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  • Writer's pictureOrion Aon

Hawk's Wing Mushrooms, Bitter?!

Updated: May 9

This article is long overdue! Hawk's wing mushrooms, known as scaly hedgehogs, are among my favorite species. They're beautiful, they fruit pretty reliably, usually in reasonable quantities, and they're delicious for most people. I've been picking and eating these mushrooms for about 20 years, so they're also a bit nostalgic for me! Hopefully, by the end of this article, you'll feel confident in identifying these very beginner-friendly mushrooms. We'll review the season and habitats to look for these, cover a couple of possible non-toxic lookalikes, and finally, how to harvest, cook, and preserve them!


A haul of prime hawk's wing mushrooms!
A haul of prime hawk's wing mushrooms!

Identifying Hawk's Wings Mushrooms


Hawk's wings are a summer mushroom species that can be associated with spruce and fir in the southern Rockies from July through September. They grow terrestrially, usually in clusters or small groups, and can reach 12 inches or more across! To identify Sarcodon imbricatus, look for tan to brown caps with darker raised scales. On the underside, they have teeth as their spore-bearing structure instead of gills or pores. The developing teeth can sometimes look like pores when young. Their stems are usually short and can become hollow to the cap as the mushroom matures.


The underside and cap of hawk's wing, Sarcodon imbricatus.
The underside and cap of hawk's wing, Sarcodon imbricatus.
 

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Habitats


I usually find hawk's wing mushrooms in higher elevation spruce-fir or mixed conifer forests near water or areas that would hold some extra moisture. Focus on stream edges, areas near swamps or marshes, and locations where water runs off or drains through the landscape. Oh, and don't forget to look at the trees! In my experience, their favorite hosts are spruce trees, so they can often be found in similar habitats to king boletes but closer to any water or drainage that might be around. Water isn't always necessary. These can grow in the middle of the forest, but I seem to have the most consistent success near water.


It's probably also good to mention that several species of Sarcodon can be found all over North America, but most people agree that these found in the Southern Rockies are the most edible. No idea why that is, but I've heard it from multiple sources! We may have a different, tastier species than other places, or maybe the growing conditions affect their flavor. Our hawk's wings prefer the conifers, but they grow with deciduous trees in other states, which could have something to do with it. Either way, none of the Sarcodon species are toxic, but some are reportedly inedible.


Clusters of hawk's wings! There is a small mountain stream just out of frame.
Clusters of hawk's wings! There is a small mountain stream just out of frame.

Hawk's wings are a lovely species for beginning mushroom hunters because they have unique features that are easy to learn and have no toxic lookalikes. The few mushrooms that get confused with hawk's wings are either edible or bitter. Those species are dryad's saddle, Cerioporus squamosus, and other species of Sarcodon! The dryad's saddle and hawk's wing confusion come from a crossing of common names and surface-level similarities. It happens regularly enough that I made an infographic to help people sort them out. Their apparent differences are underlined.


Infographic comparing dryad's saddle and hawk's wing mushrooms.

The other mushrooms that can be confused for hawk's wings are the closely related Sarocdon species that can occasionally be found in our mountains. I believe we have a handful of other species. I've found around five of them, but they haven't been adequately studied and documented enough to say exactly how many. I usually see Sarcodon scabrosus, which has a much smoother cap than the hawk's wing. It typically grows in association with pine trees but can fruit with other coniferous species. It can sometimes have a bit of blue-green staining towards the base of its stem. As mentioned, this mushroom is not toxic, merely bitter and considered inedible. I have also heard of another edible Sarcodon species in our mountains that smells like chocolate and walnuts when cooked, but I've never found it.


Sarcodon scabrosus growing near spruce trees where I was finding hawk's wings.
Sarcodon scabrosus growing near spruce trees where I was finding hawk's wings.

Harvesting Hawk's Wings


How to harvest mushrooms is often debated online. Should you cut or pull? Ultimately, it doesn't matter as we currently understand it. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi, and the harvesting technique doesn't affect the mycelium that lives in the substrate it was growing from. Some species are better to pull and clean, like king boletes with a lot of meat in their stems! Others with less meat at the base of their stems are easier and cleaner to cut at the soil level. Chanterelles are an excellent example of this, and so are hawk's wings! Sometimes, finding their stems in the cluster can be difficult, so in that case, feel free to pick them up carefully. Covering up any holes or stems you leave behind is also good practice.


