Pheasant back mushrooms are a type of fungus that grows on living or dead hardwood trees. They are delicious and nutritious wild mushrooms with medicinal properties.
Here’s all you need to know about pheasant back mushroom identification, nutrition, health benefits, and more.
What Is a Pheasant Back Mushroom?
Pheasant back mushroom is a common bracket fungus that grows in overlapping clusters and tiers. It is known by the scientific name Polyporus squamosus or Cerioporus squamosus. It grows in North America, Asia, Europe, and Australia. P. squamosus plays an important role in the forest ecosystem, as it grows on fallen logs or stumps and decomposes them. It also grows as a parasitic white-rot fungus that decays the heartwood or the center of live or dead hardwood trees like maple and box elder.
Pheasant back mushrooms are so called because they have colors similar to a pheasant’s feathers. On the underside of their caps, they have numerous pores. These mushrooms are also called Dryad’s saddle. The name originates from Greek mythology and refers to Dryads or tree nymphs who could sit and ride on pheasant back mushrooms.
You can guess a pheasant back mushroom's age by looking at its size, colors, and pore size. Older pheasant backs have larger, open pores that release spores for reproduction. As they mature, they lose color or darken, and their stems become hard and woody.
These mushrooms grow in cool temperatures during spring and fall. But they can’t grow during summer.
How to Identify a Pheasant Back Mushroom
The color, scaly texture, pores on the underside of the cap, and mealy aroma make pheasant back mushroom identification easy. You can recognize pheasant back mushrooms by their distinctive brownish or yellowish color and large cap covered with flat, brown scales or squamules. They have a thick, velvety black stem base that is 1.25 inches in diameter.
Pheasant back mushrooms are bracket fungi, which grow in groups that look like overlapping shelves or tiers. They have fanlike or funnel-shaped caps that grow 3 to 12 inches long and 4 inches thick. The underside of a pheasant back mushroom is a white or yellow surface covered with angular pores.
What Is the Nutritional Value of Pheasant Back Mushroom?
Here are some pheasant back mushroom nutrition facts. A 100-gram portion contains:
- 17.14 grams of protein
- 2.69 grams of fat
- 77.02 grams of carbohydrates
- 1,968.65 micrograms of total tocopherols or vitamin E
- 1.29 milligrams of antioxidant phenolic compounds
- 10.33% of crude fiber
These mushrooms are also rich in vitamins B1, B2, B12, C, and D and contain valuable bioactive antioxidants like carotenoids and terpenoids. They also contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids like linoleic, oleic, and palmitic acids, which are considered good fats.
What Are Pheasant Back Mushroom Health Benefits?
Pheasant back mushrooms are nutritious and have been used in traditional medicine as remedies for various illnesses. Pheasant back mushroom health benefits include:
Immunity-boosting and anti-inflammatory effects. Evidence suggests that the bioactive compounds in pheasant back mushrooms regulate the immune system. They also prevent the release of disease-causing inflammatory molecules. Eating pheasant back mushrooms can help prevent chronic illnesses and infections.
Antimicrobial properties. Pheasant back mushrooms have antibacterial and antifungal effects. Studies show that P. squamosus extract can help reduce bacterial growth. It's effective against bacteria like Enterobacter cloacae, Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Antioxidant effects. Antioxidants are bioactive compounds that prevent the formation of free radicals. Free radicals are harmful molecules that bind to other compounds and cause oxidative stress or damage. A buildup of free radicals can damage and destroy your cells and make your body prone to problems like aging, diseases, and infections.
Pheasant back mushrooms have a rich antioxidant profile. They contain bioactive compounds like phenolic compounds such as flavonoids, carotenoids, and terpenoids. They also have tocopherol or vitamin E, which has antioxidant effects. Additionally, pheasant back mushrooms are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids or good fats, which prevent oxidative damage and boost your health.
Anticancer effects. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of pheasant back mushrooms play a crucial role in fighting cancer and other illnesses. P. squamosus also has the lectin protein PSL1a, which can selectively bind to molecules like glycans in cancer cells.
Once it binds to the molecules, it releases some compounds or enzymes that break down essential proteins in the cancer cells and kill them. This is known as cytotoxicity. Research shows that P. squamosus can destroy and prevent the growth of mammalian cancer cells.
Liver and kidney-protecting effects. The potent bioactive nutrients in pheasant back mushrooms protect your liver and kidneys from damage. These anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients protect your cells and improve your liver and kidney health.
How Does a Pheasant Back Mushroom Taste?
Young and tender pheasant back mushrooms have a pleasant flavor and taste the best. They have a mealy aroma, which may remind you of watermelon rinds. A bright-colored pheasant back mushroom with a cap smaller than your palm and small pores on the cap’s underside tastes like white meat. Older pheasant back mushrooms become harder, tougher, or leatherlike, making them increasingly difficult to chew.
How to Cook Pheasant Back Mushrooms
You can eat pheasant back mushrooms fresh or dried. You can add young and tender pheasant back mushrooms to stir-fries. They taste best when they're sauteed or roasted. You can also add them to soups and stews, dry them in an oven, grind or powder them to flavor other dishes, or make pheasant back mushroom jerky.
Older mushrooms have a dense, leathery texture, which may not be suitable for most dishes. But you can grind, powder, or use them whole to make stock or soup base.
Make sure that you store pheasant back mushrooms in a well-ventilated container. You can use paper bags instead of airtight plastic bags to store the mushrooms in a freezer. Be sure to clean the harvested pheasant backs before eating them.
What Are the Risks Associated With Eating Pheasant Back Mushrooms?
Pheasant back mushrooms are nontoxic and don’t have any look-alikes that may be poisonous. But if you’re allergic to mushrooms, you should cook them thoroughly or avoid eating them altogether. Limit your portion size if you’re eating pheasant back mushrooms for the first time. Also, avoid eating more than one type of mushroom at the same time to prevent allergic reactions.