Trooping Funnel: impressive and tasty

The Trooping Funnel is an edible as aptly named for its physical characteristics as it is for its pageantry — this is a mushroom that likes to put on a show. Fortunately for foragers, it’s also a performer on the plate

The Trooping Funnel is a substantial mushroom with a very good flavour
The Trooping Funnel is a substantial mushroom with a very good flavour

The impressive Trooping Funnel (Infundibulicybe geotropa), aka Monk’s Head and Rickstone Funnel, can be found in rings as well as troops (lines). In fact, this fungus forms the world’s largest-known fairy ring, in Belmont, eastern France. The extensive network of mycelia was first described in 1982, and measures almost half-a-mile across, with an estimated age of 800 years (Gregory, 1982).


If its tendency to form these striking circles and troops wasn’t impressive enough, this is a mushroom that can also reach an exceptional size. Its tall, fibrous stems are able to achieve heights of up to 25cm, a similar measurement to its maximum cap diameter. While this may not make it the world’s biggest fungus (that accolade would certainly go to Oregon’s 2,384-acre honey fungus, the largest organism on the planet) it does make it one of the tallest, stemmed specimens to be found in Europe.

Trooping Funnel forms large rings or troops
Trooping Funnel forms large rings or troops

The Trooping Funnel’s original scientific name, Clitocybe geotropa, described its pronounced funnel shape: Clitocybe means sloping head, while geoptropa is a biological term which usually refers to the tendency of plants to grow upwards against the force of gravity (negative geotropism). Other distinguishing characteristics of this mushroom include its preference for leaf litter and open areas — it grows in clearings, in parkland, on roadsides and near hedgerows, as well as in deciduous woodland — and its unusual ability to endure mild frosts.


While in many languages it is known as Monk’s Head (including the French “Tête de Moine” and Spanish “Cabeza de Fraile”), in the Basque region, where it is a popular edible, its ability to survive late into the season has led to it being known as “Negu Ziza Zuria” — the Winter White Fungus. In the Catalan region, where it can regularly be spotted for sale in markets, its statuesque appearance has earned it the moniker “Candela de Bruc” — the Heather Candle. In both these regions it is a valued edible for its firm and tasty flesh and pleasant aroma (Gastronomiavasca.net, nd).


The cap of the Trooping Funnel can reach up to 25cm in large specimens
The cap can reach up to 25cm in large specimens

When young and fresh, this stately fungus works well served straight: fried up in butter. Older specimens make a great addition to soups and stews. While some prefer to avoid the stem, which is fibrous, it can be useful for flavouring stocks, sliced into small discs.


Alongside its culinary applications, the Trooping Funnel is another fungus that has been found to have impressive anti-bacterial properties. Research into curbing the impact of Ralstonea solanacearum — a bacteria that causes wilt in tomato and potato plants and currently has no effective treatment — looked at the effect of mushroom protein extracts from 94 species of fungi. Trooping Funnel was one of the two most highly-effective mushrooms, and was able to achieve complete in vitro inhibition (Erjavec et al, 2016).

Trooping funnel can be found in areas with leaf litter, including hedgerows
Not an uncommon find near hedgerows

In terms of potential health benefits, it is another fungus found to be high in antioxidant phenolic compounds (Sánchez, 2017). These are thought to act as biological systems, acting as free radical inhibitors, peroxide decomposers, metal inactivators or oxygen scavengers. Extracts of Clitocybe geotropa were found to have relatively strong neuroprotective, antioxidative, antimicrobial and moderate cytotoxic activity (Kosanić et al, 2020).


More good news is that Trooping Funnel is considered a suitable mushroom for novice foragers to hunt. Although it does have some poisonous near-lookalikes, some of its distinctive characteristics can be a reassurance. It shares some resemblance to the potentially deadly Fool’s Funnel Clitocybe rivulosa/Clitocybe dealbata but these mushrooms do not reach the same size. Picking specimens with cap sizes above 15cm and stems larger than 20cm should rule them out. There is also a some resemblance to older specimens of the larger Livid Pinkgill (Entoloma sinuatum), and gill colour and attachment are the distinguishing features here. Our foraging guide for it can be found here.


References


Erjavec, J., Ravnikar, M., Brzin, J., Grebenc, T., Blejec, A., Gosak, M. Ž., … Dreo, T. (2016). Antibacterial Activity of Wild Mushroom Extracts on Bacterial Wilt Pathogen Ralstonia solanacearum. Plant Disease, 100(2), 453–464.


Gastronomia Vasca. (n.d.). Clitocybe geotropa


Gregory, P. H. (1982). Fairy rings; free and tethered. Bulletin of the British Mycological Society, 16(2), 161–163.


Kosanić, M., Petrović, N., & Stanojković, T. (2020). Bioactive properties of Clitocybe geotropa and Clitocybe nebularis. Journal of Food Measurement and Characterization, 14(2), 1046–1053.


Sánchez, C. (2017). Reactive oxygen species and antioxidant properties from mushrooms. Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology, 2(1), 13–22.