Vibrant, mysterious, and often fantastically shaped, weird mushrooms ignite curiosity all around the world. Some fascinate us with unusual designs that are reminiscent of animals or even human body parts. Others impress us with health-boosting qualities that evolved from the millions of years that fungi have spent adapting to every kind of environment. While some weird mushrooms are so bizarre, you can’t help but wonder if they’re actually from this planet.
Weird mushrooms are some of the most remarkable organisms you’ll find. From delicious and enchanting to creepy and downright stinky, weird mushrooms are truly dynamic beings. Here are 9 of the strangest species of fungi and the characteristics that make them so unique.
Wood ear mushrooms grow in temperate forests around the world. They usually pop up on older trees in groups, and grow on dead and living ash, spindle, and beech trees.
As the name suggests, wood ear mushrooms look shockingly similar to human ears. Their color ranges from translucent to dark brown and they have a rubbery texture when fresh.
Traditional Chinese medicine has put wood ear mushrooms to use for hundreds of years. Some believe these weird mushrooms can help improve breathing and sore throats while reducing colds and fevers. Recent research suggests there might be some truth to this. Studies have found that beta-glucans in wood ears may be able to strengthen your immune system (10). They also have high antimicrobial activity (11, 12).
Wood ears are similar to tofu in that they don’t have much flavor, but they absorb the flavor of the dish you add them to. To create a chewy-crunchy texture in your soup, salad, or stir-fry recipe, try adding wood ear mushrooms.
Turkey tail grows in forests all around the world. They grow on almost any type of wood living or dead, but are frequently found on fallen logs and tree stumps. They are a member of the fungi group called polypores a.k.a bracket fungi because their woody fruiting bodies grow like brackets, or shelves, from trees.
The name gave it away – these weird mushrooms fan out around tree trunks and look similar to the tails of turkeys. They are multi-hued: their coloring can be rust-brown, grey, or black.
Turkey tail contains two polysaccharopeptides that have impressive immune-boosting properties – Krestin or Polysaccharide-K (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) (13). Studies show that PSP increases monocytes, types of white blood cells that are key immune-system defenders (14). In addition, PSK activates macrophages, or specialized white blood cells that protect your body from harmful, invading microbes (15). Due to their natural ability to strengthen the immune system, PSK and PSP are approved drugs in Japan and China and are often given to patients with weakened immune systems (16).
Turkey tail extract can also benefit pets. Many veterinarians are adding turkey tail extract to their arsenal of tools because it is an effective, safe, and natural way to support the well-being of our beloved animals.
Turkey tail is quite chewy, therefore it’s best taken as a powdered mushroom supplement extract. We recommend taking two capsules of Real Mushrooms Turkey Tail Extract Capsules daily to experience its immune-boosting benefits. Real Mushrooms supplements are always made from whole, organic, fruiting mushrooms, never from myceliated grain or filler.
The lobster mushroom grows in forests across North America, but they’re usually found under conifer trees. Peak lobster mushroom season runs from late summer to October.
What makes this mushroom strange is it’s actually not a mushroom at all. It’s a parasitic mold that attacks other mushrooms and completely engulfs them, changing their appearance to resemble a bright red lobster tail. The preferred host of the lobster mushroom is Russulla brevipes, a.k.a. the stubby brittlegill (9).
There are no known medicinal benefits of lobster mushroom, but it is edible and delicious! Not only does this weird mushroom look like a lobster tail, but it also tastes like one. This bizarre fungus is often used in vegetarian lobster rolls and as a substitute in other lobster recipes. If only all weird mushrooms could taste this good!
Bleeding tooth mushrooms grow in forested, and often mountainous parts of North America, Europe, Iran, and South Korea. Like many mushrooms, they frequently grow near the roots of coniferous trees.
This is one of those weird mushrooms that looks like it crawled out of a nightmare. The young fruiting body “bleeds” a bright red sap that can look quite disturbing. As it ages, it slowly loses its ability to produce sap and develops a greyish-brown color.
Fittingly, the sap of the bleeding tooth mushroom contains a compound that can be used to help stop blood clots from forming (19). This chemical compound is called atromentin, which has anticoagulant properties.
Bleeding Tooth mushrooms contain another beneficial chemical called telephoric acid. Researchers are currently studying it as a future potential treatment for cognitive decline related to aging (19).
The mushroom is also useful in the world of textiles. It is used as a natural dye in the making of fabric.
Despite also being known as the Strawberry and Cream mushroom, this fungus is so bitter that it’s not worth entertaining the idea of eating it.
Lion’s mane mushroom grows on decaying trees throughout the Northern United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.
Of all the weird mushrooms, this one might have the most pseudonyms – bearded tooth, hedgehog, pom pom, monkey head, satyr’s beard, just to name a few. It earned its most common name from its white, shaggy, hair-like texture that resembles the mane of a lion.
Tons! Lion’s Mane is considered one of the world’s best adaptogens for comprehensively (and adaptively) supporting the body and mind against environmental stressors.
Most notably, Lion’s Mane is great for the brain. It has two unique compounds that may protect neurons and nerves in our body and brain. They’re called hericenones and erinacines. Animal tests indicate compounds from Lion’s Mane may support nerve impulse transmission, facilitate better short and long-term memory, and enhance focus (1). Researchers discovered that these same compounds counter oxidative stress, which helps support brain cell health (1). These qualities of Lion’s Mane are speculated to also protect the brain from normal mild cognitive decline associated with aging (1,2).
