Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa), is an edible mushroom that grows in clusters near the base of oak trees. It is named for its uncanny resemblance to a sitting hen. Also known in Japanese as Maitake, this delicious mushroom is easy to identify, can weigh upwards of 50 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 Hen of the Woods mushroom. Hen of the Woods mushrooms can be found in North America and parts of Japan, spawning in Autumn (September into October). With regards to North America, areas west of the Rocky Mountains are typically associated with their occurrence. They typically grow in the same location each year and are almost always found near the base of Oak trees. (On a related note, most mushroom species only grow on specific tree matter. Knowing this will help you greatly in identifying mushrooms.) The Hen of the Woods grows in a cluster resembling a ruffled hen and some specimens can weigh up to 50 pounds. When you positively identify a Hen of the Woods mushroom, use a knife to sever the cluster from the base of the mushroom.
In preparation for consuming the Hen 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. At this point you may either dry the mushroom or cook it. Recommended techniques involve frying or roasting the mushrooms in either oil or butter. The Hen of the Woods mushroom can also be used in soups, which is very common in Japan. Since some specimens can weigh up to 50 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 Hen of the Woods mushrooms yourself, culinary kitchens will often pay upwards of $20/lb for fresh specimens. Even the price of dried Hen of the Woods mushrooms found online fetch a similar price, making foraging for this mushroom quite lucrative.
Studies have also shown the Hen of the Woods mushroom to have medicinal benefits. It has been used in traditional eastern medicine to boost the immune system. The Hen 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. Human clinical trials have also shown that consuming Hen of the Woods mushrooms helped induce apoptosis in some cancer cell lines.
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.