanterelles.
Where to Purchase Hedgehog Mushrooms and Can You Grow Them?
If you aren’t able to head out into the woods to forage these wild mushrooms, you may be wondering how to purchase them instead. Well, depending on where you live, you may be able to find choice hedgehog mushrooms for sale at your local farmer’s market or health food store as foragers will often sell them at these locations.
Now, you may be wondering if you can simply grow these mushrooms yourself. Because hedgehog mushrooms are mycorrhizal, which means they have a complex, symbiotic relationship with certain tree species in order to survive, it’s not possible to grow them in a grow kit at your home. Since these fungi-plant relationships involve several complex chemical and nutrient exchanges in order for mycorrhizal fungi to survive, it’s extremely difficult to grow mycorrhizal mushrooms outside of this relationship.
Are Hedgehog Mushrooms Medicinal?
Currently, researchers are finding that some hedgehog species, such as Hydnum repandum, contain potent anti-cancer activity against certain types of cancer. For example, one study found that extracts of Hydnum repandum fruiting bodies displayed a 90% inhibition against Sarcoma 180 and Ehrlich solid cancer in mice. This same study also found that an extract of the mushroom’s mycelium displayed a 70% inhibition against Sarcoma 180. Other studies confirm the strong antimicrobial and antioxidant activity of hedgehog mushrooms.
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