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Honey Mushroom

Armillaria mellea

The honeylike color of this white-spored gilled mushroom inspired its common name.

This mushroom is very abundant. Variable in appearance, returning each year in many shapes and colors, what we call Armillaria mellea, (also known as the "oak mushroom"), may represent more than one species of mushroom. The caps can be red-brown to tan, smooth or scaled, with tan or pale brown fibrils. They may be small, rounded, and bell-like, or flat and fully expanded. They appear as individuals or in troops of hundreds. They are enjoyed worldwide.

Honey Mushroom -- Click for larger image

Their partial veils are frequently rudimentary or disappear early. The veil tissues are unique in this genus. The annular ring extends outward somewhat like the nodes on a bamboo stem.

The honey mushroom grows both on dead wood and on living plants. It is capable of attacking and killing many kinds of trees, especially oaks. We have seen hundreds of caps erupting in clumps from the trunk and roots of a single tree. The mycelia of this organism may be compressed into a network of shiny black rootlike filaments called rhizomorphs, meaning "shaped like roots." These strands extend along tree trunks, under rocks, and follow roots underground searching for new food sources. For instance, they will consume all the plants of the cabbage family they can reach.

Logs in moist forest environments may glow at night with a cool, blue-green emanation called "fox fire." This phenomenon is caused by a chemical produced by the mycelia of the honey mushroom.

Certain orchids depend on A. mellea to wet-nurse their seeds until they erupt from the ground to begin photosynthesizing their own sugars. The orchid seedlings must grow underground for several years, during which time this fungus provides them with basic nutrients for survival.

Those who collect the honey mushroom for food prefer solid, young, unopened buttons. When cooked, it is firm and granular. To some it is moderately sweet in flavor, but its edibility is marred for others by a mild bitter aftertaste and a somewhat gelatinous surface. Occasional incidents of gastric upsets have been reported with this mushroom so caution should be used when it is first eaten.


Brush debris from the caps and gills under running water. Only the caps are used, for the stems are fibrous and inedible.


This mushroom is admired in many countries of the world for its firm meaty texture. Most recipes call for combining it with other ingredients, rather than preparing it alone. It can be substituted in any basic recipe. Because of its dense consistency, it tolerates long cooking without losing its shape. For those people who experience a slightly bitter aftertaste, it is advised to parboil the caps for 5 minutes and to discard the water.


When dried and reconstituted, the honey mushroom is quite agreeable in soups, stews, and mushroom loaves. Many people pickle the buttons in their favorite spices for immediate or later use.

Spicy Honey Mushroom Relish

Makes 1 pint

This sweet and spicy relish is excellent with baked ham.

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound small whole honey mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • Salt

Melt the butter in a heavy sauté pan or skillet and sauté the mushrooms for 7 minutes. Blend in the flour, spices, and sugar. Stir the sherry in gently and cook slowly for 10 minutes. Add salt to taste and serve immediately.

--Kitchen Magic with Mushrooms

Honey Mushroom Salad

Serves 2 to 3 as a salad

A robust way of treating the honey mushroom, using black sesame seeds for flavoring. These nutritious seeds are imported from Japan and have a lower oil content than their light-colored relatives. Black sesame seeds can be found in Asian markets.

  • 3/4 cup water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 pound honey mushroom caps
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
  • 6 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
  • 5 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 small head nappa cabbage, cut into very fine strips

Bring the water, salt, and mushroom caps to a boil in a saucepan and cook gently for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain well.

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet, stirring until fragrant; be careful not to burn them. Mix the sesame seeds with the oil, vinegar, sherry, and soy sauce. Toss the mixture with the mushrooms and refrigerate until slightly chilled. Serve on a bed of cabbage.

--Loraine Berry


Pork Stew with Honey Mushrooms

Serves 4 as a main course

This recipe was developed by Loraine's father, who introduced her to the joy of foraging for wild mushrooms in the forests of southern Michigan.

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2-1/2 pounds lean pork, cubed
  • 3 medium onions, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cups water or more
  • 1 to 1-1/2 pounds honey mushroom caps ( mature caps have more flavor)
  • 3 cups 1/4 -inch-thick celery slices
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons flour mixed with 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 pound bean sprouts
  • Ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy pot and sear the pork cubes, removing them as they brown. When all are browned, return them to the pot and add the chopped onions and the water. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the mushroom caps and more water if necessary and simmer for 20 minutes longer. Add the celery, soy sauce, and the flour-water mixture. Stir and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. The celery should be cooked but should remain slightly crisp. Add the bean sprouts. Cover and remove from heat. In about 5 minutes the bean sprouts will be cooked. Correct the seasoning, adding pepper and more soy sauce if needed. Serve over steamed white rice.

--Loraine Berry

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Black Saddle Mushroom, Hedgehog Mushroom