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Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms — the Complete Guide

Jack-o-lantern Mushrooms
Jack-o-lantern Mushrooms

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Chicken of the woods mushrooms – nature’s wild, delicious, and beautiful crown jewel. Whether you’re drawn to it because of its vibrant beauty or crave the succulent taste of a gourmet mushroom, one thing is for sure. It is as versatile as it is healthy.

Chicken of the woods mushrooms are difficult to miss, even for amateur mushroom hunters. This fungus’ impressive size and vibrant orange-yellow color make it stand out in even the most dimly lit forest conditions. It almost appears to be beckoning you towards it.

Laetiporus Sulphureus

However, there are other orange mushrooms in the forest that are poisonous, so don’t pick this one without being sure of what you are picking.  When in doubt, leave it alone. The last thing you need is to end up in the ER simply because you picked the wrong mushroom.

While we share some great info here on Mushroom Site, we don’t recommend using the internet — or phone apps that identify plants, for that matter — as anything more than a starting point for mushroom identification.

The first step if you never foraged for chicken of the woods before, is to purchase a decent mushroom field guide with detailed photos and drawings that you can take to the forest with you.  Our two favorite guides are:

National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.  This guide has been around since the 1980’s and is still a best seller. The information is timeless and the detailed photographs are unsurpassed.

Mushrooms Demystified, by David Arora.  This is another great book from the 1980s that is still a best seller.  The graphics show their age, but the detailed way the author walks you through the finer points of mushroom identification is unsurpassed.

The second, and even more important step to be sure of your mushroom is to make sure that you verify your finds with an experienced mushroom forager.  Look for local chapters of the North American Mycological Association (NAMA) to find people near you who are knowledgeable about mushrooms.

So with all that said, once you become familiar with chicken of the woods, you will see it all around.

So, what is it about this large polypore mushroom that gets mushroom hunters so excited? You’ve certainly come to the right place to find out.

Here’s the complete guide to everything you need to know about chicken of the woods mushrooms.

How and Where to Find Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

Chicken of the woods mushrooms are easy to spot given their orange / yellow color.  Also, they tend to grow in large clusters, characterized by overlapping brackets.

Some species are saprotrophic, which means that they feed on dead trees. Others are parasitic, so they attack live trees causing the wood to decay. Either way, you’ll find them growing on the wood of a dead or live tree, or right at the foot of a live tree.  You will never see them in fields or on the ground on their own, away from trees.

As these mushrooms age, their colors fade, and their flesh gets tougher and more crumbly. You will find them in the summer and the fall, or between August and October in most regions. The species of chicken of the woods that thrive in warmer climates also grow in early winter.

Let’s dive into the different chicken of the mushrooms species. There are roughly twelve types you’ll find in the US.

The species that most of us think of when it comes to edible chicken of the woods mushrooms is the Laetiporus Sulphureus, which grows on hardwood trees in Eastern North America.

There is also the edible and delicious Laetiporus Cincinnatus, which is popular in the Eastern regions of North America.  This species of chicken of the woods has white pores.  The tops are more pink than the common chicken of the woods, but they look white when viewed from underneath.

Laetiporus cincinnatus

There’s also Laetiporus Conifericola that takes on a more yellowish appearance. This particular species grows mostly in Western North America. It grows on conifers, hence the “Conifericola” part of its name.

Laetiporus_conifericola
This image was created by user Nathan Wilson (nathan) at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images. This image is Image Number 306 at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images.

While Laetiporus Conifericola is generally considered edible, some people have reported stomach upset after eating this species of chicken of the woods raw.  Be sure to cook it thoroughly.

Finally, there is Laetiporus Gilbertsonii, which is quite popular in the West Coast and commonly grows on Eucalyptus and Oak trees.

Chicken of the woods

Cook this one well also, as some people have reported stomach upset after eating this species of chicken of the woods raw.

Dangerous Chicken of the Woods Lookalikes

Probably the most dangerous lookalike for chicken of the woods foragers is the jack-o-lantern mushroom.  Bright orange, certain species of which grow on dead logs, much like chicken of the woods does.

There are quite a few differences between jack-o-lantern mushrooms and chicken of the woods, and with experience, you will be able to tell them apart no problem, but this is best done with an experienced mushroom forager.

jack-o-lantern mushrooms

As mentioned above, it’s always a good idea to get in touch with your local mycological association to link you with a mushroom hunter in your area.  Again, you can find experienced mushroom foragers in your area at the North American Mycological Association’s website.

