Cornell University

The world in your oyster

Oyster mushroom bountyOne sunny, mushroom class-day my wife and I were out in the woods looking for samples with our fancy baskets and a spirit of youthful adventure. We stumbled on a log covered with white squishy mushrooms and I decided to listen to my wife and not eat them until we got back and figured out what they were. At this point I was still new to mushrooming and my approach to collecting samples was (and still is) “get em all we’ll throw out the bad ones later.” So, I proceeded with scraping the log clean down to the last hint of fungus. If there is a mushroom equivalent to strip mining, this was an example of it. After we got back, I learned that this was the friendly Pleurotus ostreatus, also known as the “Oyster Mushroom.”

This mushroom is white, makes white spores and has a nice bouncy squishy sort of texture (as opposed to some of the more crunchy kinds of mushrooms). It sticks out of dead trees (being a saprobe and all) and generally fruits in large numbers all at once. It has practically no stalk, but the stalk it has is not central and looks more like someone tried to squeeze the cap into the tree, but didn’t finish squeezing in the whole thing. When making a spore print, we realized that this mushroom makes a ton of spores, and fast. A little internet research revealed that indeed this is the case. Here is what referred to as “the mother of all spore prints.” In fact this mushroom is pretty popular and much information can be found on websites such as and Tom Volk’s Fungi.

Oyster mushrooms, with hungry slugMore research revealed something about this mushroom that made me appreciate it even more. It seems to enjoy capturing, killing and eating bacteria and small nematodes (see George Barron’s site for graphic depictions of extreme coolness). Coincidentally, at this time I was reading a book my wife gave me, called the Dragonriders of Pern (I swear she made me read it). In this book, the planet and humanity are threatened by a voracious interstellar fungus that falls from the sky, devouring all it touches. Obviously, the only real solution to this problem is dragons. Anyway, not having any dragons at present really made me appreciate why the oyster mushroom is humanity’s next great challenge, because if it paralyzes and eats nematodes, can humans be far behind?

Not to be outdone by a fungus, I ate it before it could get me. It was quite tasty, much better than the store-bought ones and better than dried oyster mushrooms from the store. I cooked it the same way I cook everything — fried in butter. My wife insisted we pre-boil it first, to kill all the worms, which considering what I just told you about the oyster mushroom’s behavior seemed hardly necessary. Anyway, while boiling it we noticed a strange smell, not a bad smell, just strange, almost fishy. Certain websites describe it as “unique.” The taste was as we expected — buttery, and mushroomy, and delicious.

Another thing that enamored me with P. ostreatus was that it is “easy” to grow in the comfort of your own soon-to-be-spore-saturated home. Several websites offer advice on how to do this: MykoWeb has a particularly nice cultivation page (for a more scientific discussion see SAINOS et al.6). In our class we got practice cultures and I now have a much-prized fuzzy roll of toilet paper in a bag, which will soon bloom to be a mushroom-producing goldmine.

As if these characteristics weren’t enough to classify P. ostreatus as the undisputed Jedi master of the mushroom world, apparently it has useful features as well. The fruiting bodies of P. ostreatus contain statins, which can be used pharmacologically to lower cholesterol. 1,2,3 Several recent studies have also shown that extracts of this mushroom can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells from several different organisms.5,7 In addition, members of this genus have been shown to have antioxidant properties.4

Overall, I am very happy I scoured that rotting log for fungus, as it gave me a greater appreciation of the fungal world. The oyster mushroom is surely one of the most interesting and delicious worm-hunting fungi I’ve ever known (about).

  1. ALARCON, J., S. AGUILA, P. ARANCIBIA-AVILA, O. FUENTES, E. ZAMORANO-PONCE et al., 2003 Production and purification of statins from Pleurotus ostreatus (Basidiomycetes) strains. Z Naturforsch [C] 58: 62-64.
  2. BOBEK, P., M. HROMADOVA and L. OZDIN, 1995 Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) reduces the activity of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl CoA reductase in rat liver microsomes. Experientia 51: 589-591.
  3. GUNDE-CIMERMAN, N., and A. CIMERMAN, 1995 Pleurotus fruiting bodies contain the inhibitor of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase-lovastatin. Exp Mycol. 19: 1-6.
  4. HU, S., Z. LIANG, Y. CHIA, J. LIEN, K. CHEN et al., 2006 Antihyperlipidemic and antioxidant effects of extracts from Pleurotus citrinopileatus. J Agric Food Chem. 54: 2103-2110.
  5. LAVI, I., D. FRIESEM, S. GERESH, Y. HADAR and B. SCHWARTZ, 2006 An aqueous polysaccharide extract from the edible mushroom Pleurotus ostreatus induces anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects on HT-29 colon cancer cells. Cancer Lett. 244: 61-70.
  6. SAINOS, E., G. DIAZ-GODINEZ, O. LOERA, A. MONTIEL-GONZALEZ and C. SANCHEZ, 2006 Growth of Pleurotus ostreatus on wheat straw and wheat-grain-based media: biochemical aspects and preparation of mushroom inoculum. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 72: 812-815.
  7. SARANGI, I., D. GHOSH, S. BHUTIA, S. MALLICK and T. MAITI, 2006 Anti-tumor and immunomodulating effects of Pleurotus ostreatus mycelia-derived proteoglycans. Int Immunopharmacol 6: 1287-1297.



6 Responses to “ The world in your oyster ”


Most people don't pay much attention to fungi, which include things like mushrooms, molds, yeasts, and mildews. Here at Cornell we think they're pretty fascinating. In fact, even the most disgusting foot diseases and moldy strawberries are dear to our hearts. We'd like to talk to you about fungi, so that like us, you too can tell gross stories at the dinner table. Afterwards, maybe you'll notice some things you would have overlooked before, and we think this could be good for the planet.

Kathie T. Hodge, Editor

Beneath Notice, our book of borescopic mycology.


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