Mushroom Bitters


Ellen Zachos: Turkey Tail mushroom, Trametes versicolor, is very plentiful in the New York area and in lots of places [including Bridgend Woods, Islay! Ed. See wiki for more info about how to ID it.]

It’s used sometimes for broths, although I don’t really find it to be that flavourful in a good way… And it’s way too tough to eat. But it is bitter, especially with an alcohol extraction, so I use that.  

To get the best out of it, I do alcohol extraction first, and after two weeks start tasting it to see what the flavour is like;  then when it gets to be bitter enough, probably around three weeks, I strain off the solids and measure the liquid, do a decoction and then combine the two pieces. So the mushroom is used twice, thank you very much, before its thrown away. These bitters taste like a walk in the woods: earthy, complex, and gently bitter.


ellen zachos foraging in winter

Recipe for Mushroom Bitters

8 fluid ounces Everclear 151
1 ounce dried turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor)
1/2 ounce dried spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin)
1/2 ounce dried elderberries (Sambucus canadensis, S. nigra, S. caerulea, S. mexicana)

Pour eight ounces of neutral grain spirit (or vodka) into a 2-pint jar with a tight fitting lid. Chop the dried turkey tail mushrooms to expose as much surface area as possible, and add them to the liquid. Place the dried spicebush berries and dried elderberries in a spice grinder and give them a few pulses. You’re not trying to create a powder, you just want to break up the berries a little. Add them to the liquid, close the jar, and swirl everything around.

Place the jar somewhere out of direct sun and shake it every day, if you remember. After a week, taste the liquid. If the flavor isn’t strong enough, let it sit for another week and taste again. You won’t need to let the bitters infuse for more than three weeks total.

When you’re happy with the strength of flavour, strain off the solids and transfer them to a saucepan. Measure the infused spirit and set it aside, covered. You won’t need it again until the next day.

Measure out twice as much water as you have alcohol, and add that to the saucepan with the solids. Add one teaspoon of sugar for every four ounces of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Whisk to dissolve the sugar, then reduce the heat and let the liquid simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered. Remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and let it sit overnight. The next day, strain the liquid, and combine it with equal parts infused alcohol to reach an ABV of 37.5%.

Homemade Bitters – Notes

  • Store your bitters in amber or blue dropper bottles, to slow oxidation.
  • You’ll probably want to use a few more drops of these than you would use of a commercial bitters like Angostura or Peychauds.
  • Turkey tail mushrooms are a mild bitter ingredient with an earthy flavor. Other edible mushrooms can also be used in bitters, but most are less bitter than turkey tails. [see this recipe for porcini tincture >> for a more umami mushroom experience]

See Ellen’s general guide to making bitters here > 

See also Ellen’s blog ‘backyard forager’.com >


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