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Stinkhorn mushrooms (Phallus impudicus) are a species of fungi that have a unique phallus-like appearance. Their fruiting bodies also resemble for many the head of an octopus, a Wiffle ball or Chinese lanterns.
Although not dangerous to consume, some may find them irritating as they have a heavy unpleasant smell that can be compared to that of faeces or rotten flesh, hence the name “Stinkhorn”.
Where To Find Stinkhorn Mushrooms And When
Stinkhorn mushrooms pop up in random places in suburban regions with bare soil and they generally grow in North America, Scandinavian Europe, the U.K., South America, Africa, and Southern Asia. They grow in all kinds of woodland, but usually in coniferous forests.
Their peak growing season runs from June to November.
How To Identify Them
Besides their phallus-like appearance and rancid smell, it’s possible to identify them from their egg stage until maturity by observing a few features. During their “egg” stage, where fruiting bodies start to develop, you will see a whitish mushroom cap popping out of the soil slightly that looks like a big ball of mozzarella. The average diameter of the egg is 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm).
The eggs will only begin to develop once the summer season arrives. The fruiting body will emerge from the egg, and you will be able to spot a middle column and the “gleba” which carries the mushroom spores at this stage. The stem or fruiting body of the fungi is long and stretches anywhere from 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 cm) in height. At a later stage, the fruiting cap forms the distinct phallus-like cap which is usually a brownish olive-green in color. You may spot small insects like flies or bees attracted to its sticky gleba (used as a food source) at this phase. If you wish to gather them with no such insects on their surface, visit their natural habitats at dawn. It is also possible to identify Stinkhorns from their spores which are a semi-transparent yellow shade and look oblong or tear-drop shaped when magnified.
How To Grow Stinkhorn Mushrooms
Most people prefer to get rid of these mushrooms because of their weird smell and appearance. However, it’s possible to grow your own from dead roots or gathered sawdust (the top sources of food for these fungi) and Stinkhorn mushroom mycelium. The process is as follows:-
- Get a large dead tree root or tree trunk and dig 3 to 4 large holes on its surface around 18 to 20 inches in diameter (45 to 50 cm) and 7 to 8 inches (18 to 20 cm) in depth.
- Fill the holes with a sterilized substrate such as sawdust. Then pour the mycelium on top (it should cover around 1/3rd of a hole).
- Cover the ground with nutrient-rich soil and flatten well.
- Pour around 1 bucket of water into each hole
- Place a thin layer of decayed leaves, pine needles, or dead twigs on top
- Dampen the soil periodically if you are growing these during the summer season; once every 7 to 10 days.
- The eggs will start to emerge in 1.5 to 2 years on average, if the soil and humidity conditions are favorable. If you wish to grow them fully, it will take another 2 to 3 years.
Probably because of the penis-like appearance of these fungi, they appear to have been used across Europe in medieval times to support male stamina and treat erectile dysfunction. While there are not many modern studies regarding their medicinal benefits, a few studies appear to suggest that they can be used to treat metastatic cancer types such as liver cancer, lung cancer and melanoma. There is also some evidence that they can speed up the healing of wounds and scars in sensitive individuals such as diabetes sufferers.
In general, they are not considered toxic. However, most naturalists advise that it would be wise to ingest Stinkhorn mushrooms using small doses first. This is to test tolerance levels.
How To Cook Stinkhorn Mushrooms
Stinkhorn mushrooms are mainly edible during their egg stage (when they are known as “witches’ eggs”). This is when their smell is less heavy and offensive than when they are mature.
Their texture, unlike many other mushroom species, is not tender or chewy. Instead, it is crunchy and resembles that of the water chestnut. The taste reminds some of old dust or rotten eggs. However, it may become more pleasing with acidic or rich fermented cooking ingredients such as wine, soy sauce, or rice vinegar. Here is an Asian recipe to try out:-
Oyster sauce chicken and Stinkhorn mushrooms
- 2 large skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or dry sherry wine
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 large Stinkhorn mushroom egg, cut into thick slices and again in half (widthwise)
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 cup of chicken stock
- Heat the sesame oil in a wok and add the spring onions and chicken. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Then saute until the spring onions are transparent and the chicken is cooked but not browned.
- Pour in the rice vinegar and add the Stinkhorn. Wait for 1 to 2 minutes and add the oyster sauce and the chicken stock.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 to 18 minutes (semi-covered).
- Serve with some sesame seeds (optionally) on top.
In order to achieve the best results in terms of taste and texture, we suggest that you cook these mushrooms with herbs or acidic liquids.
Stinkhorn mushrooms have a unique appearance and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, are edible (although it is advisable to start with small portions first).