In myths and folklore, we often hear tales of fairy rings, whether they indicate good omens or bad tidings. Fairy rings are caused by a circular growth of mushrooms that form a large, mystical-looking ring. With mushrooms becoming a popular delicacy, it begs the question: Can fairy ring mushrooms be eaten?
Some fairy ring mushrooms are edible, but others can be poisonous. The Marasmius oreades (often referred to as the Fairy Ring Mushroom or Fairy Ring Champignon) is the most common fairy ring mushroom and is edible. However, not all fairy ring mushrooms can be eaten.
In the rest of this article, I’ll explain what fairy rings are, which mushrooms form fairy rings, and which of those are edible. I’ll also show you how to identify a fairy ring. So, without further ado, let’s take a look!
All About Fairy Ring Mushrooms
“Fairy ring mushrooms” can refer to a single species (Marasmius oreades) or any mushroom species that tends to cause fairy rings. So, when you try to determine whether fairy ring mushrooms are edible or not, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many different mushrooms that form fairy rings.
Some fairy ring mushrooms, like the Marasmius oreades or Agaricus campestris, can be eaten. However, others may be poisonous, so it’s important to correctly identify the mushroom before eating it.
Before we go further, let me explain what exactly fairy rings are and how they form.
Fairy rings are a circular growth of mycelium that forms mushrooms at the edge. The growth of these mushrooms forms a ring around the edge of the mycelium. These mushroom rings are called fairy rings, fairy circles, elf rings, or pixie rings.
Fairy rings are usually found in forested areas but might also occur in lawns or cultivated fields. They’ve spawned countless folktales and myths over the centuries. Many cultures believe fairy rings to be portals to another world, indications of mythical creatures, or signs of good or bad luck.
Scientifically, fairy rings are formed when a fungal mycelium grows outward in a circular manner. The edges then produce mushrooms, which form a ring above ground. Smaller mycelia form smaller rings, while bigger ones form larger rings.
While they sprout from the soil below, these mushrooms usually latch onto the organic matter in the ground. So they’re more likely to sprout in areas that were once forested.
Edible vs. Non-Edible Mushroom Species
As I mentioned earlier, one particular mushroom is known as the Fairy Ring Mushroom – the Marasmius Oreades or Fairy Ring Champignon. However, that doesn’t mean that it is the only mushroom species to grow in fairy rings.
Let’s look at some of the most common mushrooms that grow in fairy rings and whether or not they’re edible:
The Fairy Ring Champignon (Marasmius oreades)
The first one is, of course, the Fairy Ring Champignon. This mushroom is quite popular in soups, salads, and pasta sauces and has a mild, sweet taste. The sweetness comes from trehalose, a type of sugar contained in the caps.
Generally, people only eat the caps of this mushroom since the stems can be tough and dry. If you’re picking them from the wild, please refer to several guides on identifying them. Many poisonous mushrooms (like some Clitocybe or Inocybe species) look extremely similar to the Fairy Ring Champignon.
Meadow Mushroom/Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris)
The second most common fairy ring mushroom is the Agaricus campestris, also known as the Field Mushroom or Meadow Mushroom, depending on where you’re from. These mushrooms also often grow in fairy rings.
They have a fleshy, white cap that gives them a similar appearance to the popular white button mushroom. Meadow mushrooms are edible and have a taste and smell similar to button mushrooms. They make for a great addition to pasta, sauces, and soups.
The third in this category is the Lycoperdon genus of mushrooms. This genus has around 50 species of mushrooms. Some of these, like the Lycoperdon perlatum or Lycoperdon gigantea, are edible, while others are not.
If you’re picking Lycoperdon perlatum, look for young ones. These will be white in color with round, puffball appearances. When they grow older, they turn yellowish in color. At that point, they are no longer suitable for eating.
Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)
The Scleroderma genus of mushrooms is the last common mushroom found in fairy rings. Of these, the Common Earthball is the most widely found variety.
These mushrooms are not edible under any circumstance. They look like warty potatoes, but they’re quite poisonous. In fact, this species is largely responsible for many mushroom poisoning incidents in the UK because it can be easily mistaken for the edible Common Puffball.
How to Identify Fairy Rings
Fairy rings are sometimes hard to spot because they don’t always feature a clear mushroom ring. However, there are ways you can identify the fairy ring even before the mushrooms grow.
Fairy rings can be identified by their color or the mushroom ring growing around them. Many fairy rings will have darker-colored grass growing within them – usually a dark green or brown. Sometimes, the texture of the grass might also be different.
So, let’s look at how to identify a fairy ring:
There Will Be a Clear Mushroom Ring
Of course, the most obvious sign of a fairy ring is the ring of mushrooms. These may not always be in a perfect circle, or the circle may be incomplete. However, if it looks like an incomplete or partial circle around a particular spot, you’ve probably come across a fairy ring.
Most mushrooms that grow in fairy rings tend to be white, yellow, or brownish in color.
The Grass in the Ring Will Be Darker in Color
Fairy rings are formed by a network of fungi growing underneath the ground. These fungi belong to the Basidiomycetes class of fungi. They usually latch onto the organic matter in the ground, like dead tree roots or thatch, and break them down to produce energy to grow.
Mushrooms usually need water and organic material to grow.
Some of these fungi produce nitrogen due to the breakdown of organic matter. The nitrogen produced may cause a ring of darker-colored grass on the edges or a circle of dark-green grass spanning the insides of the fairy ring.
Based on their effect on the turf, there are three classifications of fairy rings.
- Type 1: Dark green rings with necrotic, dead turf in the middle.
- Type 2: Rings of darker green, healthier grass that may produce mushrooms or puffballs.
- Type 3: Basidiocarps (spore-producing bodies) form a ring with no visible effect on the inner or outer turf.
The Grass Will Be a Different Texture or Dry
Since the fungi growing below produce a lot of nitrogen, they may affect the grass. However, the nutrients from the soil that the fungi use up are a more pressing concern.
These fungi can leech so many nutrients from the soil that they cause the grass within the circle to dry up and turn brown. Some fungi produce such a dense growth of mycelia that they repel water. This phenomenon is known as a localized dry spot.
If you’ve noticed fairy rings with brown, dry grass, then it’s likely that the mycelia below are repelling water. To treat this, you must frequently inject water into the ground in and around the fairy ring. Digging holes into the ground and spraying water directly into the ground through the holes helps the most.
If the water treatment doesn’t work, you might need to opt for a fungicide instead. I’d suggest Bonide Copper Fungicide, a commercial fungicide available on Amazon. It contains copper, which is perfect for more stubborn growths and can get rid of the fungus growing beneath.
You could also try a mix of water and Belle Chemical Concentrated Vinegar, a horticultural vinegar (also available on Amazon). This contains 45% concentrated vinegar, as opposed to normal household vinegar, which has a 2-3% concentration.
This DIY mixture is more environmentally friendly if you’re wary of commercial fungicides. Since it’s a highly concentrated vinegar, a 4:1 mixture of water to vinegar should eliminate the fungus.
The Marasmius Oreades, colloquially known as the Fairy Ring Champignon or Fairy Ring Mushroom, is an edible mushroom that can greatly enhance the flavor of your food. However, it has some poisonous look-alike mushrooms, so you should be sure you’ve correctly identified it.
Other mushrooms that grow in fairy rings might be edible, but most of those also have poisonous look-alikes. Some fairy ring mushrooms are not edible at all.