The best hawk's wings to collect are the young ones with caps around five inches or less, as the larger ones are usually buggy and can develop some bitter flavors. If you find some large ones that aren't buggy, bring them home and dehydrate them! Dried hawk's wings make great mushroom powder and are lovely in any application for dried mushrooms! After harvesting, you'll want to brush or cut away any other debris from the stems, carefully turn them over, and tap them to dislodge any debris that made its way into their scales or hollowed stems. Occasionally, a brush may be needed for that step as well. Once your hawk's wings are all clean, it's best to transport them carefully! Their scales and teeth are a little delicate, so I use mesh or paper bags and try not to let them get jostled or crushed. If you're one to bring a basket while foraging, that's a perfect vessel for them!


Some perfect hawk's wings sliced from the soil.
Some perfect hawk's wings sliced from the soil.

Mysterious Bitter Flavor


At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that these are delicious for most people. However, not everyone enjoys these beautiful mushrooms at the dinner table. A select number of people find these bitter, metallic tasting, or just off, and we have no idea why! I think that it has something to do with genetics, like people who can't eat cilantro, but there hasn't been any official study done to figure it out. So, before you sit down to your first plate of hawk's wings, you may want to collect and cook up a small amount to see if they taste good.


Eating Hawk's Wings


Hawk's wings are surprisingly meaty mushrooms with savory or umami flavors. They hold up great to high heat and longer cook times as well! A versatile mushroom! Here are some cooking ideas:

  • Marinate in oil, soy, Worcestershire, and spices before grilling.

  • Toss in oil with onions and seasonings, and roast in the oven.

  • Add to soups or stews; ramen would be delicious!

  • Mince or grind and make it into a mushroom patty. I have never tried this, but I want to.

  • Slice and sauté in butter. It's tough to beat the simple sauté!


I hope you try some of these with the hawk's wings you find, but there are limitless ways to prepare these mushrooms, so if you like one, send it to me. I wish you luck searching for these beautiful mushrooms, and I hope you aren't among the unlucky few who find them bitter!


A samll hawk's wing button mushroom growing in the pine and spruce litter.
A samll hawk's wing button mushroom growing in the pine and spruce litter.

Foraging Calendar


To learn more about the best seasons to harvest this species and many other wild foods, check out my Foraging Calendar & Wild Food Database! You can try the demo version to learn more, and join my Patreon to gain full access to the Foraging Calendar and other exclusive perks! Joining is the best way to support all the work I put into my content and website to help you learn about foraging! Thank you for checking it out!


A screenshot of my Foraging Calendar.

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6 Comments


pullupyourplants
Nov 06, 2023

Well written article! I made a mushroom "Meef Jerky" with these. Those umami flavors lent well to being a beef substitute.

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Matthew Bainsmith
Matthew Bainsmith
Aug 15, 2023

Very informative article. I found a bunch of these in the Bighorn mountains this weekend and was curious to learn more. Hope to try some soon to learn how they taste for me.

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marija
Feb 21, 2023

Great article. In summer 2022 I found quite a few aniseed-scented Sarcodons that were tastier than S. imbricatus. They somewhat resembled S. scabrosus but without the blackish or greenish stalk base, and definitely without the bitterness. Found in association with Engelmann spruce. I'll be keeping an eye out for them this year!

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mchrodgers
Aug 27, 2022

I know this is an old article, but for anyone coming across this, I find that bugs regularly are extremely quick to eat the stem of hawk wing, but almost NEVER touch the cap. The bugs go straight up the stem and stop, without going horizontally into the cap.


I've gotten to where I will try to cut a few off at the stem and check them, but if they are consistently buggy, I just slice the cap sections off in big quick chunks. This will also let you get bigger caps than the 5" guide above; basically you just want the top to be soft and pliable and not becoming woody.


This has increased my ability harvest hawk's wing…

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Craig Lane
Craig Lane
Aug 14, 2022

Thank you for the article. It looks like we have these in Manitoba. I'll have to have a closer look (and possibly try, if the stipes don't have a greenish tinge.)

Cheers!

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