Milky Cap Mushrooms Notecard

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Milky Cap Mushrooms (Lactarius spp.)

Within the family Russelaceae, the genus Lactarius is named for the milk-like substance that is exuded from the cap when injured. There are a couple hundred species included in this genus. They are a very diverse group; some species will gush copious amounts of “milk” when you slice them and some barely any, some are very good edibles and some are believed to be carcinogenic. They are delightful to find in the forest and many have surprising colors that appear when the mushroom is bruised or the milk oozes out. The milk can be white, orange, blue or red, and in some species can change color over time when exposed to the air.

Lactarius mushrooms are mycorrhizal, which means that they have a necessary symbiotic relationship with plant roots. In fact, most trees and plants benefit from a mycorrhizal relationship with fungi. In this mutualistic association, the fungus is provided with constant carbohydrates from the plant, and the plant benefits from the mushroom’s mycelium uptaking water and mineral nutrients from the soil. As a result from this exchange, mycorrhizal plants are often more resistant to diseases and drought.

If you find milky caps for yourself in the forest, and confirm the species with an expert mycologist, they are a delicious treat. Milky caps require a long period of slow cooking. They can be grilled with oil, or cooked in casseroles, soups and stews. A closely related “candy cap” is slightly sweet and used to flavor puddings and even cookies. Happy mushroom hunting!

artwork by Susan Bull Riley © 2008 

text by Jeanine Moy

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