By DAVID COZZO
EBCI EXTENSION CENTER
Late summer brings a new treat to lawns and woodlands: slicks, also known as honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea). These tasty treats can form large clusters on both dead or living trees and shrubs, but they prefer hardwoods. While they are parasitic and not necessarily a great sign for your landscaping, they can still be a welcome sign for your frying pan. The two common names given here are due to observable features. They are called ‘slicks’ because of their consistency when cooked and not because they are slimy when you pick them. They slide down real easy. The other name, ‘honey mushroom’, is due to the honey-like color of the mature mushroom, which ranges from honey yellow to light brown when fresh.
As with all mushrooms, be sure to identify them beyond a shadow of a doubt. There are some similar mushrooms that should not be eaten. Some of the distinguishing characteristics of slicks are white spores (which will look like a white powder on or around mature specimens), a ring around the stalk, and small brown hairs in the center of the cap. You can check the spores by placing a mature cap with the gills pointing down on a piece of dark paper. It is a good sign if it leaves a white print in the shape of the bottom of the cap. The brown hairs in the middle of the cap are a very important identifier, as some poisonous mushrooms also have a ring on the stalk and a white spore print. Even if you think you have the right mushroom, ask someone who knows them well.
As the saying goes, “there are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
Slicks can cause an upset stomach in some sensitive individuals, so even if you are certain of your haul, go easy the first time you try them. Parboiling them for up to five minutes before you finish cooking them removes most of the stomach irritant. I tried it and had a very pleasant experience with some large ones I found in my front yard instead of the sensitivity I have experienced in the past.
There are many health benefits to eating mushrooms, and slicks are no exception. They are a very good source of B vitamins. Studies have demonstrated that they lower the levels of bad cholesterol, lower blood sugar, raise serotonin levels (known as the happiness hormone) and fight against cancerous tumors. Some components have actions that are antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. Mushrooms are also known to concentrate minerals, and slicks tend to contain a lot that are beneficial for good health, especially potassium and magnesium. However, this can lead to problems when mushrooms are picked near roadsides or industrial areas. They can also concentrate toxic heavy metals. So be careful where you pick your dinner!