Calocybe-gambosa

Saintly Sustenance – The St.George’s Mushroom

History has it that on this day in 1415 St.George’s Day was declared a national feast day. And if you’re lucky enough, you may find the perfect ingredient in the form of Calocybe gambosa, commonly known as St.George’s Mushroom.

This is one of the few edible species (of the larger kind) to be found in spring, and April 23rd was a convenient date to choose for its common name. They appear around this marked event, although in most cases they often arrive one or two weeks later, continuing to fruit until mid-June.

Their typical habitat is pastureland, but they also frequent grassy roadside verges and woodland edges, often in small to medium sized groups. At any other time of year (mainly the mushroom season in autumn) white gilled mushrooms (or ‘whitish’ as in C.gamboasa’s case) tend be untrusted, and for good reason too; many potently poisonous species share the same coloured gills. But during the spring season, there’s not too much the St.George’s Mushroom can be mistaken with.

Along with checking all the identification traits it’s also good (especially in this case) to check out the smell. The mature, fresh specimen will have a strong ‘mealy’ scent, which is an old fashioned term often used in describing certain mushrooms odours. It is hard to define but is often described either as fresh cucumber, watermelon rind, or an old grain mill. You’ll understand after a quick sniff!

Other features to note are the medium to large white dome like caps (becoming off-white with ochre hues) are sturdy and fleshy. They expand flatter with age, with an irregular wavy edge. The margin is always inrolled slightly. The gills (also off-white) are sinuate, narrow and densely crowded. The white stem is chunky and solid (with no ring present) and can be up to 4cm thick.

It goes without saying that the St.George’s Mushroom is a most welcome site for any forager, especially at this time of year. Highly prized, not only for its taste but also its flexibilty; it can be dried, pickled, cooked or even consumed raw. I don’t recommend eating it raw really, not because of digestive upset, but simply because it tastes  (for want of a better word) ‘orrible! They’re best gently sautéd for quite a while due of their tough, fleshy nature.

I wish you luck in finding some this spring.

Calocybe gambosa

St.Georges Mushrooms. One of the first large edible mushrooms of the year. Growing in pasture, grassy fields, verges and woodland edges from April to June. Note: Top right image: By chance, I saw some 18 hours after this post – on a grassy verge of a quiet side street. Great!

QUICK ID TABLE: MACRO MUSHROOM Agaricus urinascens / A.macrosporus

CAP / FLESH

5-15cm across. Domed, then expanding. Margin is enrolled and often wavy. White to off-white colour (some ochre with age).

STEM

3-7cm x 1-4cm. White, solid. Often curved towards the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Whitish, sinuate. Narrow and very crowded.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Pasture. Grassy verges, woodland edges. April to June.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Very Good. Can be dried, pickled, cooked or eaten raw.

*Extra Photo credits: Many thanks to Wiki Commons for the use of these images. Authors: Andrew – originally posted to Flickr as St George’s mushrooms, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6829007 (centre images: top left), Strobilomyces (centre images: bottom).

4 replies
  1. Kai
    Kai says:

    Hello John!
    I was lucky enough to find my first St. George’s mushrooms this year on a walk to the local garden centre, that was my first wake up call that it was time to start foraging for this year’s wild food! They definitely have a unique smell (I detected watermelon) and taste fantastic in a creamy sauce with some tagliatelle. Since stumbling across that patch, I’ve been weaving in and out of the woods and scanning around parks looking for more, seems that you only need one hit of these and you’re hooked! It was very ironic (I think) that I spent so long searching for these beauts in what I thought would be ideal locations only to find a patch of fifty or so enormous St George’s by a busy road on the walk back home, blasted by exhaust fumes rendering them somewhat inedible. This seems to be a recurring theme. Why do mushrooms like growing by roadsides, of all places? It’s a bit of a shame.
    Great blog, by the way, definitely one of my favourites!

    Reply
    • J C Harris
      J C Harris says:

      Thanks for the feedback Kai.
      That also sounds like a great recipe, simple but a perfect combination, thanks.
      It is also strange and typical that some of the best (abundant) finds are near roadsides. John Wright (form Ch.4 Riverside Cottage) suggested this was because of his ‘Car Park Theory’; Where the mushrooms, very often appear at the edges, next to the tarmac. He believes that because they have reached a border and can’t find a way to expand beyond the edge, the fungus produces the mushroom in order to ‘spread’ their spores and find new soil. Although it’s just a theory, I think it’s a very plausible one.

      Reply
      • Kai
        Kai says:

        Hi John,
        Thanks for your reply, and yes, creamy mushroom tagliatelle is one of my favourite recipes for all manner of wild mushrooms! Along with the milk, cheese and mushrooms, I throw in a little garlic, mixed herbs and spinach or wild greens if I have them, sometimes extra mushroom stock, works a charm. Sometimes I use the same sauce in a risotto, too!
        Ah, that’s an interesting theory, thanks for clarifying that. It sounds very much believable, given the massive rings of mushrooms I always see by the road. I have to walk past them to go and forage in the woods where they’re a bit less contaminated, that’s always a bit sad. I’m going to go foraging by some quieter country roadsides, I think, that may work out well!

        Reply
        • J C Harris
          J C Harris says:

          I think this will be my next mushroom recipe. I’m not adventurous enough really. I have often foraged and cooked mushrooms from the sides of quieter paths/roadsides and they seem fine. Busier roads I think may cause too much of an inedible mushroom! Shame.

          Reply

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