Hen of the Woods
Hen of the woods is native to Europe, northeastern Japan and the northeastern United States. Grifola is an Italian name for fungus; frondosa means “full of leaves.” In Japan it is named maitake (“dancing mushroom”) and sought after as a food and for its medicinal properties. (Don’t confuse the common name “hen of the woods” for this species with “chicken of the woods” for the completely unrelated and very different-looking Laetiporus sulphureus).
Identification: Hen of the woods is a polypore—a leathery mushroom that grows in wrinkly clusters, attached directly to the base of hardwood trees, especially oaks. Caps are gray brown, forming wavy, sinuous masses that are sometimes very large. (We found one group of clusters that together weighed about 25 pounds.) Each mushroom cap is ¾-4" (2-10 cm) across.
Edibility: A choice species. The branching stemlike structure is tough, but young fresh outer caps make delicious soups. It can also be sautéed, marinated, baked, stir-fried, or pickled. These mushrooms freeze well. Wash and wipe them well to remove any grit. They don’t agree with everybody, so it doesn’t hurt to try a smaller amount first. See wildmushroomrecipes.org for recipe ideas.
Medical: Hen of the woods shows considerable promise as an immune system stimulant and a cancer inhibitor. Studies are underway to assess their value for these, as well as a possible aid for diabetes, HIV/AIDs, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Grifola frondosa by Gary Emberger at Messiah College
Grifola frondosa on Michael Kuo's MushroomExpert.com
Grifola frondosa on Tom Volk's Fungi site, at the Department of Biology at the University of Wisconsin
Grifola frondosa on Mushroom-Collecting.com, a New England and Eastern Canada Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms site
Grifola frondosa on Shroomery: Magic Mushrooms Demystified
Grifola frondosa description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.