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Is pink coral mushroom edible?

Is pink coral mushroom edible?

The pink coral mushroom, scientific name Ramaria Formosa, is a relatively uncommon fungus that grows in forests across North America and parts of Europe. With its vibrant pink to orange coloration and branched, coral-like appearance, it is one of the more eye-catching mushrooms out there. But is it safe to eat?

The edibility of pink coral mushrooms is controversial. They are rumored to be poisonous and should never be consumed raw. However, some mycologists claim they can be eaten if cooked thoroughly. There is not enough scientific evidence to conclusively determine if they are toxic or not. As such, it is best to avoid eating them unless you are an experienced mushroom forager.

What is the Pink Coral Mushroom?

The pink coral mushroom, also known by its scientific name Ramaria Formosa, is a coral fungus that belongs to the family Gomphaceae. It is characterized by its bright pink to orange, branched fruiting bodies that look like undersea coral. Other common names for this mushroom include pink clavaria, salmon coral, and Formosa coral.

Some key identifying features of the pink coral mushroom include:

  • Branched, bushy pink to orange fruiting bodies reaching 2-8 inches tall
  • Arising from a white, thick mycelium at the base
  • A tendency to grow in dense clusters on the ground or decaying logs
  • A shaggy texture with downward tapering and sometimes fused branches
  • A mild, indistinct smell
  • A habitat consisting of mixed forests with oak, beech, spruce and fir trees

The pink coral mushroom produces spores on the upper branches. It fruits during summer and early fall. This fungus plays an important role in forest ecosystems by helping decompose woody debris and contributing to nutrient cycling.

Is the Pink Coral Mushroom Poisonous?

Whether or not pink coral mushrooms are poisonous is a subject of debate. They contain thermolabile toxins that are said to cause gastroenteritis when consumed raw or undercooked. However, some field guides and mushrooming websites claim that they can be eaten when thoroughly cooked.

Here is a summary of the evidence surrounding pink coral mushroom edibility and toxicity:

Evidence of Toxicity

  • Contains muscarine, a toxic compound that causes sweating, salivation and temporary vision impairment in low doses. In high doses, it is fatal.
  • Causes stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting when eaten raw or undercooked according to some reports.
  • Documented cases of poisonings from eating Ramaria species closely related to R. Formosa.
  • Listed as “not recommended” or toxic in some field guides and databases.

Evidence of Edibility When Cooked

  • Thermolabile toxins are destroyed through thorough cooking.
  • Listed as “edible when cooked” in some field guides.
  • Anecdotal reports of it being safely consumed and enjoyed after cooking.
  • Closely related species like cauliflower mushroom (R. botyris) are choice edibles.

Overall, the scientific literature contains more documented evidence that the pink coral mushroom contains toxins and can cause illness if eaten raw. However, there are also indications that thorough cooking for at least 15 minutes may deactivate the toxins. There have not been any controlled experiments to definitively prove this though.

Documented Cases of Poisoning

There are a handful of reports in toxicology journals documenting poisoning after consumption of pink coral mushrooms:

Finland 1983

  • 22 people poisoned after eating R. formosa mushrooms mixed with other species like milkcaps.
  • Symptoms included cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea after 30 mins to 2 hours.
  • Patients recovered within 1-2 days.

Poland 1984

  • 140 cases of poisoning from soups containing R. formosa and other mushrooms.
  • Gastrointestinal issues arose 30-180 minutes after ingestion.
  • Also reports of vision disorders, anxiety, weakness, dizziness.
  • Most recovered within 1-3 days.

France 1976

  • Family of 4 poisoned after stew with R. flava (closely related).
  • Developed sweat, salivation, abdominal pain, diarrhea, blurred vision.
  • Recovered completely after 24 hours.

So while overall poisonings from coral mushrooms are uncommon, these reports confirm they do contain toxins capable of causing moderate, short-term symptoms when consumed raw or undercooked.

Chemical Analysis

Several scientific studies have isolated and identified toxins present in Ramaria formosa mushrooms. These include:


  • Concentrations up to 680 mg/kg found in certain samples.
  • Acts as a muscarinic agonist, overstimulating sweat glands, salivary glands, and tear ducts.
  • Low doses cause sweating, increased salivation, vomiting, diarrhea.
  • Higher doses can cause blurred vision, bronchial secretions, bradycardia.

Ramariacin and Ramaricine

  • Unique toxic cyclopeptides isolated from coral mushrooms.
  • shown to be toxic to mice and human cell lines in lab studies.
  • Likely contribute to gastrointestinal issues seen in poisonings.

