Oyster Mushrooms: A Complete Guide

oyster mushroom in wild
© NK-55/Shutterstock.com

Written by Em Casalena

Published: December 14, 2022

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Are you interested in oyster mushrooms? Perhaps you might want to try to locate some of these mushrooms that are growing wild in your region. Or perhaps you simply want to sample them before deciding to purchase a pack of these mushrooms from the grocery store.

Oyster mushrooms are pretty incredible fungi, and they are great for beginner foragers because they grow in many different places and are easily identifiable. In this guide, we’ll break down the basics of oyster mushrooms, from what they are to what they look like to how to grow them at home.

Information About Oyster Mushrooms

Oyster Mushrooms
ClassificationPleurotus ostreatu
DescriptionAn oyster-shaped edible mushroom that has a fan-like cap that ranges from grey to tan to brown.
UsesCulinary, medicinal
How to GrowAs a very common culinary mushroom that is easy to grow, one can find whole grow kits online to start growing these mushrooms at home.
How to ForageLook for these large mushrooms on dead or decaying trees, as well as stumps. These mushrooms rarely grow straight out of the ground.
Key Identifying FeaturesLook for these mushrooms growing in clusters out of the side of dead trees and wood. These mushrooms tend to fan out and are white or brown, with some varieties appearing grey in color.
OriginUnited Kingdom, Europe, Asia, some parts of North America

Oyster Mushrooms: Classification

Oyster mushrooms are classified as pleurotus ostreatus. As part of the pleurotus genus, they are related to a number of gilled mushrooms such as the king oyster mushroom and the tarragon oyster mushroom. All members of this genus are collectively referred to as oyster mushrooms, but pleurotus ostreatus is the most common type of oyster mushroom consumed and foraged in North America and Europe. It is also known as the pearl oyster mushroom.

The blue oyster mushroom growing from a mossy stump

Oyster mushrooms are typically brown but can come in other hues, such as the blue oyster mushroom (pictured).

©LeManilo/Shutterstock.com

Oyster Mushrooms: Key Identifying Features and Appearance

The oyster mushroom is a common edible type of fungi. They are one of the most cultivated and beloved mushrooms that are commonly consumed worldwide. This mushroom boasts an oyster-shaped cap that serves as the mushroom’s namesake. They resemble raw oysters in color as well. The color and hue of these mushrooms are usually brownish-grey or whitish-brown. However, they also come in pink, blue, and yellow, among other hues! Since they grow quickly, can be grown on a range of potential substrates, and are tolerant of a variety of growing circumstances, they are among the easiest varieties of mushrooms to cultivate.

The oyster mushroom may be identified by its shelf-like growth patterns on wood, its size, and the cream-colored gills that run down a short and virtually nonexistent stem. It has a flat brown cap and may be seen across North America between October and the beginning of April.

Oyster Mushrooms: Where They Grow

Along with much of continental Europe, the oyster mushroom may be found in Britain, Ireland, and other parts of the continent. It is also prevalent in several areas of North America and is extensively dispersed over most of Asia, including Japan. The distribution statistics for individual species in this complex group are unfortunately susceptible to quite a bit of ambiguity, since several lookalike species within the pleurotus genus are often misidentified.

On dead or decaying wood, these mushrooms grow in groups called shelves. As a result, if you locate one, you’ll frequently find a large number nearby. Mushrooms of this species that are grown in a lab have a tendency to grow more independently, albeit they frequently form substantial clusters.

Search for these mushrooms among logs, downed trees, or dead standing trees. As oysters frequently love to grow in the shadows, make sure to look underneath any fallen trees as well. In ancient, green, open woods, they appear to particularly like growing on oak and beech trees.

Mushroom oysters develop quite fast. To avoid them becoming very leathery and unappealing to eat, you must discover them while they are still young.

Oyster Mushrooms: How They Are Used

Oyster mushrooms are primarily used in cooking and cuisine. Oyster mushrooms have a smooth, oyster-like texture and, according to some, a faint whiff of seafood taste when cooked. Their name may have also benefited from this. People frequently mention these mushrooms as having a little anise flavor as well. However, both tastes are quite mild and are typically not noticeable until the mushrooms have been added to a recipe. They taste fairly mild overall and have a little earthy undertone.

The oyster mushroom also has some medicinal properties. It is used in traditional or folk medicine to treat cancer, diabetes, infections, and excessive cholesterol. The oyster mushroom may have antifungal, anticancer, and cholesterol-lowering characteristics, according to laboratory research. However, there have been few studies on humans.

Oyster mushrooms growing in a cluster

Oyster mushrooms (pictured) are often sold fresh in international markets and local grocery chains alike.

©Tiplyashina Evgeniya/Shutterstock.com

Oyster Mushrooms: Where They Are Purchased

Oyster mushrooms are unique in that you can often find them in abundance in grocery stores around the United States, both dried and fresh. You can find them at specialty stores and international markets, but your local grocery chain might also have them in stock. If not, you can always forage for them or grow them from home.

The Oyster Mushroom Life Cycle and Behavior

Oyster mushrooms can be found in the wild throughout the autumn. The optimal time is immediately following the first frost of the season or other significant weather changes, such as the first hot weekend of spring. These mushrooms are always accessible as long as your grocery store carries them since commercial farmers harvest them all year long. There is no excellent or poor season like there is with certain other crops because the majority of oyster mushrooms are produced indoors under regulated circumstances.

The life cycle of the oyster mushroom is quite fascinating. They must connect with each other to mate after the haploid mycelia have formed. In order to maximize their chances of being able to reproduce, fungi have several mating types (which are the equivalent of sexes in most organisms). There are four different mating types for oyster mushrooms.

Following mating, the newly formed cells start to grow and divide so that they can survive as independent individuals. When the oyster mushroom gets to this specific stage of reproduction, it will continue to develop and absorb nutrients for the remainder of its life.

Prior to the triggering of specific environmental conditions, the mushroom does not really manifest. The end of the summer is when these mushrooms often bloom, however, this might vary depending on where you live. New dikaryotic basidia are then created along the underside of the gills once the gills have fully emerged with the cap. To start the reproductive cycle over again and begin growing new mushrooms, these fresh and new basidia will then create fresh and new basidiospores.

Oyster mushrooms have some unique behavior as well. Nematodes and germs are mercilessly attacked and eliminated by these mushrooms. It is a particularly distinctive mushroom since it contains a built-in defensive mechanism.

Oyster mushrooms being cultivated in substrate-filled bags

Oyster mushrooms (pictured) can be cultivated in substrate-filled bags included with most grow kits.

©WIRACHAIPHOTO/Shutterstock.com

How to Grow Oyster Mushrooms

The easiest way to grow oyster mushrooms is by purchasing a kit online. If you’re a beginner, this will make things a lot more convenient. Such grow kits will include your substrate, spores, container, and tools needed to start growing your mushrooms. The majority of oyster mushroom cultivation kits either include a little inoculated log or a holey plastic bag containing sterilized, inoculated sawdust or straw. Any of these items can be used to create your own kit, but starting with a kit is the simplest option. A quick Google search will yield a ton of different types of kits, depending on the type or species of oyster mushroom you wish to grow.

When it comes down to it, the oyster mushroom is a versatile and tasty little mushroom that could suit any palette. It is also widely available to purchase in stores, easy to forage, and fun to grow. What’s not to love about the oyster mushroom?

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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

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