Harvesting Chicken of the Woods

If you come across these mushrooms, don’t yank them off the tree. You want to cut off a chunk close to the base without damaging the spot where the wild mushroom attaches to the bark. That way, you’ll have new mushrooms growing there by the time the next season rolls around.

Cleaning Your Mushrooms

Once you harvest them, take out any pieces that look like they have a ton more dirt than the others. You’ll rinse these separately.

Fill up your kitchen sink with water and plunge them in. Many cooks avoid soaking mushrooms, but chicken of the woods tend to have more dirt than other mushroom types.

Then pull apart the brackets as you rinse them under running water and place them on a colander to dry.

Storing Chicken of the Woods

The next phase is the tricky bit – storing chicken of the woods mushrooms. Keep in mind that this particular variety doesn’t keep well when dehydrated.

If you have some fresh chunks, the best way to preserve them would be to cut them up into smaller pieces and fry them in some butter for a couple of minutes – four minutes tops – until they look slightly golden.

Then, pat them dry with a paper towel, pack them in airtight containers, and put them in the freezer. They’ll be good for up to three months.

Pickling them is also an option if you don’t want to waste precious freezer space.

See our guide on How To Store Mushrooms Long-Term for more information on storing mushrooms

What Do Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms Taste Like?

Chicken of the woods must taste like chicken, right? Well, in a sense you might say that. It’s one of those ingredients that have an oddly familiar taste to them that you can’t quite put your finger on.

Its mild, delicate flavor is reminiscent of – surprise, surprise – chicken, crab, and lobster with a hint of citrus all rolled into one tasty bite. It is succulent and chewy like a tender, juicy cut of chicken. It’s the perfect substitute for any vegetarian diet.

Buying Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

If you lack time to go scrounging the forest for chicken of the woods, you can sometimes find them fresh in gourmet grocery stores and farmer’s markets in the summer and fall.  Also, look on Google for mushroom growers in your area and you may find someone who sells them nearby.

Unfortunately, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms don’t dry well, so if you see dried ones we recommend that you pass them by.

Growing Chicken of the Woods

You can also grow your own chicken of the woods mushrooms.  They are considered difficult to grow, so this will take some time and experimentation. But when you succeed, you’ll be in for quite a treat.

There are some good Chicken of the Woods grow kits on the market.  Your kit will come with instructions. To give you an idea of how the process works, just remember that these mushrooms grow on logs. Which means that you will replicate the natural process.

The concept is simple: get an oak log, drill holes in it, and inject the holes with chicken of the woods mushroom spawn.

Then you seal the holes with melted wax so no other fungus can attack your chicken of the woods spores.

Bury the log partially, with about 2 inches of topsoil.  Your chicken of the woods mushrooms will emerge from the logs, and grow up from the soil. It can take 6-12 months for the first crop, but once established they should continue to grow for 2-3 years.

A friend of mine who is more patient than I am has had success with Gallboys Mushroom Kits Chicken of the Woods spores.  If you go with this kit, you will have to supply the oak log, but they supply everything else that is necessary to grow your chicken of the woods mushrooms.

Benefits of Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

This mycelium fruit is both a delicious delicacy and natural medicine. It has antimicrobial properties that guard against the effects of pathogens like Aspergillus Flavus and antibacterial properties that fight staph bacteria like Staphylococcus Aureus.

Chicken of the woods is rich in antioxidant compounds like chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, kaempferol, and quercetin. It’s also packed with lanostanoids – potent anti-carcinogenic compounds. These molecules have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.

Other medicinal properties of the mushroom include:

  • Aids in diabetes management
  • Excellent hormone balancer
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Promotes good dental health

It is also high in proteins and is an excellent source of minerals like Vitamin C and Potassium. With all those health benefits, why wouldn’t you swap out that piece of chicken for some mushrooms instead?

Like Chicken – Only Better

So, go on, make it a part of your daily diet and reap all the benefits it has to offer. In the meantime, check out my post with five great chicken of the woods recipe ideas that you can try out after you’ve gone mushroom hunting.

If you’re interested in learning about other edible mushrooms, see our article Common Edible Mushrooms — A Brief Guide.


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Chicken of the Woods Mushroom

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