Puffball Mushroom (Calvatia Gigantea): Health Benefits, Recipes and More
Calvatia gigantea, commonly known as the giant puffball, is a type of puffball mushroom that grows in meadows, fields, and deciduous forests. It typically grows in late summer and autumn and is found in temperate areas throughout the world.
The giant puffball mushroom can be used in cooking, as well as for its medicinal benefits.
In this post, we’ll be taking a look at the many different aspects of Calvatia gigantea, including:
- How to identify giant puffball mushrooms
- Where these puffball mushrooms grow
- Giant puffball mushroom health benefits
- Whether or not giant puffball mushrooms are dangerous
- What the mushrooms taste like
- Giant puffball mushroom recipes (including how best to cook them)
- Where to buy giant puffball mushrooms
Some Background On Giant Puffball Mushrooms
Calvatia gigantea is a species of puffball or puffball mushroom. This is a type of fungus featuring a ball-shaped fruit body that bursts on impact, releasing a cloud of dust-like spores when mature.
August Johann George Karl Batsch, a German mycologist, originally described Calvatia gigantea in 1786. He named it Lycoperdon giganteum. The American mycologist Curtis Gates Lloyd renamed it Calvatia gigantea in 1904.
Langermannia gigantea is a synonym for the giant puffball. This is due to a taxonomic disagreement that requires adequate DNA analysis to settle. It does not appear that this will happen any time soon, so the two names may, therefore, be used interchangeably.
Puffballs belong to the division Basidiomycota and encompass several genera, including Calvatia, Calbovista, and Lycoperdon. Giant puffballs belong to this first genera.
Calvatia comes from the Latin calvus, meaning “bald”. Gigantea comes from the Greek gigantas, meaning “giant”, in reference to the size of this mushroom’s fruit body.
True puffballs do not have a visible stalk or stem. Giant puffballs don’t have one, thus they count as a true puffball.
Stalked puffballs have a stalk that supports the gleba (a solid mass of spores, which makes up the fruiting body). None of the stalked puffballs are edible as they are tough and woody.
There are also false puffballs. These are hard like rock or brittle. True puffballs and stalked puffballs, in contrast, have a gleba that is soft and powdery in maturity. All false puffballs are inedible, as they are tough and bitter.
Prior to the use of matches, strips of Calvatia gigantea would be used to carry fire between locations. In this regard, beekeepers would also burn the mushroom to calm the bees and avoid being stung. It was thought that the mushroom might act as a sedative. However, this may be more related to the smoke causing the bees to be more subdued.
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How To Identify Giant Puffball Mushrooms
You can identify the giant puffball mushroom in the wild by knowing all the details of its appearance.
White to off-white with a fine velvet-like surface when young, which becomes smooth and papery in maturity. The inside of the fruiting body will turn to brown mature spores. These will be released when the mushroom ages, when it’s damaged, or when it’s blown across a field like tumbleweed.
There’s no stem, given that it’s a true puffball. However, giant puffballs can still be connected to the ground with a fine root-like filament.
The flesh is white, becoming yellow and then brown as it turns into spores.
Unlike most mushrooms, all the spores of a giant puffball mushroom are created inside the fruiting body. Large specimens can easily contain several trillion spores.
Spores are yellowish, smooth, and 3–5 μm in size. The spore print is yellow/brown and spherical with fine warts.
Most giant puffballs grow to be 10-50 centimeters (4-20 inches), sometimes to be 90 cm (35 in) in diameter. However, occasionally some specimens can reach diameters up to 150 cm (60 in) and weights of 20 kg (44 lb).
The smell of Calvatia gigantea is mild, mushroomy, and nutty.
To correctly identify giant puffball mushrooms, you should also be aware of possible lookalikes to avoid.
There are Earthablls (Scleroderma citrinum), which are toxic. Nonetheless, these are distinguished by a much firmer, elastic fruiting body and a purple or black interior. When very young, the inside of Earthballs can have a creamy interior, although a distinct band near the skin’s surface can be observed. Consuming Earthballs may cause mild intoxication.
Young Amanitas, which include deadly poisonous species, could be mistaken for a giant puffball. However, an embryonic mushroom would be visible upon slicing the fruiting body top to bottom.
Small giant puffballs could be easily confused with other puffballs. However, all 18 species of puffball mushrooms in the UK are edible.
Giant puffball mushrooms may also be confused with the Mosaic Puffball. These mushrooms are edible when white. But if they have any sign of yellowing or browning, they can cause severe gastric distress.
Mosaic Puffball mushrooms are distinguishable by warts they have on their skin. In contrast, the surface of giant puffball mushrooms is smooth or maybe slightly velvety.
