Finding the Rare Hedgehog Mushroom!
Updated: Apr 4
You know that thing that people like to ask... the "what's your favorite mushroom to eat" question that's absolutely impossible to answer without going off on a tangent about "top five species" or "seasonal favorites". Well, on the rare occasion when I'm not feeling long winded, or the question-asker is adamant about only giving a single favorite, this is the one that comes to mind. The hedgehog mushroom, "Hydnum repandum".
Before we get too far into this, let's talk a little about why the species name is in quotes above. Everyone's favorite subject, taxonomy! It'll be quick. Hedgehogs, Hydnum species, like many of our mushrooms, seem to be lacking a bit of study. The Rocky Mountains are in a weird place where they often fall between Eastern/Midwestern and West Coast fungal species, and sometimes ours just get a name that fits until someone actually has time to study them further! Hydnum in North America has only recently been studied more in depth. Here is some light* reading in the form of a couple published articles from 2018 looking at some of the species in North America and Europe. *not light reading
Essentially, we don't really know which species are present in Colorado, and until recently didn't even know what was going on with our species in NA in general. Whenever that occurs, we do what we usually do and default to the European names until we know better! So, until I learn more this article will refer to hedgehogs using their European, type-species name, Hydnum repandum. The correct way would probably be to use Hydnum cf. repandum to show that I'm just comparing it to the European species, but I'm no taxonomist and I think you get the picture anyways! Onwards.
Hedgehogs, also sometimes called sweet tooth mushrooms are lovely, delicate, toothed mushrooms that can be found through the summer and sometimes fall in Colorado. Unfortunately, they're a somewhat rare species here and are not often found in large quantities. I think my best day ever for hedgehogs was somewhere between one and two pounds of mushrooms, not a ton! That said, once you find some you can usually return year after year to the same location and find more. Over the decade or so that I've been mushroom hunting in Colorado I've found four patches of hedgehogs and am able to at least get a small bag of them most years from one of these spots.
All four of my spots are in mixed conifer forests composed of mostly spruce and fir above 9,000ft. They all fruit near some sort of water source, be it a mountain stream or an ephemeral runoff that only gets water during heavy rain and snowmelt. From talking to friends who have their own hedgehog spots, this habitat seems to coincide with places that other people find them in as well! Mixed conifer or spruce/fir, above 9,000ft, near water.
As is the case with most edible toothed mushrooms, hedgehogs are a wonderful mushroom for new mushroom hunters. They're very easy to identify, don't have any toxic look alikes, and are a choice edible! From above, they can sort of look like chanterelles or the common pinkish terrestrial polypore Albatrellus confluens. However, once you pick them the differences are clear. Like their cousin the hawk's wing, hedgehogs have small delicate teeth as their spore bearing structures. Their caps are a lovely peach-orange color and the stems and teeth a slightly lighter shade of peach. Their flesh bruises slightly darker after a short time and they smell mildly sweet. Their flavor is pretty similar to chanterelles but a little more peppery and savory!
When collecting hedgehogs you'll really want to slow down and take some extra time with them. They're pretty fragile and can easily break apart if you aren't careful. If you're a mushroom hunter that likes to use a basket, this would be a great time for it! I usually carefully slice these are the soil level and lightly brush away any debris remaining on the stems and caps. You won't be getting any dirt out of the teeth without damaging the mushrooms, so take a little extra time to get them really clean in the field.
These little mushrooms often like to grow right under old decaying logs, so you'll probably have to get in there and pick a few by hand before cleaning them up. When picking, try to get your fingers to the stem if possible to prevent breaking their caps as you wiggle them free. It's inevitable that you'll break a couple during picking or transport, so don't fret over it too much!
As I mentioned in the introduction, these are probably my favorite species of edible mushroom. I would happily trade a few pounds of porcini buttons for a pound of hedgehogs if given the chance! I don't find enough of these to warrant much culinary experimenting. I usually just sauté them in butter with a little garlic or shallot and serve along with some wild game. They would go great in any recipe where you might use chanterelles! I think any sort of soup or sauce would be amazing with hedgehogs. If you get lucky enough to find a large patch and want to preserve some I would suggest dry sautéing and freezing them in vacuum bags or pickling them. I don't think they would dehydrate very well, but I've never tried! I think they would also be amazing using this recipe from Hank Shaw if you ever found enough to make it worth the effort!