Giant puffball mushrooms are huge fungi that grow in woods or fields. They are edible and have many nutritional benefits.
Read on to learn about giant puffball mushroom identification, nutrition, health benefits, and more.
What Is a Giant Puffball Mushroom?
Giant puffball mushrooms or Calvatia gigantean are medicinal mushrooms that grow on decaying plant material. You can find them near the edges or openings of forests and in open woods, grassy fields, parks, lawns, or meadows. You may also find them under small trees.
They are found in the central and eastern United States and Canada in the late summer and fall from May to October. You may see giant puffballs alone or in groups, growing directly on the ground or rotten wood.
Giant puffballs are huge round or pear-shaped fungi containing numerous spores — a 10- to 15-inch-wide giant puffball is said to contain 7 trillion spores. Giant puffballs can grow as big as a soccer ball or watermelon. The largest giant puffball reported was 8.6 feet wide and weighed 48 pounds.
A giant puffball’s flesh is known as the gleba. When the mushroom is young, the flesh is white and has a marshmallow-like texture. As it matures, its flesh turns yellow or brown and powdery due to mature spores. When a giant puffball mushroom breaks or withers, the spores are released into the environment for reproduction.
How to Identify a Giant Puffball
Giant puffball identification is easy. These mushrooms are smooth, white, huge, round or pear-shaped balls. Unlike other mushrooms, they lack a stem but have a root-like base. Over time, they mature to develop shallow craters or irregular cracks and become yellowish-green inside. They can be eight to 20 inches wide and tall.
While foraging, you may mistake some poisonous puffballs and white mushrooms, such as the deadly destroying angel or Amanita bisporigera, for a giant puffball. For safety, cut open the giant puffball from top to bottom to confirm that it is completely smooth and white inside. Also, double-check that it doesn’t have any signs of a cap or stem.
What Nutrients Are Present in Giant Puffball Mushrooms?
Giant puffballs are a great source of essential and nonessential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Research shows that C. gigantea contains the essential amino acids tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, valine, threonine, phenylalanine, lysine, and histidine. Your body requires essential amino acids for important biological functions. However, it can’t produce these amino acids. So they must be included in your diet in the form of amino-acid-rich food like giant puffballs.
What Are the Health Benefits of Giant Puffball Mushrooms?
Giant puffball mushroom health benefits include:
Wound-healing and blood-clotting effects. A giant puffball produces trillions of tiny, dry spores. When it matures, it is like a ball of fine powder. The Native American Lakota tribe used dried giant puffball spore powder as a medicine to treat bleeding, promote blood clotting, and heal wounds. They applied giant puffball spores on open wounds to close them and prevent infection.
Immune-regulating and anti-inflammatory effects. Giant puffballs contain bioactive compounds, such as beta-sitosterol and melanin. Research shows that these compounds target certain molecules and prevent the development of inflammatory immune cells. They further promote anti-inflammatory effects, which help your body fight diseases and infections.
Antidiabetic effects. An enzyme called alpha-amylase is associated with type 2 diabetes. It breaks down carbohydrates and increases blood glucose levels. Reducing alpha-amylase levels can help lower blood sugar levels and control diabetes.
C. gigantea shows antidiabetic effects by significantly decreasing alpha-amylase levels in the body. This suggests that giant puffballs can be used as a functional food to maintain blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes. It can also be used to develop medicines to manage the disease.
Anticancer effects.C. gigantea has often been used in folk medicine to treat various illnesses. Researchers studied its effects in mice. In the 1960s, they isolated a substance called calvacin from giant puffball mushrooms. They gave calvacin to mice with sarcoma, cancer that affects bones and soft tissues.
Calvacin showed potent anticancer activity and reduced the growth of the sarcoma. It is one of the first substances isolated from mushrooms to have anticancer effects.
Another study confirmed the anticancer effects of giant puffballs. It showed that C. gigantea extract inhibited lung cancer cell growth by activating pathways that cause cell death. Researchers believe that C. gigantea extract can be a potential anticancer agent against lung cancer and other tumors.
Other benefits. Studies show that giant puffball mushrooms have active ingredients with antioxidant properties. They help prevent oxidative damage and protect your body from illnesses. Giant puffballs also have antibacterial and antiviral properties, which can help prevent infections.
How to Store Giant Puffball Mushrooms
It’s best to eat giant puffballs as soon as you harvest them. Avoid storing them because they don’t keep well. However, you can store them for two to five days in your refrigerator without significantly affecting their quality.
Here are some tips to follow before eating giant puffballs:
- Avoid washing a giant puffball with water. It will act like a sponge, soak up the water, and lose its texture and flavor.
- Cut the giant puffball in half from top to bottom. If it isn’t white and smooth and you notice gills inside, avoid eating it because it isn’t a giant puffball.
- If you find maggots or insects in the giant puffball mushroom, trim the infested parts or avoid eating it altogether.
- Ensure the giant puffball is completely white, thick, and hard inside. A yellow or brown tinge and a powdery texture indicate an older mushroom. Avoid eating it because it won't taste good and is likely toxic.
- Peel the outer skin of a giant puffball. Avoid eating the skin if it is dirty, tough, or leathery.
How to Cook Giant Puffball Mushrooms
Giant puffball mushrooms have a mild, earthy, or nutty flavor. They can easily absorb different flavors like meat or tofu can. But the best way to enjoy a giant puffball is to slice it and batter-fry it in oil. Some tasty giant puffball mushroom recipes include puffball fritters, breaded steak, puffball parmesan, patties, stews, and soups. You can also use giant puffball slices as a pizza base and add your favorite toppings.
When you pick giant puffballs from grassy fields or lawns, ensure that the area is free of chemicals. If you’re trying giant puffballs for the first time or have a mushroom allergy, be certain they’re properly cooked, and eat small portions.