Beefsteak Fungus: The Woodworker’s Treasure

What are the benefits of the Beefsteak Fungus?

The benefits of the Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica) are:

  • in possession of molecules shown to inhibit the growth of estrogen dependent breast cancer tumors
  • the agent that produces ‘brown oak’ and ‘tiger’s oak,’ which are prized by decorative woodworkers
  • a delicious addition to salads or as the primary component to a relish or similar condiment.
  • full of the same percentage of vitamin C as fresh squeezed orange juice

Fistulina hepatica, commonly known as the Beefsteak or Ox-Tongue Fungus for fairly obvious reasons, is found in all temperate woodlands on the globe. It is parasitic or saprophytic on the live or dead wood of Oaks, Chestnuts, Beech, Sycamore, Cherry, or Almond trees (Stalpers and Vlug, 1983).

Fistulina hepatica

It is directly related to Schizophyllum commune, one of the more ancient and unchanged organisms on our planet. They contain genes that express as plesiomorphic characteristics – or primitive ancestral traits that have since been replaced by specialized traits in other species (Floudas et al, Abstract). In the case of F. hepatica, it expresses both brown rot characteristics along with traits from its white-rot ancestors. As with S. commune, Ox-Tongue fungus takes nearly 90 days to begin to attack and alter wood cell walls when observed in the lab. This type and rate of decay is not typical of other brown-rot fungi (Floudas et al, 11-15).

Schizophyllum commune

Fistulina hepatica has an affinity for live oaks. When it does establish a relationship with a mature English Oak there is a high probability that the infected heartwood of that tree will produce what is known as ‘brown oak’ if harvested for wood. The abnormal coloration derived from the mycelia infecting the tree can be evenly distributed or running parallel to the grain of the wood. The latter is known as ‘tiger stripe’ oak (Woodland Trust, 2020) or ’lion oak.’ These woods are prized by individuals that create fine furniture or other decorative work. As early as 1937 researchers have inoculated English Oak with plugs colonized by a live culture of Fistulina hepatica. This experiment did indeed yield borings of the inoculated trees that showed the wood was infected and of the desired coloration (Cartwright, 1937).

In the laboratory, F. hepatica has been found to contain molecules extracted with water that are proven effective in battling breast cancer. The well known medicinal mushroom known as Tree Ear (Auricular auricula-judae) is of comparable strength in this same area (Novaković et al, 2017).

Auricular auricula-judae

Beefsteak Fungus has also been shown to contain high amounts of the polyphenol ellagic acid and the sour flavoring molecule malic acid. Ellagic acid imparts acidity to strawberries, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, pomegranate, guava, pecan, and walnuts. Samples of F. hepatica in the lab have also shown to contain between 8% – 35% of their total organic acid content to be citric acid (Ribeiro et al, 1809). This is the same percentage of vitamin C contained in a class of fresh squeezed orange juice. These fruit and berry-like qualities make Beefsteak Fungus a unique culinary delight.

When cooked, either a sauce of parsley and garlic (Ribeiro et al, 1805) or a cream sauce is recommended, due to the acidity inherent in the Ox-tongue Fungus (Wild Food UK, 2020). It is said that the mushroom is good raw as citrus-y bits in a salad or as the component of a relish along with parsley, chives, tarragon, chervil, lemon, and shallot (Forager Chef, 2020). Pickling is also a logical approach given the consistency and acidity of the Beefsteak Fungus.

In Europe Beefsteak mushrooms are being cultivated indoors. Isolates have successfully been grown on petri dishes using malt extract agar or cherry decoction agar (Stalpers and Vlug, 1983).

Cherry-decoction Agar can be made using:

  • 2.2 lbs of pitted cherries
  • 2 pints of water

Boil water and cherries and simmer gently for an additional 2 hours.
Strain liquid through a cheese cloth and sterilize at 230°F for 30 min.

A wood-lover, one can acquire an all-in-one wood based grow bag and a live culture of Fistulina hepatica to produce indoors. There are patents for indoor applications that are only slightly more sophisticated than an all-in-one grow bag, lending strength to this approach to cultivation. Sawdust can be supplemented with a saccharide such as fructose and a source of nitrogen such as wheat straw. Other recommended substrates include corn bran, rice bran, wheat bran, and koji (Hattori and Tanaka, 1997).

As has been mentioned, if one has oak stumps, colonizing plugs to use in inoculating them is also an option (Mushroom Mountain, 2020). Similarly, F. hepatica will also colonize live oaks and their rate of rot is very slow, just know that the tree will eventually succumb. Choosing oaks that are already damaged or diseased in some way would be an ethical option for using colonized plug spawn on living trees.

Mushroom Images

References

  1. Cartwright K T (1937) A Reinvestigation into the cause of ‘brown oak,’ Fistulina Hepatica. Transactions of the British Mycological Society (21, 1-2). pp 68-83
  2. Floudas D, Held B W, Riley R, Nagy L G, Koehler G, Ransdell A S, Younus H, Chow J, Chiniquy J, Lipzen A, Tritt A, Sun H, Haridas S, LaButti K, Ohm R A, Kües, Blanchette R A, Grigoriev I V, Minto R E, Hibbet D S (2015) Evolution of novel wood decay mechanisms in Agaricales revealed by the genome sequences of Fistulina hepatica and Cylindrobasidium torrendii. Fungal Genetic Biology (76) pp 1-32
  3. Forager Chef (2020) Beefsteak Mushroom Relish. Retrived from https://foragerchef.com/beefsteak-mushroom-relish/
  4. Hattori R, Tanaka H (1997) Method for Growing Fruit Body of Fistulina Hepatica. U.S. Patent No 5,590,489. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  5. Mushroom Mountain (2020) Beefsteak Polypore – (Fistulina hepatica) Retrieved from
  6. Novaković A, Karaman M, Kaisarevic S, and Radusin T (2017) Bioactivity of Fistulina hepatica (Schaeff.) with. 1792, collected from Eastern Serbia. V International Congress “Engineering, Environment and Materials in Processing Industry“
  7. Ribeiro B, Valentão P, Baptista P, Seabra R M, Andrade P B (2007) Phenolic compounds, organic acids profiles and antioxidative properties of beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica). Food and Chemical Toxicology (45) pp 1805-1813
  8. Stalpers J A and Vlug I (1983) Confistulina, the anamorph of Fistulina hepatica. Canadian Journal of Botany. (61, 6). pp 1660-1666.
  9. Wild Food UK (2020) Beefsteak Fungus. Retrieved from https://www.wildfooduk.com/mushroom-guide/beefsteak-fungus/
  10. Woodland Trust (2020) Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica). Retrieved from https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/fungi-and-lichens/beefsteak-fungus/

Last modified: January 25, 2021

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