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Horse mushrooms emerge from the soil in grassy areas, at first appearing like a white ball, then as it matures, the cap begins to flatten out. The creamy white cap expands, becoming convex, and can grow up to 25 centimeters (10 inches) in diameter. Beneath the cap are pale gills, which over time darken. The stem can grow up to four centimeters in height, and is thin becoming hollow with age. If bruised or exposed to air, the cap of the Horse mushroom may sometimes turn yellow. The smell of the Horse mushroom is said to be distinct, with a pungent anise or licorice aroma. The taste is considered excellent.
Horse mushrooms are available in the summer and fall months, with limited availability in the spring in some regions.
Horse mushrooms are botanically classified as Agaricus arvensis and are related to the button mushroom. They can usually be found growing alone in fields or pastures in nutrient-rich soil, and occasionally in rings. The Horse mushroom is saprobic, meaning it grows and gets its nutrients from decayed organic material, versus a mycorrhizal fungus that has a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain tree species. Horse mushrooms likely got their name for the horse pastures where they were commonly found growing.
Horse mushrooms, like other Agaricus varieties, contain high amounts of vitamin D. Mushrooms are the only vegetable to produce this important vitamin. Horse mushrooms are also said to have some antioxidant properties.
Horse mushrooms can be used in applications that call for a large-sized mushroom, or as an alternative to portobello mushrooms. Horse mushrooms are generally cooked and not eaten raw. Wash the mushrooms under cool, running water, remove the stem and chop or slice the cap. Add Horse mushrooms to risotto, pastas, or egg dishes. Horse mushrooms can be used in sauces or braising liquids for meat dishes. Store Horse mushrooms up to a week in the refrigerator.
In Chinese medicine, Horse mushrooms have been used for lower back and joint pain.
Horse mushrooms can be found growing throughout Europe and the United States, though they are more common in Britain and Ireland. The Horse mushroom was first described in 1762 by Jacob Christian Schaeffer, in Bavaria. Schaeffer was a German botanist and mycologist who was one of the first to publish the descriptions of mushroom species never before formally recorded. Horse mushrooms are still foraged and collected from the wild, however they are cultivated on a very small scale in some areas. Mycologists believe there are two genetically distinct sub-species of Horse mushroom, the differences being only slight in color, shape, and spore size. There is a Horse mushroom look-a-like that is toxic, the yellow stainer. When the stem of the yellow stainer is cut, as its name suggests, the exposed flesh turns bright yellow. This is not the case for the Horse mushroom, whose stem remains white when cut. If foraging, unless there is absolute certainty about a species of mushroom, do not eat it. Horse mushrooms are generally found in the wild, but may also be available at local farmer’s markets and specialty stores.