Hen of the woods mushrooms is one of the most popular fungi out there. Not familiar with it? You may recognize it by its common name, maitake. This mushroom is not just craved for its flavor, but it is also a great medicinal source.
Before you get started on your hunt for hen of the woods mushrooms, you need to know what to look for and what to avoid.
These are the 8 things to know about hen of the woods mushrooms, or maitake, mushrooms:
Fact #1: They are parasitic mushrooms
Hen of the woods is a parasitic mushroom that tends to live off of a host tree, so this can be a good tip to follow when you foraging for this fungus. While you may have better luck going into the secluded wooded areas, you don’t necessarily have to. Simply, look for white or red oaks, and a hen may be right there at the base of the tree.
Fact #2: Where there is one, there are probably more!
If you happen to find one hen of the woods on your foraging trip, then you should stay nearby to look for more. Once there is one hen of the woods, chances are, most trees in the area are infected as well. If you don’t see more of these mushrooms, come back later, as there is a high probability that this area will have many hens of the woods for years to come!
Fact #3: Find dying and dead trees
Since hen of the woods is a parasite, they are not good for the tree they feed off of. You should always start your foraging adventure by looking for decaying trees and dead ones too. A nice tip to try first is to go to woods with tons of stumps, dead branches, and fallen oaks.
Fact #4: Younger hens are always better
It is always an instinct to try and find the biggest mushrooms for harvesting. The truth is, though, that you should go with the young and tender hens, as these taste better and will last longer.
You may have seen those pictures of gigantic hen of the woods, weighing up to 30 pounds or more. It may be tempting to want something this big and mighty, but in the world of mushrooms, bigger doesn’t always mean better.
Even though smaller may be better, you also don’t want to take a hen that is barely visible. It is best to wait a few days for the mushroom to blossom, and then take it home.
Fact #5: Cleaning hen of the woods isn’t an easy task
When you have to wait a long time for a hen to be ready, you may also be watching it get dirtier by the minute. If you have already foraged hens before, you may know how tricky it is to clean them by hand. The worst scenario is when you get some rain on these mushrooms, and then the dirt dries, giving the mushroom a chance to absorb it and grow with it.
In this case, the best way to keep your mushrooms clean is to pick them young and small. The bigger they are, the harder it is to find imperfections, dirt, and even small pebbles or bugs.
Fact #6: Hen of the woods may come in different colors
This kind of mushroom is supposed to only have one species, but there are plenty of colors. Be careful to identify it as a hen first, making sure it is edible and not toxic. But you may find out quickly that given the growing conditions, some hens may be white, grey, and brown.
Fact #7: There are many ways to cook hen of the woods mushrooms
The best way to start cooking these mushrooms is to divide them from clusters into bite-sized pieces. Once you do this, make sure to check for insects and debris, then clean them lightly with a cloth.
You can then roast them, bake them, fry them, dry them, or even boil them. These mushrooms taste better when cooked, so it is best to cook them even for a few minutes before you consume them. Cooking them will also improve their texture, making them softer and chewy.
Fact #8: You can preserve them for long-term storage
As with most mushrooms, hen of the woods is better when you use them quickly. These mushrooms go bad within days, so it is a good idea to preserve them in different ways. You can start by dehydrating them and then storing them in an airtight container or freezing them. If you prefer it, you can also pickle them and eat them as they are afterward for months to come.
Now that you have seen all the tips and tricks that come with foraging and using hen of the woods mushrooms, you are ready to cook or preserve them. Enjoy these mushrooms from midsummer until well into the fall season!