If you spend a significant amount of time on the social media platform TikTok, you may have come across videos tagged #puffball or #puffballmushroom. These giant mushrooms have taken the social media world by storm, especially among those who forage.
Their scientific name is Calvatia gigantea, and they have become quite the novelty among foragers, home cooks and chefs in the United States. While these mushrooms are commonplace in woodsy areas, their cartoon-like appearance often leave people scratching their heads.
Calvatia gigantea, as its common name suggests, can grow up to 80cm in diameter and a few kilograms in weight. Specimens as large as 150cm and as heavy as 23kg have been documented.
Puffballs are rather frequently found and easily recognised because of their huge, white, blobby shape. But they can be mistaken for a football from a distance.
The scientific word Calvatia gigantea is made up of two words: “Calvatia”, which means bald head or skull, and “gigantea”, which refers to its capacity to grow to enormous proportions. And it can grow to its full size in less than a week!
Who saw it first?
A man called August Johann Georg Karl Batsch first described the puffball in 1786 and called it Lycoperdon giganteum. Then Curtis Gates Lloyd renamed it and gave it its current name in 1904.
Because of a taxonomic issue (a problem with its scientific classification), which requires proper DNA study to resolve, Langermannia gigantea is a synonym for Calvatia gigantea. The names can thus be used interchangeably.
What to do with it
Some foodies say the puffball is quite versatile in the kitchen, and use it as a substitute for tofu or noodles, or slice it and deep-fry them.
It can also be taken as an aid to prevent nose bleeds and skin disorders.
Strips of the mushroom were also used to transfer fire between different areas, before the use of matches became standard.
Beekeepers would also burn the mushroom to quiet the bees and avoid being stung, and although it was assumed back then that the mushroom acted as a sedative, this could be more connected to the smoke.
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