Foraged Gardening

Top 6 gourmet & medicinal mushrooms you can grow at home

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We think every gardener can and should incorporate gourmet mushrooms into their yards, gardens, and growing spaces. Many of these gourmet fungi also have proven medicinal benefits. In this article, we’ll share our top grow-at-home mushroom recommendations and help you learn a bit more about the amazing world of fungi growing all around you. 

Gourmet mushrooms, both foraged and homegrown 

If you’ve been to this website before, you probably know that we’re quite fond of fungi. We do a lot of wild foraging and we also grow gourmet, medicinal mushrooms in our own garden.

We live at the base of the Appalachian Mountains in Greenville, SC. That puts us smack dab in the middle of one of the premier mushroom foraging areas in the world.

Why do we grow our own gourmet and medicinal mushrooms given the abundance of wild mushrooms in our forests? So that we can still have plenty of our favorite varieties available when we don’t have time to go out foraging.

Plus, some of our favorites (like shiitake mushrooms) aren’t native here, so foraging for them isn’t even a possibility.

Cinnabar mushrooms (Cantharellus cinnabarinus), a smaller, more colorful subspecies of chanterelle. Cinnabars are mycorrhizal and grow abundantly around certain trees in the summer.

Cinnabar mushrooms (Cantharellus cinnabarinus), a smaller, more colorful subspecies of chanterelle. Cinnabars are mycorrhizal and grow abundantly around certain trees in the summer.

Gourmet, medicinal mushrooms come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors

We’ve encountered folks who say, “I don’t like mushrooms.” To us, that’s like saying, “I don’t like drinking liquid.”

Mushrooms come in such a dazzling array of colors, sizes, textures, and flavors, that it’s impossible to make a general statement about them. There are mushrooms that taste like maple syrup, crab meat, steak, apricots & almonds, etc..

If you don’t like mushrooms, it’s likely due to the fact that you haven’t tried ones that suit your tastes yet. Or that you are basing your poor opinion of edible mushrooms off of the rather bland and common button mushrooms found in grocery stores.

While there are likely dozens of native gourmet & medicinal mushrooms growing wild wherever you live (and others that will make you sick or kill you), many gourmet fungi are difficult if not impossible to grow at home.

Mycorrhizal fungi versus decomposers, saprobes, and parasitic mushrooms  

What are mycorrhizal fungi?

Mycorrhizal fungi are species that form symbiotic relationships with plants. This trait makes mycorrhizal fungi more difficult to cultivate.

90% of terrestrial plants form mycorrhizal relationships, devoting a significant amount of the energy they produce via photosynthesis to feeding carbohydrates to their fungal partners via the plants’ roots.

In exchange, those fungi:

  1. bring nutrients and water from the soil back to the plants,
  2. protect the plants from soil dwelling pathogenic microorganisms, and
  3. connect the plants into an integrated communication & resource-swapping network that scientists not-so-jokingly refer to as the “wood wide web.”

Popular edible mycorrhizal fungi that you might have heard of/eaten include chanterelles and morels.

What makes these mushrooms difficult to cultivate is that they require specific host trees to grow.

A nice haul of morel mushrooms from undisclosed locations in Upstate South Carolina. Gourmet and medicinal mushrooms, by Tyrant Farms

A nice haul of morel mushrooms from undisclosed locations in Upstate South Carolina. Morels are mycorrhizal fungi, e.g. they grow in symbiosis with specific host tree species.  

What are saprobic fungi? 

Saprobic fungi are decomposers of tree material. This feature make “decomposers” relatively easy to cultivate. (All you need is logs, wood chips, leaves, etc depending on the species of saprobe you’re cultivating.)

Primary decomposers help initiate the decomposition of the tough lignin and cellulose that give trees their structure. As we’ve written about elsewhere, if these fungi had come along a little earlier in earth’s history, we wouldn’t have the abundance of “fossil fuels” that we enjoy today.