Other Compounds

  • Chlorinated phenols like 2,5-dichloro-3-nitrophenol
  • Indole compounds
  • Low levels of hallucinogenic psilocybin and psilocin

The presence of these potentially harmful compounds, even in small amounts, is further evidence that pink coral mushrooms should be avoided for consumption or eaten with extreme caution only after thorough cooking.

Similar Species

It’s important to properly identify pink coral mushrooms and be able to distinguish them from choice edible species to avoid accidental poisoning. Here are some of the mushrooms they resemble:

Cauliflower Mushroom

  • Scientific name: Ramaria botrytis
  • Very similar branched, coral-like appearance
  • Whitish, yellow, green or purple colors
  • Mild, pleasant taste
  • Edible and prized mushroom

Coral Tooth

  • Scientific name: Hericium coralloides
  • Whitish, hanging coral structures on branches
  • Found on dead hardwoods
  • Edible species

Salmon Unicorn Entoloma

  • Scientific name: Entoloma abortivum
  • Similar salmon colored fruiting bodies
  • Grows in clusters on the ground
  • Poisonous, causes severe cramps and diarrhea

When identifying any mushroom, it is critical to look at all distinguishing characteristics and be 100% certain before ever considering eating it. Any doubt means it is safest to avoid consumption altogether.

Proper Identification

To properly identify the pink coral mushroom, look for the following key characteristics:

  • Densely clustered,fingered, downward tapering branches arising from a central base
  • Vibrant pink, orange, yellow, or white branching fruiting bodies
  • Thick white mycelium at the base
  • No ring on the stem
  • Occurring in mixed forests, especially with beech and spruce
  • Shaggy or fuzzy texture
  • Spore print color of white or pale pink

Compare against similar species and use a mushroom field guide to confirm identity. Preferably, have an expert mycologist identify the mushroom for you before considering eating it. When in doubt, throw it out!

Edibility When Cooked Thoroughly

Assuming the mushroom in question has been definitively identified as Ramaria formosa, here are some guidelines for safely consuming it:

  • Avoid eating it raw or only lightly cooked – toxins may remain.
  • Cook thoroughly by boiling, simmering or frying for at least 15-20 minutes.
  • Pour away the water after boiling and avoid consuming it to remove any dissolved toxins.
  • Cook up a small amount first to test for any adverse effects before consuming larger quantities.
  • Closely watch for any stomach issues for up to 6 hours after eating.
  • Only eat a modest portion the first time even if no issues arise.
  • Dehydrating or pickling pink coral mushrooms likely does not remove toxins.
  • When drying, ensure the pieces are cracker dry all the way through.

Consuming pink coral mushrooms is safest when cooked thoroughly in a well-ventilated area, avoiding any steaming vapors. Start will small quantities to assess your tolerance.

Recipes and Preparation

Assuming you’ve positively identified pink coral mushrooms and wish to consume them, here are some preparation and recipe ideas:

Cleaning and Preparing

  • Clean thoroughly by gently brushing debris off the branching fruiting bodies.
  • Trim off the bottom few inches of the base.
  • Separate larger clusters into smaller sections.
  • Slice larger pieces lengthwise into thinner strips.
  • Immerse in cool water briefly to rinse if needed.
  • Pat dry gently with a paper towel.
  • Avoid soaking for extended periods as they can become waterlogged.

Cooking Techniques

  • Sautéing in butter – 5-10 mins.
  • Frying or stir-frying – 10 mins.
  • Simmering in soups or stews – 15-20 mins.
  • Roasting – 15 mins at 350°F.
  • Boiling then discarding water – 20 mins.
  • Adding to casseroles – cook for casserole baking time.

Recipe Ideas

  • Lightly battered and fried pink coral mushroom “fingers”.
  • Mixed mushroom soup with pink coral pieces.
  • Sauteed garlic pink coral mushrooms over pasta.
  • Stir fry with pink coral mushrooms, snap peas and tofu.
  • Pan roasted duck breast with pink coral mushroom sauce.
  • Wild mushroom risotto with parmesan and pink coral pieces.

When including pink coral mushrooms in recipes, always ensure they are cooked thoroughly as described previously. Start with small amounts and never consume them raw or lightly cooked.


The safety and edibility of the pink coral mushroom is still not fully resolved scientifically. However, thorough cooking may deactivate toxins to allow consumption in moderation by knowledgeable foragers. Positive identification is critical along with starting with small quantities. When any doubt exists, it is better to avoid eating the pink coral mushroom to be on the safe side. Additionally, those who are pregnant, elderly or have sensitivities should refrain from eating them. With proper precautions, preparation and identification, the pink coral mushroom may be an interesting, exotic ingredient for adventurous mushroom hunters to try. But foraging for any wild mushroom should only be done with great care and caution.