In many deciduous forests with temperate climates, there is a fair chance you can stumble upon a patch of a giant puff of ball. These alien-looking things are wild mushrooms that cover the ground with their egg-like appearance. The giant puffball mushrooms are a mass of spongy tissues that are edible when young.
Giant puffball mushrooms (Calvatia gigantea) are not poisonous. However, when they are fully matured, they turn into brown spores and appear as dust. The spores can cause severe respiratory illness when inhaled. It can stay in the lungs and cause inflammations that will require hospitalization for treatment. Exposure to puffball spores can cause nausea and vomiting, cough, shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, and myalgia.
Another tricky thing about them is their resemblance to other poisonous mushrooms in the wild. There are a few different types of poisonous look alikes: fungi such as the death cap (Amanita phalloides) mushroom, which starts out as a round egg that looks like puffball. Also, earthballs (Scleroderma species) resemble puffballs, but they have a thicker peridium and the internal gleba soon turns purplish black.
When foraging for mushrooms, it is important to examine them closely. There are distinguishing characteristics of puffballs that identify them from toxic species.
How To Identify Puffball Mushroom
English satirist Sir Terry Pratchett once said, “All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once.” And that is true for all mushrooms that belong in the same kingdom with varying harmless to destructive characteristics.
The puffball mushroom itself is edible but not at all stages of its growth. Young giant puffballs with white flesh are in the edible phase. Once its inner flesh or gleba turns yellow or brown, it is no longer safe for eating.
Giant puffballs are spherical or globular with an off-white, velvety surface when young. And unlike other mushrooms, they don’t have visible stalks or stems, but rather sit directly on the ground.
Puffballs do not grow on trees or logs and when a mushroom does, it certainly is a different species. They also don’t have an open cap that bears the gills of a mushroom since their spores are produced internally.
Just be wary about the release of spores once it reaches its age of maturity. Inhaling the dust can cause alveolitis so one needs to be careful of them in the wild. But, the spores or dust from puffballs are essential in its reproduction. Some people intentionally stomp on old giant puffballs to disintegrate the spores. The wind will scatter them to create a new patch the year thereafter.
Puffballs grow large, sometimes more than a foot in diameter and 20 lbs in weight. No other fungi can grow as large as that which makes a clear distinction between puffballs and other mushrooms.
Where To Find Puffball Mushroom
Giant puffballs are common in the forests of the eastern and central USA, Canada, China, and Europe. They often flourish in meadows, open areas, and grassy clearings. Since they reproduce by pores, puffballs do not grow in the same spot as other fungi.
If you find a patch of puffballs, there is a possibility they will grow in the same field and nearby areas next year.
Importance Of Puffball Mushroom
Puffballs may only be edible for a short while. But, it has significant importance in the environment. They act as decomposers of excess matter underground. Puffball is also used in homeopathic treatment as a medicinal fungus.
The mushroom is used as a special ingredient in smoke for anesthetizing bees. Beekeepers would kindle it below the hives to make the bees sleepy for harvesting honey. Its sedative effect is later beneficial for use as an anesthetic during surgery.
Although the average-sized puffball can produce around seven million spores, its existence is still debatable. They have a very low germination rate and maybe only one in a million spores can grow successfully. Puffball mushrooms are hard to grow commercially so it is unlikely to find them in produce stores.
How To Harvest Puffball
When foraging for puffball, make sure you are dealing with the right thing. Look out for fungi with a white surface to harvest. Do not pluck the mushrooms that have turned yellow or green. Slice the mushroom halfway from top to bottom. When it is perfectly white on the inside, it is the type that is safe for eating.
Giant puffballs often grow from late August to September. They most commonly appear a few days after heavy rain which is the best time to forage these giant fungi.
Uses Of Giant Puffball Mushrooms
Puffballs are very large so they can be good as a meal by themselves, consumed raw or cooked. The best way of eating it is by frying it in butter or grilling it. It is also best in soups or as a substitute for tofu.
When used as medicine, puffball is also effective, especially in inflammatory issues. It is also a source of essential and non-essential amino acids. A diet rich in amino acids helps in muscle building and better transport of nutrients. It helps improve immunity and digestive health and improves mental alertness.
Promote Wound Healing
The native American tribes have traditionally used dried giant puffballs in treating bleeding. It may be taken orally for internal bleeding or applied topically for wounds. The dried spore powder is applied directly on open wounds to promote blood clotting. It prevents wound infections and promotes faster healing. Puffball is an effective hemostasis for oral bleeding, nose bleeding, and traumatic hemorrhage.
Cure Sore Throat and Hoarseness
Respiratory illnesses and straining the voice often lead to hoarseness and aphonia (loss of voice). A decoction of puffball mushrooms is an effective way of managing this condition. It works in the meridian of the lungs to relieve hoarseness, sore throat, and cough. A decoction of puffball can curb bacterial infections like Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae.
The bioactive compounds found in puffballs like melanin and beta-sitosterol are super effective against inflammations. These compounds regulate immune cells and heal their inflammations. Strengthening the body’s anti-inflammatory ability helps give it a better advantage against diseases and infections.
Giant puffball mushroom is rich in antioxidants that prevent oxidative stress. It contains calvacin which reduces the growth of tumor and cancer cells in bones and soft tissues. Researchers recognize its potential in treating lung cancer by its ability to activate the pathways that causes cell death.
It is one of the superfoods highly valued for their health-promoting properties. It is often included in weight loss diet plans to help curb the appetite. Giant puffball delivers great potential in managing weight through proper and healthy food choices. It is rich in fiber, low in calories, and contains polyunsaturated fatty acids. It does not only help in maintaining proper weight, but also in controlling blood sugar levels for diabetics.
Puffball Mushroom Recipes
Gluten-Free Puffball Pizza
- Giant puffball
- Olive oil
- Pizza sauce
- Shredded mozzarella
- Desired toppings (bell pepper, ham/bacon/pepperoni, sausage, onions, tomatoes, etc.)
- Slice giant puffballs into rounds and brush them with olive oil.
- Coat it with tomato sauce and a layer of mozzarella.
- Put in your choice of toppings and top with more mozzarella.
- Bake until the cheese melts.
Puffball Mushroom Scrambled Egg
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup puffball mushroom, diced
- 1 tbsp butter
- ½ cup green onions, diced
- 1/3 cup red pepper, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt butter in a skillet on medium heat.
- Mix eggs and puffball mushrooms in a bowl. Whisk vigorously.
- Pour the mixture into the skillet. Scramble until fluffy and soft curds appear. Add the red pepper and a portion of green onions, saving some for garnish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper while scrambling. Cook until your desired doneness.
- Garnish with remaining green onions.
You don’t need hard recipes to follow when using puffball mushrooms in the kitchen. Most often, it is served battered and fried. It can also be sautéed alone or with other veggies you have.
Puffball mushrooms are also a great substitute for eggplant! So, if you have any recipe that requires the use of eggplant, you can easily swap puffball mushrooms with it.
Giant puffball mushroom is common in regions conducive to its growth. Its importance is sometimes neglected because of its resemblance to toxic mushroom varieties. But if you know how to distinguish it from the fatal species, puffball is one beneficial mushroom with many uses.
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