Finding the Rare Hedgehog Mushroom!
Updated: Dec 5, 2022
You know that thing that people like to ask... the "what's your favorite mushroom to eat" question that's impossible to answer without going off on a tangent about the 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 choice, 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. Like many of our mushrooms, Hedgehogs, Hydnum species 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 get a name that fits until someone 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 of published articles from 2018 looking at some of the species in North America and Europe. *not light reading
Identifying and naming the currently known diversity of the genus Hydnum, with an emphasis on European and North American taxa
Six new species and reports of Hydnum (Cantharellales) from eastern North America
Essentially, we don't 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. My best day 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 exact location and find more. Over the decade or so that I've been mushroom hunting in Colorado, I've discovered five patches of hedgehogs and can 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 mainly spruce and fir above 9,000ft. They all fruit near some 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 with most edible toothed mushrooms, hedgehogs are excellent for new mushroom hunters. They're straightforward to identify, don't have any toxic look-alikes, and are a choice edible! Above, they look like chanterelles or the common pinkish terrestrial polypore Albatrellus confluens. However, once you pick them, the differences are apparent. 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 are a slightly lighter shade of peach. Their flesh bruises somewhat darker after a short time, and they smell mildly sweet. Their flavor is similar to chanterelles but a little more peppery and savory!
When collecting hedgehogs, you'll want to slow down and spend some extra time with them. They're fragile and can easily break apart if you aren't careful. If you're a mushroom hunter who likes to use a basket, this would be a great time! I usually carefully slice these are the soil level and lightly brush away any debris remaining on the stems and caps. You won't get any dirt out of the teeth without damaging the mushrooms, so take a little extra time to get them 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. You'll inevitably 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 mushrooms. I would happily trade a few pounds of porcini buttons for a pound of hedgehogs if given a chance! Unfortunately, I don't find enough of these to warrant much culinary experimenting. I usually sauté them in butter with a bit of garlic or shallot and serve them with some wild game. They would go great in any recipe where you might use chanterelles! Hedgehogs are also delicious when used in soups and stews. I recently made this Thanksgiving stew with elk and wild mushrooms, including hedgehogs! If you get lucky enough to find a large patch, you can preserve them by dehydrating, dry-sautéing and freezing, or pickling them. I think they would also be amazing using this recipe from Hank Shaw if you ever found enough to make it worth the effort!