From a distance, a giant puffball could be mistaken for a soccer ball or volleyball.
Where Do Giant Puffball Mushrooms Grow?
Calvatia gigantea grows in many temperate areas throughout Canada, the U.S., Europe, and Asia. It is widespread and common in the UK. It is protected in parts of Poland and is of conservation concern in Norway.
Giant puffballs grow in pastures, meadows, parkland, lawns, grassland, and woodland. You will find it growing from summer to late autumn, or July to September in the UK.
The giant puffball is a saprobic fungus, which means it’s a decomposer. It can often be found in fairy rings (a naturally occurring ring or arc of mushrooms) that spread out year after year as the fungus consumes nutrients in the soil.
If you see a couple of giant puffballs in a line, follow along that line and there’s a good chance you’ll find more nearby.
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Giant Puffball Mushroom Health Benefits
Giant puffball mushrooms are a known styptic (an agent that stops bleeding). For this reason, they have long been used as wound dressing, either in powdered form or as slices 3 cm thick. The fungus was often harvested prior to battles for this purpose.
Giant puffball mushrooms are the main source of the anti-tumor mucoprotein calvacin, which is present only in tiny quantities.
One study indicated that the extract of Calvatia gigantea is able to reduce blood sugar levels, which is an important consideration for controlling blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
Using a rat model and observing the short-term effects of 400 mg/kg of giant puffball extract, researchers observed a significant decrease in blood sugar levels in the rats.
Staphylococcus aureus is the most dangerous of the Staphylococcus bacteria. It can often cause skin infections and respiratory tract infections, including pneumonia.
According to one study, Staphylococcus aureus was inhibited when in the presence of methanol- or ethanol-based extracts of Calvatia gigantea (30 mg/ml). The effects were not as pronounced as those achieved by the antibiotic erythromycin.
Nonetheless, there was still noticeable inhibition of the growth of the bacteria, indicating important anti-bacterial properties.
An in vitro study of the anti-tumor properties of the giant puffball showed that extract administered to human lung cancer cells caused programmed cell death. This is important in the eradication of cancers.
The extract also prevented the ongoing proliferation of the cancer cells by stopping the cell cycle. The cell cycle is necessary to continue the expansion of the cell population, and preventing this stops the growth of tumors.
Calvacin is a bioactive molecule that scientists have isolated from Calvatia gigantea. Research has found that calvacin was able to inhibit cancer cell growth in 13 of 24 different cancers in a variety of animal models.
One limitation is that calvacin is only available in small quantities in the giant puffball mushroom. Also, the prolonged administration of calvacin in some animals produced an allergic reaction, which may limit accessibility for clinical trials.
Styptic refers to the contraction of tissue and reduction in bleeding. It is required to assist with wound healing.
Native Americans used the spores of Calvatia gigantea to prevent bleeding and promote wound healing. In Mongolian medicine, a gel containing the active substance calvacin, extracted from the giant puffball, is used in wound and burn healing.
To scientifically establish the benefits of this gel on burns, researchers administered the gel to rats every three days following the induction of burns.
From day 14, those rats receiving burn treatment with calvacin had increased levels of a molecule associated with the healing process — VEGF. At day 28, there were higher levels of another molecule involved in this healing activity — TGFβ1.
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Calvatia Gigantea Dosage
There are no reports on the appropriate dosage for the giant puffball mushroom. You should always take a small dose your first time in case you have an allergic reaction to the mushroom.
Are Giant Puffball Mushrooms Dangerous?
Most puffball mushrooms are not poisonous. The giant puffball isn’t, even when eaten raw.
However, it can resemble young poisonous mushrooms such as the death cap. So you need to ensure you’re able to identify mushrooms correctly in the wild. Going foraging with an expert can be a good idea if you’re nervous about picking the wrong mushroom.
Also, while true puffballs (like the giant puffball) are edible when immature, they can cause digestive upset if eaten when mature. You can tell when Calvatia gigantea matures because the flesh inside will begin to turn yellow. Avoid eating the mushroom when this happens.
Check the Fruiting Body
The fruiting body of the giant puffball mushroom grows within a few weeks before it starts to rot; it is then considered too dangerous to eat. Also, due to the pollutants emitted from vehicles, we advise avoiding eating Calvatia gigantea harvested from the roadside.
Always cut giant puffball mushrooms in half to ensure that there are no signs of gills. If gills are present, the specimen may be a gilled mushroom at its button stage.
In addition, do not administer Calvatia gigantea for medicinal purposes without seeking professional advice from a medical practitioner. This same advice should apply if you’re breastfeeding or nursing.
