Button mushrooms


Last night I feasted on button mushrooms, as I often do. Even my dogs love them. Suddenly I had a sharp memory of playing a game with my great-grandmother called ‘Button, button, who has the button?’ when I was three years old. Such a perfect title for this article on mushrooms!

I have had an intuitive sense that most mushrooms have similar medicinal values because they are all part of the underground fungal network, even if they are grown on trees, in grasslands, or in deserts. I decided to do a little research on the common button mushroom to support or refute my intuition.

As I suspected, button mushrooms do have most of the health benefits of those harvested in the wild. There are some differences, but overall, they are minimal. If you are looking for a particular supplement, it’s sensible to do your own research to find the mushroom you think has more of the benefits you need.

Agaricus biporus is one of the fungal kingdom’s edible mushrooms that can be harvested at different stages of growth. When the fruiting fungi are young, we call these mushrooms buttons. At the midpoint, they become tannish cremini. At maturity, the button becomes a portobello. All stages have the same medicinal/nutritional benefits. These fungi are grown on a composted substrate that is traditionally made from wheat, straw, poultry manure, and/or gypsum. Of course, these substrates are attached to mycorrhizal mycelial networks underground.

My buttons thrive on compost heaps which are a blend of straw, and many other plant leftovers. They also grow on the sides of my dirt road! In my compost, I don’t use any aged manure, but that’s because I don’t happen to have any. Button mushrooms efficiently break down organic matter as all good saprophytes do.


Unlike some people, I have no problem using any kind of manure as part of my substrate, because during composting microorganisms break down the matter producing a fiber-rich, carbon-containing humus with inorganic nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Scattering my compost is a new experiment I am presently engaging in, so I never know who is going to appear where.

According to mycologist Merlin Sheldrake, less than 5% of fruiting fungi have been studied and almost nothing is known of the underlying mycelial networks that support the (roughly) 20,000 mushrooms that appear above ground. Yet some mushroom species are already on the IUCN Red List.

One of the ways mushroom spores function is to support forest ecology by rising into the atmosphere. Once there, spores bind with water molecules to create rain (Merlin Sheldrake). According to “The New Scientist”, mushroom spores are also full of DNA that bind, re-combine, and mutate to produce genetic material that is diverse and adapted for changing climates.

Other than these examples, little is known about how mushrooms affect the ecology of the forests, grasslands, or deserts they grow in. In arid areas, most live underground.

With 33 million people in the US and the loss of a staggering number of forests, it seems prudent to forage in the wild with care. Please do not take more fungi than you need, and allow some spores to seed woods and sky. Many small animals and insects love mushrooms, so I am assuming that removing too many fungi might also be a problem for wildlife.

Most wild mushrooms including Oyster, Turkey Tail, Reishi, Shitake, Lions Mane, and others can be grown quite easily. Many companies offer mushroom spawn and substrates for home growing as an alternative to foraging in the wild. Watching mushrooms develop is not only fun but also educational. The first pearl white oysters I grew a bunch of years ago were so astonishing that I chopped and sauteed them reluctantly.


I’ve grown other mushrooms including Lions Mane, a particularly beautiful mushroom that looks to me like a frozen waterfall. I am never disappointed by the edible results. In the forest, I do not forage, focusing instead on photographing and trying to understand what the relationships might be between the fungi and the kind of forest that they grow in. At home, I eat some button mushrooms but leave many for creatures to feast upon.

Until recently serious research hadn’t been done on Agaricus b. because the fungal fruits were so “common”. Yet I came across a surprising array of articles that discussed the similarity of the substances in button mushrooms to other wild-fruiting fungi.

Scientists at Penn State recently identified a new compound in button mushrooms that probably benefits gut health in ways we didn’t know about. Mushrooms as a group, including buttons, aid in digestive health as a prebiotic. Prebiotics and postbiotics are less well-known but equally important for gastrointestinal and systemic health.

Like wild fungi, button mushrooms contain several different anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that may help improve heart health. They are an important supplement for anyone who suffers from heart disease, one reason that I am delighted that my dogs love them. My Lucy has an enlarged heart and both have heart murmurs.

Button mushrooms boost immune systems naturally. They also have anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties. Buttons also have other nutrients that benefit anyone who eats them. A breakdown of these fungi reveals that in a one-cup serving, Agaricus bisporus contains just as much potassium as a banana and can deliver between up to 30 percent of the daily recommended intake of B 1 & 2 vitamins that are essential for human health.

Regular consumption of white button mushrooms may even improve mood by regulating hormones that also keep the brain healthy. White button mushrooms are also rich in both vitamin C and selenium, so they contribute to immune function. These mushrooms are one of the only plant foods that contain a natural source of vitamin D.


Perhaps one of the surprising health benefits of button mushrooms is that they are a good source of plant protein. About one and a half cups of button mushrooms equals eating one egg. Recent studies have found that button mushrooms are particularly high in glutathione, an important antioxidant that helps combat free radicals. Free radicals attack important macromolecules, leading to cell damage and homeostatic disruption.

Other studies suggest that button mushrooms can improve immune function by increasing the production of antiviral proteins. Another benefit is that flavonoid compounds found in button mushrooms have the potential to act as both antioxidants and pro-oxidants. Cells have a natural life and death cycle. We are constantly getting rid of old cells and creating new ones simultaneously. When cells refuse to die, they typically become cancer and tumor cells.

The flavonoids work in two ways: when they are antioxidants, they help improve healthy cell survival, and when they act as pro-oxidants, they help encourage apoptosis, which is the natural cell death that helps prevent tumor growth.

All nine amino acids are found in button mushrooms. Although this is hardly a comprehensive list of Agaricus’s virtues, it gives the reader a chance to reconsider wild foraging until we know more about forest ecology. And for those of you who are gardeners, why not grow buttons on one of your compost heaps?

There are also many places online to procure substrates to grow most wild mushrooms. The main threats to wild mushroom foraging are loss of habitat, water, air, and soil pollution. All can create toxic conditions for collecting that are not obvious even to experienced foragers. Fungi are adapted to specific geographic locations, as anyone who spends time in the woods already knows. Change that ecology and the mushrooms are gone. Many thrive on specific trees, animals, or soil.

If the hosts go extinct, the fungi go extinct too. Of course, a wildly erratic warming climate is another primal threat with droughts discouraging fruiting. Extended periods of rain and wet weather create a feast for fungal plant pathogens since the latter is dependent upon moisture for spore dispersal and plant infection.

I’ll end this essay by reminding folks that harvesting wild fungi for food and commercial use is a major factor affecting species’ survival. Please, let’s give the mycologists a chance to study mushrooms in the wild before we strip these places bare.

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