Fistulina hepatica: The Beefsteak Fungus Identification & More

The beefsteak fungus,  Fistulina hepatica (Schaeff.) With.

“The  Fistulina hepatica is that red mass growing on oaks and chestnuts, which is like a tongue in shape, smells like meat when broiled, and is almost as nutritious. It is in great abundance, and is called “the poor man’s fungus.” Abroad it is stewed for stock, when old; but when young, the flesh is excellent, either by itself or in made-dishes. When full-grown it is a “blackened misshapen mass, that looks like live, and that deeply stains the fingers with an unsightly red fluid”; but it spite of its want of beauty, this unsightly mass yields to none in esculent properties, and calls forth Dr. Badham‘s warmest eulogiums.” (From the article “Maligned agarics” in The National magazine, p. 24, 1858)

Wood infected by this fungus is highly valued by furniture makers, who refer to it as ‘brown oak’ due to the rich brown color it imparts to the heartwood. It is used for high-end furniture and architectural woodworking.

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Kingdom Fungi
Phylum Basidiomycota
Class Basidiomycetes
Order Agaricales
Family Fistulinaceae
Genus Fistulina

The separable tubes on the undersurface place this fungus in the family fistinulacea, rather than polyporaceae.


Agarico-carnis lingua-bovis Paulet, Traité Champ.
  Atlas 2: 98 (1793)
Boletus buglossum Retz.
  K. svenska Vetensk-Akad. Handl. 30: 253 (1769)
Boletus bulliardii J.F. Gmel.
  Systema Naturae 2: 1436 (1792)
Boletus hepaticus Schaeff.
  Fung. Bavar. Palat. 4: 82 (1774)
Fistulina buglossum (Retz.) Pers.
  Neues Mag. Bot. 1: 109 (1794)
Fistulina endoxantha Speg.
  Fungi Fuegiani 25: 87 (1921)
Fistulina hepatica var. endoxantha (Speg.) J.E. Wright
  Boln Soc. argent. Bot. 9: 225 (1961)
Fistulina sarcoides St.-Amans
  Fl. agen.: 547 (1821)
Hypodrys hepaticus (Schaeff.) Pers.
  Mycol. eur. (Erlanga) 2: 148 (1825)

Common names

Beefsteak mushroom
Vegetable beefsteak
Oak tongue
Ox tongue
Chestnut tongue
Langue de boeuf (French)
Lingua di castagna (Italian)


Cap: 5-15 cm diameter, very juicy, shape dimidiate to flabelliform; surface slightly convex to flat; color dark-red to reddish-brown, slightly sticky when moist, radiate-striate with age, surface papillose (somewhat resembling a tongue’s surface), margin entire to lobed; flesh 1.5-3 cm thick, soft, tough, streaked with dark- and light-reddish lines, in moist specimens exuding a red liquid when squeezed.
Tubes: easy to separate, not being bonded together; whitish when young, gradually turning red, 1-2.5 cm long.

The pore surface of Fistulina hepatica
The pore surface on the underside of the beefsteak fungus, up close.

Stem: sometimes absent (ie., sessile), if present, usually short and thick (2-5 cm long), attached to side of cap, concolorous with cap.
Spore print: pale rusty brown.
Spores: ellipsoid, smooth, yellowish, non-amyloid, hyaline, 4-5.5 x 3-4 µm.
Habitat: on decaying trunks and stumps of chestnut, oak, and certain other deciduous trees, often low on the trunk.
Taste: sour.
Odor: fruity.
Edibility: edible, although many sources note its sour taste. A quote by Morgan, from the 1883 Botanical Gazette seems fitting here:

“FISTULINA HEPATICA, Huds., might be found growing at the base of nearly every chestnut tree; the specimens were often perfectly magnificent. Dodham says “No fungus yields a richer gravy, and though rather tough, when grilled it is scarcely to be distinguished from broiled meat.” We, however, would express a decided preference for Mrs. Lewis’ broiled chicken.”


Fistulina hepatica
Another view of F. hepatica.

Bioactive compounds

Odor analysis

The volatile compounds from the fruiting bodies of Fistulina hepatica have been isolated and investigated using a variety of analytical techniques. A number of compounds have been identified as contributing to the overall flavor of this mushroom, including:

  • 1-octen-3-one
  • 1-octen-3-ol
  • linalool
  • phenylacetaldehyde
  • butanoic acid
  • an unidentified volatile compound with moldy odor
  • (E)-2-methyl-2-butenoic acid
  • (E)-methyl cinnamate
  • (Z)-9-hexadecenoic acid methyl ester
  • bisabolol oxide B
  • phenylacetic acid (Wu et al., 2005).

A later study by the same research group (Wu et al., 2007) revealed differences in the volatile compound profile depending on growth conditions. Surface cultures grown on oak wood powder produced 53 major volatile compounds, while liquid cultures grown in standard nutrition solution made 39 major volatile compounds; twenty compounds were common to both.


Polyacetylenes (compounds with multiple carbon-carbon triple bonds) have been detected in the liquid cultures and in the fruiting bodies of the beefsteak fungus. In liquid culture, the following compounds were identified (values in parentheses indicate the amount, in mg/L of culture liquid): trideca-2,4,6,8-tetrayne (0.3), trans-trideca-4,6,8-triyn-2-en-l-ol (0.15), cis-dehydromatricarianol (0.15), trans-dehydromatricarianol (0.15), and 2D:3L:4L-trideca-5,7,9,11-tetrayne-l,2,3,4-tetra-ol (2.0) (Jones et al., 1966).