Okay, so the giant puffball isn’t deadly in itself, but could it harm a person who might be allergic to it? Any food can potentially trigger allergic reactions, but none have been reported so far in the case of giant puffballs.
Nonetheless, some people can be allergic to all mushrooms. If this applies to you, you should of course avoid eating giant puffball mushrooms.
Common symptoms of a mushroom allergy may include one or more of the following symptoms:
- Swelling of the lips, mouth, and/or throat
- Skin rashes or hives
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Abdominal disturbances such as diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, cramping, and bloating
- A rapid drop in blood pressure, shortness of breath, and fainting in the case of a severe allergic reaction
Are puffball mushrooms poisonous to dogs? Many puffballs, including the giant puffball, are not poisonous to dogs. However, as with humans, there are lookalikes that may cause harm. These include Earthballs.
So if you’re out walking with your dog, make sure they don’t eat the common Earthball. You can keep your dog on a lead in damp woodland areas or use a basket muzzle to prevent them from foraging. If you think your dog has eaten a poisonous mushroom, take them for immediate assessment at the nearest vet.
What Do Giant Puffball Mushrooms Taste Like?
Giant puffballs have a mild nutty and earthy taste. Like most mushrooms, they soak up the flavor of marinades and sauces really well. They can be cooked in many different ways and substituted into most recipes that include mushrooms.
Due to their meaty, firm texture, giant puffball mushrooms are often used as a substitute for tofu or even meat.
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How To Cook Giant Puffball Mushrooms
There are different ways to prepare giant puffballs. These include sauteeing, frying, and grilling.
Sauteeing Giant Puffballs
- 3 tbsp (42.5 g) of dairy-free butter/spread
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ tsp (2.5) of salt
- 1 pound (450 g) of giant puffballs
- ¼ tsp (1 g) of pepper
- Grated zest and juice of half a lemon
- ¼ cup (32 g) of chopped fresh parsley
This is enough for 4-6 servings.
- Heat the dairy-free butter/spread in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet until it melts. Turn the heat to medium to melt the butter so it coats the bottom of the skillet.
- Add the diced onion, minced garlic, and salt to the skillet, and stir everything together.
- Sauté the veggies in the butter for about five minutes. Stir the veggies occasionally so they cook evenly and don’t burn. Cook until the diced onion looks translucent and the garlic is fragrant.
- Clean the puffballs and dice them into 1 in (2.5 cm) cubes. Rinse off the puffballs to remove any dirt. Use a paring knife or your fingers to remove the outer skin, which should peel off easily. Then, use a sharp knife to dice the puffballs. One pound of puffballs should yield about 8-10 cups of diced mushrooms. The outer skin is technically edible but it may cause intestinal irritation, so it’s best to remove it.
- Add the puffballs to the skillet and cook them for 5-10 minutes. Stir them in so the ingredients are fully mixed. Make sure to stir every 1-2 minutes so nothing burns or sticks. You’ll know the puffballs are done when they shrink in size and look golden brown.
- Add pepper and lemon zest and sauté the dish for one minute. Zest a lemon and add a few pieces of the zest to the skillet along with the pepper. Stir everything together until the ingredients are fully mixed and cook the dish for one more minute. For a spicier flavor, add a dash of cayenne pepper.
- Top the puffballs with lemon juice and parsley. Stir well to incorporate the ingredients and serve up the dish right away for the best flavor.
Frying Giant Puffballs
- Fresh puffball mushrooms, sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼-½ cup (60-118 ml) of canola or grapeseed oil
- ½ cup (75 g) of all-purpose flour
- Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 cup of aquafaba (chickpea water)
- Rinse your puffballs and slice them into ½ in (1.3 cm) pieces. Run your mushrooms with water to clean off any dirt. Use a sharp knife to cut off the outer layer of skin on each mushroom. Then, cut the puffballs into thin slices. The outer skin can upset your stomach, so be sure to remove it.
- Coat the slices liberally with all-purpose flour. Fill a bowl with about ½ cup (64 g) of all-purpose flour. Add some salt and pepper to it to the flour for flavor. Next, add the slices of mushrooms to the bowl and toss them around so that they are coated evenly in flour. There are no exact measurements for this batter. You may need more or less flour depending on how many puffball slices you’re frying.
- Dip the slices into a bowl of aquafaba. Coat them liberally.
- Roll the dipped slices in panko breadcrumbs until they’re evenly covered on all sides. You may need to do this in batches depending on how many mushrooms you’re frying.
- Heat the oil in a deep skillet over high heat until it sizzles.
