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Puffball Mushrooms: Edibility, Benefits, and Uses

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The term “puffball” can refer to several different mushroom species that belong to a group known as Gasteromycetes, meaning “stomach fungi.”

This name stems from their unique habit of forming spores inside their fruiting bodies rather than having gills or pores. When these ball-shaped mushrooms ripen, they break open to release a puff of spores, hence the name “puffballs.”

Read on for our guide to these strange fungi, including where they grow and how to identify them. We will also discuss edibility and how to avoid poisonous look-alikes.

Puffball Species

The best-known puffballs are Lycoperdon perlatum (common puffball) and Calvatia gigantea (giant puffball). Several other closely related mushrooms are also classed as puffballs, including those in the genera Bovista.


These mushrooms share many physical characteristics, tending to be white or off-white in color and ball-like in shape. However, their most distinctive feature is the puffs of brown spores they release when they mature.

Here’s how to identify the different types of puffballs and distinguish them from one another and their look-alikes.

Lycoperdon Species

The best-known Lycoperdon species is L. perlatum, the common puffball (also known as the gem-studded puffball, the warted puffball, or the devil’s snuff box).

Another common member of the Lycoperdon family is L. pyriforme, also known as the pear-shaped puffball or stump puffball.

These mushrooms are round with a short stem and are covered in small bumps or spines. As they mature, the mushrooms release their spores through an opening at the top of their fruiting body when touched.

Calvatia Species

С. gigantea (the giant puffball) is the most recognizable Calvatia species, although there are several others.

They are famous for their impressive size, sometimes growing as large as a watermelon. This means that the fruiting bodies can be spotted from afar, and they are a favorite among foragers.

These mushrooms have a smooth, white surface and can be either round or football-shaped. It is rare to find these mushrooms completely intact as they are a prized edible among wildlife as well as humans.

As they mature, the mushrooms become darker, sometimes turning olive-brown. Eventually, they crack open, releasing a cloud of spores into the air.

Bovista Species

Bovista species are commonly known as true puffballs or tumbling puffballs. They are attached to the earth by a thin strand of mycelium and break away when mature, blowing across the ground with the wind to disperse their spores far and wide.

There are many different Bovista mushrooms. Some are white and look like mini giant puffballs, while others are gray or brown. These fungi can develop a mottled or cracked surface as they age before cracking open to release their spores.

It is essential to know the difference between these mushrooms and their poisonous look-alike Scleroderma bovista, also known as the potato earthball. We will discuss how to identify puffballs in the following section.

Puffball Mushroom Identification

There are several puffball mushroom poisonous look-alikes, so it is essential to exercise caution when foraging. The best way to confirm a puffball’s identity is to cut it in half from top to bottom.

If the mushroom has thin skin and a solid white center, it is most likely a young puffball. If it has thin skin and a brown center, it could be an older puffball with mature spores. These are not good to eat.

If the mushroom looks like a puffball but has thick skin and a dark center, it is probably an earthball. And if it has a faint mushroom-shaped outline inside, it is likely an undeveloped Amanita mushroom. These puffball look-alikes can be deadly poisonous and should not be consumed.

When harvesting puffballs, it is crucial to check every single mushroom in this way before cooking them. Similar-looking mushrooms of different species can grow side by side, increasing the risk of misidentification.

It is also essential to avoid breathing in the spores from older fruiting bodies, as inhaling them can be harmful.

Where Do Puffball Mushrooms Grow?

Puffball mushrooms grow in various places, with their ideal habitat depending on the type.

Common and pear-shaped puffballs tend to grow in woodland, either on the ground or on logs or tree stumps.


Giant and tumbling puffballs tend to prefer open areas, such as grassland or the edges of forests. They may also appear in parks, gardens, or even alongside roads.

However, you should avoid harvesting puffballs from urban areas as they may be contaminated with pesticides, traffic fumes, or other harmful chemicals.

Are Puffballs Edible?

Puffball mushrooms are edible, but only when they are young. As puffballs mature and fill with spores, they become unpleasant to eat. Only consume specimens that are young and solid white all the way through.

They have a mild flavor and pleasant texture, making them suitable for a variety of dishes. The easiest way to prepare them is to slice them into evenly sized pieces and fry them in butter with some garlic and herbs. Giant puffball slices can also be battered or dipped in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, then deep-fried for a delicious mushroom-based alternative to fried chicken.

Because of their generous size, giant puffballs can provide a substantial meal for several people. However, they do not store well and should be consumed as soon as possible after harvesting. If you have more mushrooms than you can manage, consider making a large batch of mushroom soup and freezing the extra portions.

Puffball Mushroom Health Benefits

Puffballs are very nutritious and contain a range of essential and non-essential amino acids. In addition to this, there are many other potential health benefits to eating puffball mushrooms.

It seems that several species could have therapeutic applications, although most of the current evidence relates to C. gigantea. For example, research has demonstrated that these mushrooms may have anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic effects.

The Lakota Native American tribe used these mushrooms' spores to pack wounds. They reportedly stopped bleeding, promoted blood clotting, and prevented infections. Giant puffballs have also been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat coughs and loss of voice, although there is currently no clinical evidence supporting these uses.

Several other puffball species may also have beneficial properties. An arctic Lycoperdon species, L. molle, has antioxidant activity, while L. radicatum (also known as Bovistella radicata) appears to have antifungal effects.

Further study is necessary to understand precisely how these mushrooms benefit health. We hope to see more evidence emerging soon!

Final Thoughts on Puffball Mushrooms

Puffballs is a blanket term used to describe members of the Lycoperdon, Calvatia, and Bovista mushroom families. They share several key features, including their ball-like appearance and the puffs of spores they release when mature.

Young puffballs are edible, tasty, and nutritious. However, they have deadly poisonous look-alikes, so foragers must take extreme care. If in any doubt about a mushroom’s identity, do not consume it. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

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Published on: February 26, 2024
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