Two novel hydroxy-acids, HO-CH2-CH=CH-[C≡C]2-CH2-CH2-CO2H (10-hydroxydeca-trans-2,trans-8-diene-4,6-diynoate) and HO-CH2-CH=CH-[C≡C]2-CH=CH-CO2H (10-hydroxydec-cis-8-ene-4,6-diynoate) have been  isolated from fruit bodies (Farrell et al., 1973).

The composition of phenolic compounds and organic acids of the beefsteak fungus has been determined. The five phenolic compounds identified were caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, ellagic acid, hyperoside and quercetin, of which ellagic acid was present in highest concentration (49.7% of phenolic compounds). The six organic acids found were oxalic, aconitic, citric, malic, ascorbic and fumaric acids; malic acid was most abundant (accounting for 57.9% of total organic acids) (Farrell et al., 1973).

Medicinal properties

Antioxidant activity

F. hepatica has been investigated for its capacity to act as a free-radical scavenging agent. Good radical-scavenging activity was noted against DPPH, the superoxide radical and the hydroxyl radical, while only a weak protective effect was seen against hypochlorous acid (Ribeiro et al., 2007).

Antibacterial activity

Some Italian studies by Coletto have revealed that F. hepatica has potent antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis (Coletto 1981, 1987/88), and Klebsiella pneumoniae (Coletto, 1992). Also, the tetrayne-tetraol mentioned above has modest antibacterial activity, comparable with that of cephalosporin C against Staphylococcus aureus and Salmomlla typhi, when tested by the hole-plate method (Farrell et al., 1973).

Nematicidal activity

The growth medium affects the nematicidal activity of F. hepatica (and various other fungi). When grown in Czapek broth, filtrates of the beefsteak fungus were pathogenic to the wood nematode, Bursaphelenchus xylophilus grown in vitro. However, grown in potato dextrose broth, filtrates of the same fungus were not pathogenic (Dong et al., 2006)

Anti-tumor activity

Polysaccharides extracted from the mycelial culture of F. hepatica and administered intraperitoneally into white mice at a dosage of 300 mg/kg inhibited the growth of Sarcoma 180 and Ehrlich solid cancers by 80% and 90%, respectively (Ohtsuka et al., 1973).


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Coletto MAB.
[Basidiomycetes in relation to antibiosis. II. Antibiotic activity of mycelia and culture liquids]
G Batteriol Virol Immunol. 1981 74(7-12):267-74. Italian.

Coletto MAB.
Antibiotic activity in basidiomycetes III. Antibacterial activity of mycelia and culture filtrates.
Allionia (Turin) 1987/1988 28:165-70.

Coletto MAB.
Antibiotic activity in basidiomycetes. VI. Antibiotic activity of mycelia and cultural filtrates of thirty three new strains.
Allionia (Turin) 1992 31:87-90.

de Pinho PG, Ribeiro B, Gonçalves RF, Baptista P, Valentão P, Seabra RM, Andrade PB.
Correlation between the pattern volatiles and the overall aroma of wild edible mushrooms.
J Agric Food Chem. 2008 56(5):1704-12.

Dong JY, Li XP, Li L, Li GH, Liu YJ, Zhang KQ.
Preliminary results on nematicidal activity from culture filtrates of Basidiomycetes against the pine wood nematode, Bursaphelenchus xylophilus (Aphelenchoididae).
Ann Microbiol. 2006 56(2):163-6.

Farrell IW, Keeping JW, Pellatt MG, Thaller V.
Natural acetylenes Part 41. Polyacetylenes from fungal fruiting bodies.
J Chem Soc Perk Trans I. 1973 22:2642-3.

Frerejacque M.
The presence of d-arabitol in Fistulina hepatica.
Comptes Rendus. 1939 208:1123-4.

Jones ERH, Lowe G, Shannon PVR.
Natural Acetylenes .20. Tetra-acetylenic acid and other metabolites from Fistulina hepatica (Huds) Fr.
J Chem Soc C-Org. 1966 2:139-44.

Morgan AP.
Kentucky Fungi.
Botanical Gazette. 1883 8(1):156-7.

Murrill WA.
Illustrations of Fungi: VI.
Mycologia. 1910 2(2):43-7.

Ohtsuka S, Ueno S, Yoshikumi C, Hirose F, Ohmura Y, Wada T, Fujii T, Takahashi E.
Polysaccharides having an anticarcinogenic effect and a method of producing them from species of Basidiomycetes.
UK Patent 1331513, 26 September 1973.

Rai M, Mandal SC, Acharya K.
A proximate composition of Fistulina hepatica, an endemic mushroom of the Darjeeling hills.
J Hill Res. 2007 20(1):39-41.

Ribeiro B, Valentão P, Baptista P, Seabra RM, Andrade PB.
Phenolic compounds, organic acids profiles and antioxidative properties of beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica).
Food Chem Toxicol. 2007 45(10):1805-13.

Schwope DM, Givan GV, Minto RE.
Progress toward the synthesis of Fistulina hepatica natural products.
Abst Pap Am Chem Soc. 2003 225:U352-U352 Part 2. Meeting Abstract: 426-ORGN.

Tsuge N, Mori T, Hamano T, Tanaka H, Shin-ya K, Seto H.
Cinnatriacetins A and B, new antibacterial triacetylene derivatives from the fruiting bodies of Fistulina hepatica.
J Antibiot (Tokyo). 1999 52(6):578-81.

Wu SM,  Krings U, Zorn H, Berger RG.
Volatile compounds from the fruiting bodies of beefsteak fungus Fistulina hepatica (Schaeffer Fr.) Fr.
Food Chem. 2005 2005 92(2):221-6.

Wu SM, Zorn H, Krings U, Berger RG.
Volatiles from submerged and surface-cultured beefsteak fungus, Fistulina hepatica.
Flav Frag J. 2007 22(1):53-60.

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