Secondary decomposers are the fungi that break down organic matter on a forest floor (leaves, sticks, remnants of fallen trees, etc).

Tertiary decomposers are the fungi that remain in the soil for years after the primary and secondary decomposers have done their work; they help to break down/recycle remaining soil organic matter so that those components can ultimately be used again as a food source for plants – and the cycle repeats.

Again, saprobes/decomposers make a much easier type of fungi to cultivate than mycorrhizal fungi because:

  • they fruit quickly (usually within 6 months);
  • all you need to grow them is either recently felled logs, wood chips, or other carbon-rich waste products (coffee grounds, straw, etc).

Top 6 gourmet & medicinal mushrooms to grow at home

All the fungi on our list are:

  1. easy to grow decomposers,
  2. will produce loads of delicious mushrooms, and
  3. can be purchased as “seeds” on Amazon (affiliate purchase links provided – detailed growing instructions come with purchase.).

Most of the gourmet mushrooms on our list also have proven medicinal properties. In no particular order, here are our top six recommendations of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms you can grow at home and/or in your garden:

1. Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) 

A massive lion's mane mushroom growing on a dying oak tree. Gourmet and medicinal mushrooms, by Tyrant Farms

A massive lion’s mane mushroom growing on a dying oak tree.

What do lion’s mane mushrooms grow on? 

Lion’s manes grow on sick or dying trees, cut hardwood logs, or specialized substrate in grow bags.

What do lion’s mane mushrooms taste like? 

The taste and texture of a lion’s mane is remarkably similar to crab meat. Our favorite recipe to make with these is lion’s mane “crab cakes”, substituting chopped pieces of mushroom for crabmeat. We’ve served these to dinner guests and they thought they were eating actual crab meat.

Two other great lion’s mane mushroom recipes:

What are lion’s mane mushrooms medicinal properties?

Perhaps the most potent of all the medicinal mushrooms in this list, lion’s mane and other Hericiums pack quite the punch. Studies are showing that they have very powerful, even regenerative, effects on brain cells, making them a potential treatment for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other degenerative brain disorders.

Other proven medicinal benefits: they can reduce blood glucose levels (which can aid in diabetes control), and are packed full of anti-cancer compounds. Read more here.

Where are lion’s manes native to and what season do they grow? 

  • Native/Seasonal: Lion’s mane is native to North America, Asia, and Europe. It fruits in the cool seasons, from late summer through winter, with an occasional oddball showing up in the spring.

Where to buy lion’s mane mushrooms for growing:

2. Winecap, aka King Stropharia (Stropharia rugosoannulata)

Gourmet and medicinal mushrooms: King Stropharia aka winecap mushrooms

Yes, King Stropharia can really grow this large. This one was about the size of our cat, Oscar.

Where do king stropharia mushrooms grow?

King stropharia grow on hardwood mulch/wood chips. We inoculated our mulched walking paths and mulched no-till garden beds with King Stropharia mushrooms years ago. We add new wood chips in the spring and fall, and continue to get new king stropharia mushrooms each year.

What do king stropharia mushrooms taste like?

We think they taste like a combination of portobello mushrooms with notes of white potatoes and red wine.

Do king stropharia have medicinal properties: 

A 2021 analysis and summary of king stropharia mushrooms’ nutritional and medicinal benefits published in the Journal of Food Quality, states: “It [king stropharia] has some important pharmacological activities such as antitumor, antioxidative, and antihyperglycemic effects and also has preventative effects on coronary heart diseases.” 

Using king stropharia mushrooms for bioremediation/pollution prevention:

However, they are proven to be an incredible species for bioremediation, e.g. decontaminating the environment.

King Stropharia can break down E. coli, coliforms, and other biological contaminants that commonly pollute waterways. For home bioremediation purposes, put King Stropharia in mulch around your chicken or duck coop, in a grey water filtration system, or in mulched beds between a neighboring property where you’re concerned about contaminated runoff coming on to your property.