This unusual mushroom isn’t only good for your brain. Human and animal studies are suggesting that it can help support the health of your immune system, heart, inflammation response, and digestion. In fact, Lion’s Mane extract is a popular addition to digestive cookies in East Asian countries.
Speaking of digestion, fresh Lion’s Mane is good for your taste buds as well! The taste of Lion’s Mane is often compared to crab or lobster and it’s used as a meat replacement in seafood dishes.
For more information about the fascinating ways that this mushroom can support your wellbeing, read this article on the health benefits of lion’s mane. Taking two lion’s mane extract capsules daily is an easy way to benefit from the diverse health-boosting properties of this fascinating fungus.
This fungus grows throughout the northern hemisphere, and its fruiting bodies appear in Europe from August to November.
Cordyceps Militaris is one of the weirdest of weird mushrooms by virtue of HOW it grows. Like all Cordyceps species, it is a parasitic fungus that infects the pupae of insects. The orange club-like mushroom (fruiting body) grows out of the dead insect carcass and emerges above ground.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Cordyceps was considered very special as it was offered to the Emperor’s court and others among Chinese nobility. The first written record was mentioned in the year AD 620. Traditionally it was used as a lung and kidney tonic making it useful for respiratory ailments, physical exhaustion, and for those with a weak constitution. Low sexual function, libido, and performance are also keynotes for Cordyceps’ use in traditional literature.
Modern scientific research is beginning to confirm the traditional ways that Cordyceps has been used for health support. Human and animal studies show that the polysaccharides (such as beta-glucans) in Cordyceps Militaris can have an anti-fatigue effect; enhance respiratory function; and can improve exercise performance biomarkers like VO2 max (20, 21, 22). Preliminary human and animal cell studies suggest Cordyceps militaris may also support healthy levels of inflammation and immune system markers (23, 24).
Taking a Cordyceps Militaris Supplement is an easy way to take advantage of the health-boosting power of this freaky fungi. For a comprehensive overview of its adaptive properties for body maintenance, read this Cordyceps guide. For information about ways this mushroom can support athletic performance, read this guide about pre-and post-workout mushroom supplements.
Native to Australia and New Zealand, these weird mushrooms now grow across the globe. Although, they are more abundant in the South East hemisphere.
This weird mushroom would not be out of place in a horror movie. Devil’s fingers have four to eight tentacle-like “fingers” that are blood red. This outlandish mushroom doesn’t only look like it’s from Hell, it smells like it too. It’s coated in a slime that smells like rotting flesh.
The stench of the devil’s fingers attracts insects, who they rely on to spread their spores so they can reproduce. Like most mushrooms, they are saprobic and decompose dead organic matter to create energy for themselves. The fungi break down dead plant matter into fuel for new trees and plant life to grow, so they are vital to the life cycle of forests.
If you can get past the horrific stench, devil’s fingers are technically edible, but it’s not recommended because they have an overwhelmingly bitter taste.
The veiled lady mushroom grows in southern Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australia. They’re sometimes called bamboo mushrooms because they often grow near the plant.
This sophisticated mushroom has a delicate, white netting that descends from the cap of the mushroom to the forest floor. Of all the weird mushrooms, this one has an almost elegant appearance. Unfortunately, its smell does not match its looks. Like devil’s fingers, the veiled lady smells like rotting meat to attract insects.
Interestingly, the “veil” of this mushroom and its funky smell work in tandem for the same ultimate purpose: reproduction. The mushroom cap is covered in smelly mucus that contains its spores. The smell attracts crawling insects from the forest floor, and the lattice of the “veil” helps them climb up to the cap. The spores stick to these insects and then get dispersed so the mushroom continues to populate the ecosystem.
Traditional Chinese medicine has used the veiled lady mushroom to address a plethora of health conditions, and its medicinal value is beginning to be recognized by researchers as well. Early studies revealed that it may reduce excessive acid in the body and low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) while increasing high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) (25). Like many other medicinal mushrooms, it can help support the immune system and promote healthy inflammatory responses.
This weird mushroom is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. It’s dried before cooking, and then its slimy cap is discarded. The drying and cooking process neutralizes the smell, and the taste is described as sweet and savory. The veiled lady is often added to soups or cooked with meat and vegetables.
These weird mushrooms can be found growing on tree branches throughout Asia, Europe, Australia, and North America.
Bioluminescent is used to describe 80 species of mushrooms that glow in the dark. These weird mushrooms contain molecules called luciferins that light up like a glowstick when combined with an enzyme and oxygen.
The reason behind why some mushrooms glow has been a mystery until recently. In 2015, researchers discovered that bioluminescent mushrooms glow to attract insects and other animals. These critters then spread the fungal spores to sheltered areas of the forest, helping these mushrooms spread and survive (17). This is particularly beneficial for our environment considering mushrooms naturally neutralize toxins in the soil (18).
There are currently no known medicinal benefits of bioluminescent mushrooms. Some species of glowing mushrooms are poisonous so it’s advised not to eat them.
Bizarre, elegant, and sometimes terrifying, weird mushrooms are as diverse as they are fascinating. They can be delicious, medicinal, deadly, or just plain funky, but one thing that’s certain is they are never boring. When it comes to the living world, weird mushrooms are truly in a realm of their own.
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