Lactarius indigo – YAY!!!

Lactarius indigo, the blue milk mushroom

Highlight of the season, found in the Hudson Valley on September 28th. It’s Lactarius indigo, aka blue milk mushroom.

I’m spoiled. Simple fact. Being married to a whiz-bang mushroom hunter/expert mycologist, I get a lot of morels,  chanterelles  and porcini, to say nothing of sulfur shelf hen of the woods and other well-known wild delights. All are  deeply welcome, don’t get me wrong. But at this point in my mushroom career they aren’t thrillingly special.

Lactarius indigo, on the other hand, is an edible miracle so seldom found that when I run into them I just about fall on my knees and weep. It doesn’t seem fair that a single mushroom could be both mind-bendingly gorgeous and outstandingly delicious, but there you are. Life isn’t fair.

Like other edibles in the genus, L. indigo has a texture quite distinct from that of most other mushrooms: it’s crisp. Not crisp like a potato chip but crisp like a good apple. The flesh is dense enough to be toothsome, but it has none of the chewy quality that most “meaty” mushrooms have, and it never becomes flabby no matter how old it gets.

When raw, the blue milk mushroom is easy to break. Yet  in spite of its apparent fragility it’s really quite sturdy. It can be cooked right on the grill, for instance, with no fear it will fall apart. And I’m sure it could be deep fried, too, although I’ve never tried that.

In fact, I find them so seldom I’ve never done anything but cook them as simply as possible, either oil-brushed on the grill or  cut into more or less evenly thick slices, then slowly simmered in butter to extract maximum flavor. We eat them plain, too, usually straight out of the pan, though once or twice I’ve mixed them with pasta to stretch the nutty, slightly spicy flavor.

lactarius indigo, cooked and uncooked

Heat changes the color to turquoise from the original blue. Still pretty striking.

The color is realio trulio blue – not purple that’s pretending. It comes from a substance called Guaiazulene, which is in turn a component of an organic compound called, appropriately, Azulene.

L. indigo fades as it ages, frequently acquiring a bit of the green staining that also characterizes its opalescent orange relative, the not-too-accurately named L. deliciosa. In older specimens the milk is scant, though there is always enough to absolutely confirm the id.

lactarius indigo, the blue milk mushroom, young and old, gills and cap

The “baby” in the middle was probably older than its size suggests. The cap and gills around it are from a fully-grown almost-gone-by specimen.

mycologista's blue milk image

When Lactarius indigo is fresh, the milk looks like this.

The milk image above is used by permission from Mycologista (a nom-de-camera as well as nom-de-really-nifty-blog)

photo of L. indigo in the woods by Bill Bakaitis

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  • Elizabeth Field Said,

    These are just incredible! Had no idea that anything like this existed. Are they dead easy to identify?

    Hi there, Elizabeth –
    “Dead easy” may be an unfortunate description of ANY wild mushroom, but as far as I know this one is indeed unmistakable. There are a few other blue mushrooms, and quite a few that are almost blue, but L. indigo is the only one that has blue milk. As long as that distinctive juice is present I don’t think you can go wrong… Unless you have an individual intolerance, that is. Everything edible is off-limits for somebody (just think of all the people who can’t eat shrimp – or peanuts, for that matter). Given how little lactarii resemble anything commonly found on the dinner plate, it pays to just eat a little the first time or two, to be sure you’re ok with it. And if you find enough so that “a little” is only one of several options I am so jealous words can’t express it!

  • Susan Scheid Said,

    Even the photographs seem edible! We have these huge mushrooms (I’m sure poisonous) growing under one of our spruce trees. Hope you are enjoying the cooler weather and the beauty of fall coming on!

    Hi Sue – Do you mean you’re sure they’re poisonous because you looked ’em up, or is it just that “poisonous” is your default I.D.?
    The latter definitely a good idea. I use it even when I DO look them up, unless I’m beyond sure. Right now there are several traditionally “good edibles” that have recently been called into question, and even though some of the questioning strikes me as a tad far fetched I’m defaulting to don’t-do-it. On a no need for caution note – same to you on the weather and beauty!

  • Deb Said,

    These are just gorgeous. I’ve never seen blue mushrooms before. I just saw the a hen of the woods at a fair yesterday, so you can tell I’m no mushroom expert! Interesting that the blue mushroom’s texture is so different,

    Hi Deb – no expertise required for admiring; only needed if you want to eat ’em. Fortunately hen of the woods is an easy one to learn, and if you like the way they taste as much as we do, learning is certainly worth it!

  • Gerry McDonald Said,

    You summed it up perfectly Leslie. I first found these last year under a white pine near my house. I think they are one of the most beautiful mushrooms and I love the texture and flavor.


    Hi Gerry,

    Congrats on finding (and enjoying) L. Indigo. And thanks for telling me where you found ’em. I’ll be right up!!!

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