[a medicinal cooking blog: using food as medicine to treat whatever may ail you]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Puffball, the Mushroom

I would like to introduce to you the wild puffball mushroom featured in the picture above. It can grow to be the size of a massive pumpkin or it can be a soccer ball like the one you see here. I had no idea I'd be meeting this mushroom in the farmers market today and when I did I was pretty much in love, I mean a massive spongy white cute thing with a name such as puffball? Who wouldn't want to take it home! Alas, today I didn't take puffball home because you need to cook these within a day or two of picking but I will be going back on Saturday to buy one and make a lovely mushroom soup with it.

Native Americans would dry puffballs and use them to staunch wounds. From the Chinese medicinal cooking perspective, mushrooms (all types) have a wide and incredible healing capacity. They are cool and sweet in nature; decrease lipid (fat) levels in the blood; treat liver disorders (hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver cancer, or general liver toxicity); treat excess phlegm (in cases of congestion in the lungs); increase immunity (some are stronger than others, the ling zhi variety fares best for this); help to reduce tumors; and promote appetite (again, think cancer and a decreased appetite here). The only time to be cautious with mushrooms is when you are extremely weak in which case you would not eat them daily, but on occasion it would be fine.

The puffball mushroom, specifically, is a TCM medicinal herb, referred to as ma bo. It clears heat, relieves toxicity, and targets the lungs in particular (therefore good for lung conditions such as sore throat, tonsillitis, and a cough with heat signs). According to TCM, the puffball also staunches bleeding, much like the Native American usage.

This is what I plan to do with my puffball (they tend to be similar to an eggplant in consistency):

*go easy on the cream if you are truly treating a cough with heat signs OR avoid cream entirely if there is phlegm in involved, this soup works sans cream as well.

1 large soccer ball puffball
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
chicken stock

1. Saute minced garlic and onions until caramelized then add puffball (chop into small squares or thin slices) and cook until tender. Add chicken stock and cream, bring to a boil and reduce a little. If you want it thicker you can add flour to the chicken stock before it goes into the soup OR you can add potatoes.
2. Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Serve with chive garnish if you wish.

If you want to hunt for these yourself (they cost $1/oz which gets pricey) here is a link to learn a bit about HOW, but be warned, mushroom foraging is dangerous if not done correctly or taken seriously.

Check out this picture of a man with the giant puffblall he found.

Here's a link on the BBC about a woman who discovered a gigantic puffball in Scotland.


Unknown said...

whoa!!! i wonder what it taste like and if there is a smell associated to it. do you know?

The Spice Doc said...

It doesn't smell like much and is similar to a white button mushroom in that sense, however the taste is earthy like a wild mushroom with the texture of an eggplant (it soaks up flavor & moisture). You should see if you can find them in Baltimore, October is the perfect season to go puffball hunting!

Anonymous said...

Cook until tender? Seriously? These things are as light as styrofoam with the texture of unsweetened marshmallow. They're tender before they even go in the pan. Cook them until they brown on the outside.

And please try to avoid all the Chinese 'alternative' medicine woo woo. All mushrooms are good for everything but woo woo is mostly good at relieving your wallet of small green pieces of paper.