Where are king stropharia mushrooms native and what seasons do they grow? 

King stropharia are native to Europe and North America. They fruit in the spring and again in the fall (biggest flushes seem to be in spring).

More about king stropharia mushrooms: 

Where to buy king stropharia mushrooms for growing:

3. Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)

Gourmet mushrooms you can grow at home - A beautiful haul of cultivated shiitake mushrooms, gill-side up. Gourmet and medicinal mushrooms by Tyrant Farms.

A beautiful haul of cultivated shiitake mushrooms, gill-side up.

Where do shiitake mushrooms grow?

Shiitakes grow on cut hardwood logs.

What do shiitake mushrooms taste like? 

Shiitakes are mild, delicious, yet meaty. Umami might be the best word to describe their flavor, which is why they are one of the most popular culinary mushrooms in the world.

Do shiitake mushrooms have medicinal properties?

Yes, research shows shiitakes boost the immune system and can help lower cholesterol and reduce weight gain.

Where are shiitakes native and what season do they grow?  

Shiitakes are native to Asia. There are different shiitake subspecies that fruit at different times of the year – some in cool weather, some in warm weather.

More about shiitake mushrooms:

Where to buy shiitake mushrooms for growing: 

4. Maitake mushrooms, aka hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa)

Medicinal and gourmet maitake mushrooms. Cat in picture for size reference.

Nice haul! These two maitakes weighed 25 pounds. Charlie the Cat is in the photo to provide perspective.

What do maitake mushrooms grow on? 

Maitakes grow on sick or dying tree bases/roots, cut hardwood logs, or specialized substrate in grow bags.

What do maitakes taste like? 

Maitakes are considered one of the most valued culinary mushrooms in the world, offering a rich umami flavor. We love adding maitake chunks into soup or using it in our soup stocks.

Do maitake mushrooms have medicinal properties? 

Maitake mushrooms simulate both the innate and adaptive immune system, lower blood sugar (good for diabetes), and inhibit cancer cell growth. Source

Where are maitake mushrooms native to and what season do they grow in?

Maitakes are native to Japan and North America. They fruit in the late summer through fall in our area.

More about maitakes mushrooms:

Where to buy maitake mushrooms for growing:  

5. Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.)

Gourmet and medicinal mushrooms: oyster mushrooms

A fallen tree in our forest became an oyster mushroom farm.

What do oyster mushrooms grow on? 

Oyster mushrooms grow on cut logs, dead or dying trees, or specialized substrate in grow bags.

What do oyster mushrooms taste like? 

The name “oyster mushroom” refers to the way it looks, not what it tastes like. The flavor varies by subspecies, but does have a somewhat mild seafood flavor, akin to scallops.

All oysters are wonderful but our personal favorite is King Oysters, which are virtually indistinguishable from scallops in flavor.

What medicinal properties do oyster mushrooms have? 

Oyster mushrooms have a list of medicinal properties that are too long to list here. For a detailed analysis, read this research review.

Where are oyster mushrooms native and what season do they grow in?

Oyster mushrooms are native to different temperate regions around the world. Like shiitakes, different subspecies of oyster mushrooms grow in different seasons. Our native winter oyster mushrooms fruit throughout the fall and winter here, but other types fruit in the spring and summer.

Where to buy oyster mushrooms for growing:

6. Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus spp.)

Gourmet mushrooms - A large chicken of the woods mushrooms we foraged.

A large chicken of the woods mushroom we foraged. This one is Laetiporus cincinnatus, a subspecies that grows from the roots of hardwoods, most commonly oak.

Where does chicken of the wood grow? 

Chicken of the woods grows on dead or dying trees. (Some subspecies grow on the above ground portions of a tree, others  grow from the underground roots). They also grow on cut hardwood logs or specialized substrate in grow bags.

