The Common Grocery Store Mushroom: Local, Delicious and Accessible

Known as the button mushroom, white mushroom, common mushroom, or simply “mushroom”, because it is so widespread, Agaricus bisporus is not only delicious in your recipes, but it is also a great ecological ally. It grows naturally in the deciduous and coniferous forests of Europe, Asia and North America, but if you want to grow it in your garden… Good luck! The best way to get it is at the grocery store or the market.

However, be warned: the truth might make you see this “vegetable” in a new light…!

The Short History of the Button Mushroom

The origin of this mushroom would be in Egypt. Its portrait was found drawn on frescoes in the tombs of pharaohs whose origin dates back to 1450 BC.

Several images from ancient Egypt show mushrooms. It even looks like it’s an offering here, and that they are growing them! However, since my history degree is not that advanced, it remains my personal interpretation…

Then, it’s the Romans who adopted the mushroom. They were great colonizers who, despite conquests and political intrigues, did a lot for Europe. Their travels opened up opportunities for the exchange of goods and knowledge between different nations. Taking the best from each place, it’s certain that the Roman Empire was often portrayed as an invader, and its population as spoiled children, but perhaps the button mushroom would never have left Egypt without them.

Versailles, 17th century

Louis XIV’s gardener introduced the mushroom to the king’s table. What a discovery! However, the success of its cultivation in the gardens was limited. Mushroom beds were set up in the south of Paris, and the reign of the mushroom began. With the arrival of the subway in the capital, the cultures are moved to the Pays de la Loire at the end of the 19th century, where these famous mushrooms are still produced.

Let’s get back to our mushrooms: There are different varieties of button mushrooms, each with a different taste and texture. Today, it is grown in greenhouses or cellars with controlled temperature, humidity and light to get the best possible yield. China is currently the largest producer, with 70% of the world’s production, however, dozens of countries produce this popular mushroom; it is generally a good choice for eating local produce, no matter where you are!

Its Profound Nature

I hope you’ve had fun reading this so far, because now is the time to question everything. I may be destroying some of the education that your parents or teachers have so ably given you. Your life may change when you read the next words, so be warned…

The mushroom is not a vegetable.


It is a fruit, like the tomato?

No, the mushroom is not a fruit.

But what kind of plant is it?

It is not a plant.

TAN TAN TAN! (Fortunately, the 6th symphony is free, Beethoven would not be proud of my cover!)

The mushroom is… a mushroom. In the great tree of life, where every species has its place, the world of mushrooms stands apart. Based on thousands of studies, this tree is the supreme truth of all things… And when we consult the great book of life, we see that mushrooms… are mushrooms.

Okay, I’m rambling a bit, but to keep it simple, here is an image of the first branches of this tree of life.

Don’t worry, no need to speak Latin, it’s just an image to help you visualize how life is divided.

All this to come to the fact that mushrooms do not have seeds like plants, do not have the same needs, nor the same way of life.

An individual mushroom looks like a white net under the ground (called mycelium). The “mushroom” that we eat is the result of a meeting between two individuals: it is the reproductive appendage that results from their union… And I’ll stop here before falling into jokes that are inappropriate for this blog!

But Let’s Say I Want to Grow Some?

Well, give it a try! But don’t expect it to grow like a plant: it’s not. The spores (the powder that falls from the lamellae under the cap of the mushroom) are not seeds. I have never grown mushrooms, but I see more and more packages of mycelium being passed around to grow mushrooms at home. Try it, I hear it’s easy, fun, and the yield is still good!

Find a kit producer near you to encourage local. There are many: it’s all the rage! Photo:

It is also possible that agarics (Agaricus bisporus or others of the same genus as the button mushroom) appear spontaneously in your flower beds. Be very, very, very careful: you must be able to identify the mushroom with total certainty before eating it.

Also, I do not recommend it if you treat your lawn, or if you use pesticides, fertilizers or other unnatural products. Mushrooms absorb and store chemicals, and the concentration can become risky when consumed. So don’t risk it for a few mushrooms… it’s not worth poisoning yourself, it’s a few dollars a pack at the grocery store.

Photo: Emma Jones.

By the way, if you come across one in your home, count yourself lucky, because the white mushroom is a great saprophyte. A what? A composter! It feeds on decaying organic matter to recycle nutrients into the soil and keep it rich!

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

2 comments on “The Common Grocery Store Mushroom: Local, Delicious and Accessible

  1. I am A Wine Cap man. Good article.

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