Foraging for Meadow Mushrooms, Agaricus campestris
November 29, 2012 | Updated June 22, 2020
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Pinks. The common meadow mushroom. Agaricus campestris. It is the wild cousin of the ye olde button mushroom you find in supermarkets all over the country. You would think this would be an easy mushroom to identify in the wild, right? Well, you would be wrong, at least in the West. Here, there are so many frustrating lookalike mushrooms that I’ve taken to calling the whole clan Argh-aricus. They’ve vexed me for years.
No longer. Finally, after several years of picking, testing and studying, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that these mushrooms are a), delicious, b) worth your time to seek out, and c) actually easily identifiable.
My meadow mushroom saga began when I moved to California. I’d never really looked for them before I settled here. Why I don’t know, because Agaricus campestris is a global species. Once here my friend Evan, who is fifth generation Italian from our nearby Gold Country, told me about the mushrooms his family would pick.
One of these was the mysterious “pink.” They look like button mushrooms, live in grass — thus the “meadow mushroom” moniker — and have pink gills when they are young.
No problemo. “Oh, but they can’t stain yellow,” Evan told me. OK, good to know. One day on a hunt we came across a few, and sure enough they looked like a supermarket button with pink gills. Soon I began seeing them everywhere.
Only they weren’t pinks.
One time I found a huge flush of what I thought were Agaricus campestris in the lawn of an office building at the Capitol in Sacramento. I eagerly brought them back to my desk. All work ceased as I scanned images on the internet, stared at these mushrooms and wondered. Finally caution got the better of me and I called Evan for backup; Evan worked in the Capitol at the time. He came right over.
“Huh. They look like pinks, but they’re really big.” He scratched his nail on the cap of one: Instantly it turned neon yellow. “Nope. Not a pink.”
Damn yellow stainers. Everywhere. I soon learned this is Agaricus xanthodermus. It grows all over the place where I live, in giant troops. Eat one and everything in your innards will rush for the exits — both of them. Xantho is the king of the “lose your lunch bunch.”
More insidious is xantho’s cousin, Agaricus californicus. As you might imagine from the name, it is mostly a California mushroom. Most people who eat it get the shits for a day or so, something I try to avoid. It looks a lot like a meadow mushroom, only its cap is built a bit more like a marshmallow than the round cap of a pink. Californicus stains only faintly yellow, and sometimes the little buttons don’t stain at all.
The best sure-fire way to tell them apart from the meadow mushroom is to slice a young one in half: If the gills are pink inside, you have a meadow mushroom. If they are pale or white, you don’t. This is a pink:
Lemme toss one more wrench into the whole mess: Agaricus arvensis, the horse mushroom. The horse mushroom is a) edible and b) considered by many to taste better than the pinks. So they are worth seeking out. But they stain faintly yellow like a Californicus, which junks the whole “unless they stain yellow” thing. The keys to this one are that horse mushrooms never have pink gills, and they have a specific look to them when they are still buttons. The veil on the underside of the cap looks like a cog wheel, and is very different from the Californicus. Let’s leave them for the moment just to keep things simple.
On the right of this picture are pinks, on the left are Californicus. Note the size difference. Pinks are rarely very large. So to sum up, you have a meadow mushroom if:
- It does not stain yellow when bruised. Scritch the edge of the cap to see. If it stains bright yellow right away it’s probably a xantho. Toss it. Cut the base of the stem. If it stains yellow at all, it’s not a meadow mushroom, although it might still be a horse mushroom. Note that this stem did not stain at all when I cut it:
- Look at the gills of the mushroom. They should be pink in young mushrooms, fading to chocolate-gray and finally to black as the mushroom ages. Never take “button mushrooms” that have white gills, as they may really be poisonous amanitas. The gills on a meadow mushroom should also be free of the stalk, which means they don’t attach to it.