- Fry the puffballs until they’re golden brown on all sides. Add the mushroom slices carefully to the hot oil using tongs or a spoon. Stir them occasionally, until the batter crisps up and the exterior changes to a golden brown. Fry the mushrooms in batches if you’re cooking a lot of them. If the oil starts to get low, be sure to add more.
- Remove the mushrooms and drain them on paper towels placed on a large plate. Give the slices a few minutes to cool before you serve them. Serve your fried puffballs as soon as they’re cool enough to touch. This way they’ll be nice and crunchy.
Baking Giant Puffballs
- 1 giant puffball mushroom, sliced into ‘steaks’, peeled
- 1 cup of aquafaba
- A cup of breadcrumbs
- ½ cup of hot sauce
- Chopping board
- 2 bowls
- Baking sheet
- Baking parchment
- Pastry brush
- Clean your mushrooms of any debris. Slice them into ‘steaks’ and peel off the outer layer.
- Prepare your cooking station. You should have two shallow bowls — one filled with aquafaba, the other containing breadcrumbs.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment and preheat the oven to 400F.
- Dip each piece of puffball into aquafaba, then coat it with breadcrumbs and lay it on the baking sheet. Make sure you leave a little bit of space between the pieces so that they are nice and crispy. Bake for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the puffballs from the oven and brush some hot sauce onto them. The result is a plant-based version of ‘fried chicken’.
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Giant Puffball Recipes
You can serve cooked giant puffballs as a side dish or use them in a variety of other dishes. Some great recipes include:
- Classic fried puffballs, which can be like a plant-based version of schnitzel
- Grilled puffballs with rosemary and garlic
- Puffball mushroom pizza (using the mushrooms as the base or as a topping)
- Puffball ragu
- Stir fry
- Puffball bruschetta (using the mushroom as the base, instead of bread)
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How To Grow Giant Puffball Mushrooms
Giant puffballs grow and feed in a different manner compared to other common mushrooms. In addition, the germination rate for giant puffball spores is incredibly low.
This means that cultivating these mushrooms takes preparation and patience. It may take several tries to successfully cultivate the giant puffball. However, if you’re up to the challenge, here’s how you can grow them at home:
1. Obtain Giant Puffball Mushrooms
Firstly, you need to get hold of some viable giant puffball spores. If you’ve identified wild giant puffballs near your home, you could collect wild spores. When puffballs turn brown, they will soon release their spores.
Harvesting spores at the right time is difficult, plus you want to make sure you don’t inhale them, as this can cause inflammation in your lungs. Alternatively, you can buy mature giant puffballs online from a reputable source.
2. Harvest The Spores
Once you have your mature puffballs, break them open with a knife. Then, press the mushrooms until all the spores are released.
Fill a bucket with two gallons of spring or non-chlorinated water. Add a pinch of salt to keep bacteria away and a spoonful of molasses to feed the spores. Let everything soak at room temperature for about 48 hours.
3. Add The Mixture To Your Growing Location
Pour the mixture onto a designated space in your garden or lawn. Mist the area every couple of days to keep everything moist. The mycelium will eventually penetrate the ground and the mushrooms will grow. If you’ve been successful, you can expect to see the mushrooms fruiting within 3-4 weeks.
4. Harvest The Mushrooms
Harvest the puffballs while they are still young and pure white. This is when they are edible. Don’t pick the mushrooms with your bare hands as you might damage the mycelium. Instead, use a very sharp knife to cleanly cut them out of the ground. This way, the mycelium will be preserved and the mushrooms will fruit year after year.
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Where To Buy Giant Puffball Mushrooms
If you don’t want to forage for giant puffballs in the wild or grow them yourself, you can also purchase them.
You can either buy mature giant puffball mushrooms online from a reputable vendor or pick some up from a vendor at a farmers market. You should be aware, however, that they’re not commonly sold at farmers markets. Also, it’s unlikely you’ll find them at a grocery store, including health food/speciality stores.
For this reason, it may be easier and less time-consuming to order giant puffball mushrooms online.
If you’re just beginning your mushroom foraging journey, the giant puffball is a great mushroom to start with. It can be incredibly satisfying to find a huge puffball mushroom in the wild and then bring it home for cooking.
Just remember to follow identification guidance and only pick mushrooms you’re 100% certain you know the species of.
With its versatile flavor, this wild edible mushroom can be an excellent addition to your meals.
If struggling to find a local supply, you can always try cultivating Calvatia gigantea in your garden. Once you have an ample supply of these mushrooms, you can then enjoy their health benefits on a regular basis.