Stinkhorn (Witch’s egg)

Stinkhorn

This mushroom has strongly been connected to folklore and witchcraft for a long time; plenty of names have been created to describe this intriguing fungus with unusual phallic shape and unpleasant smell.

Stinkhorn gets its name for a reason: it looks like a horn – and it really stinks. This mushroom has earned such an infamous reputation that has seen it classed as inedible in British fungi guides. Surprisingly, you might be missing a superb eater!

Description and species

Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) scientific name literally means “shameless phallus”. This peculiar fungus can be found throughout much of Europe and North America, but it has also been collected in Asia and southeast Australia.

The fruiting body grows into three different stages, so fast that it can almost be observed with the naked eye. Mind you, it takes only a few hours to develop completely.

Initially, the egg-shaped immature fruiting body remains attached to the ground by a cord-like mycelial strand, sometimes only partly buried in pine needles and leaf litter. At this stage it’s known as witch’s egg, devil’s egg or Hexeneier in some German speaking areas where this mushroom is appreciated.

This dull-white leathery sphere contains an edible inner layer called receptaculum, which will become the stem of the fruiting body afterwards. This one is surrounded by a green layer and a thick gelatinous mass.

At the second stage, the white receptaculum ruptures the egg, extending it up to 20cm high. The sprouting stem, which resembles expanded polystyrene, ends up in a bell-shaped cap known as gleba.

Finally, maturity is reached when this bulbous head is completely formed and coated in dark olive slime full of spores. It has an unpleasant putrid smell highly attractive to flies; they will happily disperse the spores, as the slime sticks to their legs.

Notes on edibility

Stinkhorn has traditionally been considered inedible in Britain, but there is some culinary interest in some European countries like France and Germany. In China, this mushroom is a choice edible, where (mostly the similar Phallus indusiatus) it’s regarded as an aphrodisiac.

It’s not hard to see why this mushroom produces such strong polarizing reactions in regards to edibility. I have even tried it myself with suspicion. Surprisingly, it’s quite nice; not for everyone though.

The raw white kernel (receptaculum) found in the ‘egg’ is odourless, crunchy like a water chestnut and has an earthy mild radish flavour that resembles like a veg more than a mushroom.

Witches' eggs

Foraging in season

Stinkhorn is a common and widespread species in Britain, generally growing between summer to late autumn in grassy areas and both coniferous and deciduous forest floor, often near old stumps and rotting wood.

Presence of this fungus is very noticeable, as the smell will hit you long before you have the chance to find it. Stinkhorn usually grow in colonies, so where you find one just look around and you will probably be able to find some ‘eggs’.

These ‘eggs’ are sometimes partly buried in pine needles or leaf litter, making the white skin quite visible. Nonetheless, they tend to hide underground; I would recommend you always check on suspicious ‘bulges’! (pardon the pun).

Make sure you are actually dealing with the right ‘eggs’, as immature death cap (Amanita phalloides) could confuse the inexperienced forager. They are easy to tell apart, as stinkhorn is filled with jelly and look quite different on the inside.

Storage and processing

You need to extract the edible part of the ‘egg’ in a rather messy process that is not recommended for the squeamish ones. Cutting ‘the egg’ in half will reveal the inner structure of the fungus, making the task easier.

Press the inner white borders between the green bits and extract the core (receptaculum), removing any jelly remaining around. Discard the rest of the egg and wash the core thoroughly.

Preferably, leave it in the fridge for a couple of days to firm up and it will slightly grow in size. Then, it will be ready to eat, either raw or cooked.

Stinkhorn is normally dried for future use, when it can quickly be rehydrated.

Witches' eggs

Culinary uses and recipes

Don’t bother looking for recipes; I could not find any, at least in English language, at the time of writing. However, look up for “bamboo fungus” (Phallus indusiatus), which is the Asian equivalent, and you’ll find plenty of interchangeable recipes.

They taste earthy, in between radish and turnip, therefore most appropriate to use it like a veg. You can eat them raw and tossed into salads or chop them up and put them in noodle soups and stews.

I haven’t tried many recipes myself, but I can say they really go well with prawns, broccoli and carrots. Apparently, they are also stuffed with asparagus and chicken in China, in a sort of Italian involtini twist.

Please let me know your suggestions and ideas on how to deal with stinkhorn!

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4 thoughts on “Stinkhorn (Witch’s egg)

  1. Hi, just cooked and eaten one – delicious. Started with one slice, removing jelly etc. tasted good. Then tried with the jelly – sooooo good. Reminded me of the squidge underlayer of crackling on roast belly pork – something I haven’t eaten for 30 years, being broadly vegetarian nowadays. Will be seeking out more.

    • Hi Anna,
      I always thought it would taste something like aspic. I am not very fond on savoury jelly, but perhaps this could work to set pana cotta or crème caramel?
      Thanks for sharing your experience!
      Alvaro

  2. Dear Alvaro,
    I just left a comment on the “forager chef” site of Alan Bergo.
    I and my colleagues have just eaten quite a lot of these raw and cooked. I removed the outer skin and the mucilaginous jelly layer with its inner skin. This revealed the olive green spore mass underneath (that will indeed become nasty, slimy and stinky if it has the chance), surrounding the white core, which is the only part you eat. In the young eggs, however, we all found this olive green spore mass very pleasant, both raw and cooked. It had no strong odour and it had a really pleasant texture – a bit spongier than the crunchy white core and more mushroomy. Also, the prepared eggs, sliced in cross section, gave really attractive slices – white on the inside with a corona of olive/dark brown. And not smelly at all.
    I really suggest you try it – “just” (it’s not that easy, but after the first few I got the hang of it) peel away the slimy bit with its inner membrane. Check that what remains does not have an unpleasant odour for you, but I really think you are throwing away some of the best bits, just like people who throw away the “corral” of scallops … go figure…

    • Hi Jacqui,
      Reading your comment leads me to think the green spore mass is probably similar to puffballs in texture / flavour, perhaps?
      I’m not feeling brave enough, but I might change my mind after your experience.
      I also think the smell depends on how developed the mushroom is, even at egg stage.
      Thanks for your awesome contribution!
      Alvaro

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