- If the mushroom hasn’t opened yet, look at the veil covering the gills. It should look like this:
Not like this. This is a xantho:
Despite all this, it really isn’t that hard to tell them apart. If you stick to picking only agaricus that live in grass that have pink gills and don’t stain yellow, you should be in good shape. You just need to be disciplined about checking every mushroom you put in your basket because all sorts of species — edible and toxic — can inhabit the same field.
Remember the old maxim of “pick many before you eat any” and you will soon be able to recognize them from a few feet away.
What took me so long to come to this point was that true Agaricus campestris are rare in the 10 miles or so around my house. But they are common here in California’s great Central Valley, as Holly found out last week. She went hunting in Yolo County and came home with close to four pounds of pinks. A bonanza!
After a tentative first plate of mushrooms (it’s good policy to only eat a few of any new mushroom you try to see how you react to them) with no ill effects, we dug in. Meadow mushrooms are softer than store-bought buttons, but are more flavorful and smell better. They can be used in any recipe that calls for button mushrooms, or as the French call them, champignons.
And what better way to celebrate our meadow mushroom windfall than with a classic French recipe? One from the great Auguste Escoffier, to be exact?
- 1 pound meadow mushrooms or regular button mushrooms
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- Salt and black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- Lemon juice to taste
- Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel or cloth. Slice thickly and put in a large saute pan. Set the pan over medium-high heat. Soon the mushrooms will begin to sizzle. Shake the pan often to keep the mushrooms moving in the pan. After a couple minutes they will begin to release their water. Sprinkle a healthy pinch of salt over them now and add the minced onion. In a few more minutes the mushrooms and onion will be bathing in boiling mushroom water. Let this boil until the liquid is almost all gone.
- Add the olive oil and toss to coat. Saute until everything begins to brown a bit at the edges, then add the garlic and a little black pepper. Cook another 90 seconds, then add the parsley and toss to combine. Splash a little lemon juice over everything riht as you serve.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Friendly advise to all…never harvest mushrooms in areas if pesticides and fertilizers are used, eg golf courses.
Hank I love your website and this article also.
Little more information please: what time of year did you harvest these mushrooms and under what type of trees and terrain? I have been in search for this beautiful PINK for some time.
Matt: I agree about not picking in heavy pesticide areas. We usually find pinks in moist conditions, so normally spring and winter.
Last time I golfed, meadow mushrooms littered the fairway in such abundance that I had a hard time finding my golf ball. Not such a bad problem.
Thanks for this article! It helped me positively identify the mushrooms that popped up over the past few slightly rainy days in my front yard! A bumper crop actually. To those asking about white gills, STAY AWAY. They are most likely amanitas which will make you throw up and become violently ill. White gills are a big no-no. The spores are important, too. Pinks have dark brown to black spores with an elliptical shape under a microscope. Amanitas will leave a white spore print. Taking a cap off a mushroom and leaving it on a sheet of white paper or similar surface will give you a spore pattern.
Hello I brought clay dirt in my yard as a land fill a year ago and now I have these beautiful pink underneath mushrooms they are huge Not sure what to do with them I live in alabama first time I have ever seen anything like this if your close I can give you some when more pop up I also have large brown ones that grow I thought were portobellos was looking At them they did look like them but I’m not sure again this is all from clay dirt I brought in from a dirt pit any idea would be nice
Excellent article! I found a path full of the pinks and can’t wait to go back today and harvest them!
Thank you so much. I love mushrooms and find these all over but never know what it is I’m looking for. I will go back into the feild with a new knowledge and new hopes!
I picked white button mushrooms with white gills are they edible?
I am stumped with something I found yesterday. Some kind of agaric is with a double edged ring like a legionaries. Cap is greyish- white with brown fibers, pink gill and dark brown spire print. Any deas
Thanks for the article. We have been married 58 years and when first married, my mother in law told me about these pink undersided mushrooms and how you can fix them. I did try and they were delicious. Haven’t done any for years, but today found many in my yard after a long period of rain. looked at them and sure enough they were the pinks. I will try the other suggestions on checking for sure. I think they may be a wonderful addition to supper tonight.