What does chicken of the woods taste like? 

As the name implies, chicken of the woods actually taste exactly like chicken. They even have the same texture as chicken.

We once had friends over and served our chicken of the woods “chicken fingers recipe.” At the end of the meal when we told them they’d eaten mushrooms, not actual chicken, they couldn’t believe it!

Do chicken of the woods mushrooms have medicinal properties? 

A quick google scholar search will show you a wide range of studies reporting positive medicinal effects including inhibition of gram-positive bacteria and Candida, diabetes prevention/control, and inhibition of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase. 

Where are chicken of the woods native and what season do they grow in? 

There are at least 6 different species referred to as ‘chicken of the woods’. Our personal favorite is Laetiporus cincinnatus, but all species are good if you harvest them when they’re young and tender.

The tips offer the most tender texture. They tend to get a little tougher back towards the base of the fruiting body as they age.

(*Warning: Only eat chicken of the woods mushrooms growing on hardwoods. If you ever find a chicken of the woods growing on yew, cedar, or other conifers, avoid harvesting it.)

Learn more about chicken of the woods mushrooms: 

Where to buy chicken of the woods mushrooms for growing: 

Want to grow your own gourmet food and medicine? Want to turn wood into food and keep it out of landfills? If so, we hope you’ll try growing these six gourmet, medicinal mushrooms!

Last thing: if you want to get serious about your mushroom geekery, we’d highly recommend you get this 5-star rated book written by our friend Tradd Cotter, the Yoda of fungi: Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation: Simple to Advanced and Experimental Techniques for Indoor and Outdoor Cultivation.

6 gourmet and medicinal mushrooms you can grow yourself. Some of the most delicious mushrooms in the world are also some of the best medicinal mushrooms. Learn how to grow your own at home!


 Warning: Be cautious when trying new foods for the first time, especially if you’re prone to food allergies. A small percentage of people are allergic to mushrooms, just like some people are allergic to eggs, nuts, etc. Only try a small portion the first time until you know how your body will react. NEVER eat a mushroom that you’re not 100% certain you’ve correctly identified. There are lots of wild/native mushrooms that can kill you or make you very ill.  

Other fun fungi articles you might enjoy: 

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  • Reply
    Jeff S
    January 8, 2021 at 6:42 pm

    Will chicken of the woods grow on Masters Mix substrate? It’s possible to fruit these like lions mane?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 10, 2021 at 11:15 am

      Yes, you can grow chicken of the woods on the same substrate you grow lion’s manes, oysters, and other saprobic/decomposer fungi that consume hardwood. That includes Master Mix. Best of luck!

  • Reply
    Aaron von Frank
    April 13, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    Hi! Sorry I’m just seeing your comment here. Hopefully, you figured out what a sawdust block is and the block came with clear instructions from the supplier. Have you harvested any wine caps yet? Ours usually fruit in the mild temp seasons of early spring and late summer/early fall.

  • Reply
    Susie Plummer
    April 13, 2018 at 11:19 am

    Hello! Just wondering how easy / difficult it is to grow these and also how long it takes to harvest? Thanks!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      April 13, 2018 at 1:24 pm

      They’re all fairly easy to grow, although they do take a bit of manual labor. Most of them are grown on logs, in which case you have to cut the logs, haul them to a good location in your yard, and make sure they get watered during dry spells. Wine cap mushroom spawn is just layered into mulch, and if you get regular rains, there’s no maintenance involved. As far as time until harvest: it depends on when you start them and the variety. For instance, if you started a lion’s mane or winter oyster mushroom right now in spring, you might get your first flushes of fruiting mushrooms this fall. With shiitakes, it’s usually about 6 months between inoculation and first harvest, assuming the end of 6 months falls during the season in which the particular strain fruits (there are cool and warm weather strains). With wine caps, we inoculated mulch in summer a few years back and saw our first flush come up the following spring.

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