Chicken of the Woods – Laetiporus sulphureus
Having been raised in the Midwest and a huge fan of wild mushrooms, namely morels, I have heard friends and acquaintances talk about foraging for other types of wild mushrooms. Chicken of the Woods, as they are commonly called, is a great place to start.
Not familiar with any of those other mushroom varieties, since they are not a popular as the morel, I set out to get more familiar with some of those and possibly get a taste as well.
Enter the “Chicken of the Woods” or Laetiporus sulphureus. From my research, the Chicken of the Woods mushroom is one of the easiest to spot and identify. Being yellow-orange in color and growing in what many describe as “shelf-like” clusters, the chicken of the woods should be easy to spot.
Growing season for these mushrooms is typically late summer and early fall, peaking in late August to early September. On a recent outing, I spotted several clusters of the Chicken of the Woods that appeared quite fresh – the date was September 20, 2018.
Also, similar to the Chicken of the Woods, there are Hen of the Woods – Grifola Frondosa. The Hen of the Woods, from what I’m told and based on some limited research, is more flavorful than the Chicken of the Woods. However, I have not seen these myself. Here is a good resource for some additional information about the Hen of the Woods.
Back to the Chicken of the Woods.
I did not harvest any of the Chicken of the Woods found on my most recent adventure. I was visiting a very popular State Park and there are pretty strict regulations about harvesting vegetation in Illinois parks. However, I did get some pretty nice closeup photos of a very nice example of what a cluster of the mushroom looks like.
A distinguishing feature of the Chicken of the Woods is its color – yellow/orange like these pictured. The Chickens will grow on the host tree (sad fact coming up) near the base or mid-tree. The Chickens have no “gills” on the underside but have pores where the developing spores will be located.
The Chicken of the Woods is parasitic and kills the host tree. From my research on these mushroom varieties, the fruit will not appear until after the fungus or mycelium has attacked the tree. The host tree may still be alive when the fruit begins to appear, however, the internal “heart rot” of the tree has already begun. The tree will die as a result of infestation 🙁
Notice the underside of the mushroom is mostly solid appearing with the absence of “gills”. From what I understand, if you have found what you think is a Chicken of the Woods and it has “gills” on the underside, it is NOT Chicken of the Woods, but some other type of similar fungus – typically growing on the ground.
- The Chicken of the Woods will likely regrow in the same spot or on the same tree for multiple seasons. Likely until the host tree has lost all nutrients the fungus needs to grow. So, return to the same spot each year and you’ll likely be able to gather more
- Large quantities of the mushroom can be found on a single tree – a single cluster can weigh several pounds
- People report that it tastes like “chicken” – I can’t verify that as yet since I haven’t actually harvested any, but I’ve heard that before
- The Chicken of the Woods is used in vegetarian diets as a substitute for meat
- One source suggests that eating the Chicken of the Woods has the “potential” to inhibit staph bacteria – so, be careful if you plan to consume and be certain of proper preparation
- The Chicken of the Woods does not grow in the western United States.
Well, there you have it, readers. Chicken of the Woods – the other white meat.
I want to add one cautionary comment – This post is meant for basic information and for the enjoyment of the readers of Midwest Bliss. I am not an expert on wild vegetation and the content is certainly not meant to be used as expert advice. Do your own research if you are considering searching for and harvesting these or any wild vegetation for consumption AND ALWAYS seek a professional opinion if you are uncertain of your harvest.
Below are some other great resources for reading up on these interesting wild mushrooms.
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