Shaggy mane mushrooms are a good addition to the dinner table, and are easy to find in many places in the United States and in Europe. Though shaggy manes are a choice mushroom, they do have some disadvantages that should be noted.
Shaggy manes are also called ink caps or inky caps. The reason is because instead of releasing spores when the mushrooms are totally ripe, like most other mushrooms, in a shaggy mane the mushroom head dissolves into something resembling a puddle of ink when the mushroom is fully ripe. The ink carries the spores, which then serve to create the next season of mushrooms for this species.
This creates a problem for the mushroom picker since shaggy manes are most noticeable when the heads are ripe or nearly so. They are perfectly edible when they have just broken the surface of the ground, however they are much harder to find when they are so young.
The problem is that within just a couple hours, totally good ink caps can turn into a big inedible mess.
There is a way around this, though. Cold temperatures retard this process. This means that when collecting Shaggy manes, make sure that any mushrooms found are put into a bath of ice water in an ice chest. Collected or stored in this way, a shaggy mane can last all day.
This mushroom species is most numerous in coniferous forests, sometimes also under cedars, and occasionally even in lawns, and it is most often found later in the year, in late summer through the fall. They grow in clusters that come from a common root mass, and the cluster can be well over a foot across with 20 or 30 individual caps in the group.
Shaggy mane mushrooms are delicate and bruise easily. The heads can be up to six inches tall or even more, but they are loosely attached to the stem and the stem doesn't have a gill ring. The heads remain close to the stem at the head bottom however, rather than opening up wide like many mushrooms. The heads are seldom more than one or two inches in diameter at the base, and tend to be whitish with dark peeling flakes that curl from the base to toward the tip. The gills are dark trending to black.
When collecting shaggy manes, while the stems can be eaten, they aren't choice like the caps are. However, don't discard the stems until you are home and preparing to clean the heads for eating or storing purposes. The stems help to keep the heads from moving rapidly to the ink phase. If shaggy manes begin to turn inky, it is best to discard them.
This is one mushroom that can be added to most main dishes to add flavor. It is also easy to store. Simply slice the heads and blanch them in hot butter for 15 seconds or so, then bag them and freeze them. They don't dry well since they tend to turn to ink, but the frozen specimens are good tasting for up to two years, though one year is the best time frame for using them.
There are few mushrooms that look like a shaggy mane, which is good for beginning mushroom hunters. Once they know what a shaggy mane looks like, it is unlikely that they will mistake it for another mushroom.
Shaggy manes are one of the choicest of mushrooms, though because of how little time it takes them to degenerate it can be difficult to collect many. Still, it is very worth the effort. On a scale of ten, this mushroom would be placed at about an eight, mostly due to the flavor.