Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus), is an edible mushroom that grows in shelves, or brackets, on the bark of oak trees. It is named for its similar taste to chicken. This delicious mushroom is easy to identify, can weigh upwards of 100 pounds, and has a history of being used for medicinal purposes. This article will inform you of where and when to find these mushrooms, how to prepare it, and possible medicinal benefits.
First, a couple disclaimers. Before foraging and consuming wild mushrooms, the following precautions must be made. Never eat wild mushrooms that you can’t positively identify or may have been cross contaminated with other varieties. Some mushrooms are poisonous and can make you seriously ill or even induce death. Seek out local mycological (mushroom) societies that may have members willing to mentor you and provide you with reference materials. Secondly, when consuming wild mushrooms, sample only a small amount initially to ensure no allergic reactions or poisoning occur. Wild mushrooms should also be cooked thoroughly to break down any toxins absorbed by the growing mushroom. Following these guidelines will greatly reduce the likelihood of having an adverse reaction.
Now on to locating and identifying the Chicken of the Woods mushroom. Chicken of the Woods mushrooms can be found in North America, spawning in late Spring to Autumn (May into October). They typically grow on the bark of Oak trees and may appear year after year. (On a related note, most mushroom species only grow on specific tree matter. Knowing this will help you greatly in identifying mushrooms. ) The Chicken of the Woods grows in a shelves, or brackets, is a vibrant orange when most edible, and may weigh up to 100 pounds. They are actually parasitic in nature, damaging the host trees they grow on, causing rot. When you positively identify a Chicken of the Woods mushroom, use a knife to sever the bracket from the base of the mushroom. It is recommended to only take young brackets as they will not have absorbed toxins as readily as older mushrooms.
In preparation for consuming the Chicken of the Woods mushroom, remove any debris, such as wood splinters or insects, that may have inhabited the specimen. Wash the mushroom thoroughly with cold water. Recommended cooking techniques involve frying or roasting the mushrooms in either oil or butter. Additionally, the Chicken of the Woods mushroom is often cooked breaded in a deep fryer– many individuals will not be able to discern the difference between actual chicken and the mushrooms. Since some specimens can weigh up to 100 pounds, they can be cut and stored in the freezer for later use with minimal impact on their flavor or texture. If you do not prefer to consume the Chicken of the Woods mushrooms yourself, culinary kitchens will often pay upwards of $20/lb for fresh specimens.
Studies have also shown the Chicken of the Woods mushroom to have medicinal benefits. It has been used in medicine to ward off bacterial infections such as staph. The Chicken of the Woods mushroom is rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which have been shown to also help regulate blood pressure, cholesterol and liver functionality.
This hidden gem of the Fungi kingdom, with delicious flavor, pricey monetary value, and medicinal benefits, could be sitting in your own backyard ripe for picking.