You really should inform people on taking spore prints to properly identify mushrooms, not just basing it off “oh it didn’t bruise yellow”.
Kyle: Uh… why? With this group of mushrooms, they all have brown spore prints. So in this one case spore printing isn’t helpful. But yes, if you’re not familiar enough with mushrooms to know an agaricus from an amanita, then yes, a spore print is indeed a very good idea.
Thanks for this! I have been going crazy trying to figure out which variety of agaricus mushrooms is growing in my lawn. After reading this, I’m pretty sure they are californicus. The only thing that doesn’t fit is that I live in Michigan. Maybe they were transported here somehow.
We are in Southern British Columbia up at the 3000 ft level. Mushrooms are coming in fast and furious. I have been finding a species almost identical to what you describe as meadow mushrooms but the gills are not pink but a cream or off-white color, they do not bruise yellow and have the cog on the stem. They smell wonderful, like the store bought varieties. They vary from 2 to 5 inches in diameter with a smooth light brown cap. I could send a photo but don’t know how to do that on this site. Does that description ring any bells?
JG: Hard to say. This is a tricky species to key out.
I’ve been very confused about all these beautiful white-capped/pink-gilled mushrooms lately. This is a GREAT post. Really clear and informative!
Most of my experience with eating is with Agaricus. For red stainer, I love Bernardii. Not everyone does, but they brown up beautifully. I think Arvensis and campestris best used in simple recipes so I really like what you put up. Could add other garden herbs in there too as they are all good with these Agaricus. A. Arvensis are really what I love and eat the most of because I have a place where they are bountiful, like you with A. campestris. For me, A. arvensis being generously sized and fragrant,they make a good meal quickly.
Carter: Huh. I know Arora talks about a few, but I’ve not played around with any red-stainers yet. And hey – We need to go porcini hunting in Monterey, man…
Thanks for a fun and informative piece. I’ve embarrassed my family by picking morels from yards where fancy-schmancy peeps have mulched with redwood compost. Mmm mmm MMM!
Hank, you’re making me itch to find some “pinks”! They sound delicious. Seems like they don’t fruit as prolifically in my area as yours. In addition to the omni-present yellow stainers, I’m finding a fair amount of small to moderate sized red-staining Agaricus near my porcini spots. Haven’t been able to key them out successfully yet… Any thoughts?
One of my favorite mushroom hunting memories – near the end of a half-day mushroom ID class as a college freshman, the instructor pointed out a treasure trove of meadow mushrooms growing in the grass near our parking lot. For the next twenty minutes, college students were running about with crazed looks in their eyes, grabbing mushrooms left and right, as many as they could carry. Like kids in a candy store!
Peter: Yes, it does, but cap color is a notoriously bad way to ID mushrooms. It changes so much with weather.
My ‘shrooming motto, although it doesn’t come as easily as “if in doubt, go without”, is ‘there is no mycophagy without mycophily’. I reckon you need to revel in the biology – the ecology and the taxonomy – to get in the swing of it.
An interesting corollary perhaps to the duck cookbook: edible ‘shroom hunters and local mycology clubs overlap in the way that duck hunters and duck ecologists once did. Our still-unrivalled text on anatids in Australis was written by a Frith – that he was a duck hunter is something birdos try not to focus on these days…
Hank, thanks so much, for you have just lifted a curtain of doubt from my mind. Back where I grew up in Marin County CA, buttons were all we ever encountered. Then we moved to the foothills and began finding semi-doubtfuls to the point that I lost all confidence in picking what showed up. Now that I know the yellow scritch test I am going to be a lot happier.
But one other possible tell-tale about A. californica – Does the cap show as brownish with cracks running across it, instead of smooth?