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All About the Delicious Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

Hen Of The Woods Mushroom

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Hen of the Woods Mushrooms have many names.  Their botanic name is the somewhat romantic sounding ‘Grifola Frondosa.’  In Italy, they are called Signorina.  They also go by the less romantic names of ‘sheep’s head’ and ‘ram’s head.’

Maitake is the Japanese name for these mushrooms, which means ‘dancing.’  And the name is appropriate, as these mushrooms do have an appearance that suggests movement.

Hen of the Woods are delicious and easy to cook.  They also have many purported health benefits.

Where do Hen of the Woods Mushrooms Grow?

Hen of the Woods can be found in the northern United States and Canada, Japan, China, and many European countries. Like most mushrooms, you will have the best luck foraging for them in the Fall.

They grow wild in forests, predominantly in older forests, and are generally found at the base of oak trees. You can even find them on dead oak trees and stumps. Hen of the Woods occasionally grow on other types of trees, but this is not common.

These mushrooms grow in a sort of fan or petal shape, and the clusters are usually quite large, commonly growing to between ten and thirty pounds. Some can even reach 100 pounds. They are a brownish-grey with creamy-silvery hues on each ‘fan.’

Hen of the Woods Oak Tree

How to Grow Your Own Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

These mushrooms can be grown at home, but they are more difficult to grow than certain other types, such as oyster mushrooms.

Luckily, there are Hen of the Woods Grow Kits, which will make the process a bit easier.

These grow kits will come with an oak log, some wax, and little wooden plugs that contain the Hen of the Woods mushroom spawn.  You will drill holes into the log, and put the plugs into the holes, then seal them with the wax.

The grow kit will have instructions, but here is an idea of the process.

  1. Soak your log in cold water for about two hours.
  2. Drill holes into the log. Your kit’s instructions will tell you how many to drill and how far apart, but a three-foot log should take around 40 plugs
  3. Insert a plug into each hole.
  4. Brush a little heated wax, (only hot enough to make it soft), over the top of the hole to seal. This keeps other, competing fungi, and insects out.
  5. Set the log outdoors on stones or lean it upright to keep it off the ground.
  6. Keep the log moist, but not wet.
  7. 6 to 12 months later, you should have Maitake growing in your garden.

Hen of the Woods Growing on Logs

Health Benefits

  • General – Hen of the Woods mushrooms have virtually no fat, few calories, few carbohydrates, and a healthy amount of fiber and protein. They contain lots of Vitamin B and C.  They are also full of minerals, copper, potassium, and amino acids.
  • Cancer – Research indicates that these mushrooms may slow down the growth of certain tumors and protect against some cancers. In one clinical test, D-Fraction, (an extract from Hen of the Woods mushrooms), was the only substance given to a group of cancer-suffering mice. In 100% of the mice, the growth of tumors slowed down.
  • Diabetes – Laboratory tests done so far indicate Hen of the Woods could lower blood glucose levels and improve insulin resistance, both problems associated with diabetes.
  • Immune system – They contain polysaccharides, which stimulate the immune system cells, thereby aiding the overall health of the immune system. Like many other mushrooms, Hen of the Woods has an ‘immunomodulatory effect,’ which means that they can increase, lessen, or steady the immune system, depending on your body’s needs.
  • Antioxidants – Hen of the Woods mushroom extract contains substantial levels of antioxidants,  which play an important part in alleviating hypertension and heart-related problems. (Antioxidants are present, but are not as concentrated in fresh mushrooms.)
  • High Blood Pressure – Research indicates that they may help lower blood pressure.
  • Cholesterol – Hen of the Woods extract may lower cholesterol levels. Further research is pending.

While side effects are not common, it is advisable to check with your healthcare practitioner before taking Hen of the Woods / Maitake extracts if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, have diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune disease, or have recently had surgery.

How to Store Hen of the Woods

You can store Hen of the Woods Mushrooms in the refrigerator just like you would White Button or Cremini mushrooms. Keep them whole until you are ready to use them, as this increases their shelf life. You can also increase shelf-life by storing them in a paper bag, folded over at the top.

If you have lots of extra Hen of the Woods, you can dehydrate them a food dehydrator machine, or chop/slice the fungi and put them into the oven on low to dry.  See my article, How to Dry Mushrooms, A Complete Guide, for more details on how to dry mushrooms.

You can also preserve these mushrooms in oil.  To do so:

  • Slice the mushrooms into quarter-inch thick slices
  • Lay the slices flat on absorbent paper and sprinkle with salt. Leave for 30 minutes
  • Boil the salted slices in water with a little vinegar for about 5 minutes
  • Remove the slices from the water and let dry
  • Place in a jar and cover with oil (Extra Virgin Olive Oil is best)

How to use Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

These mushrooms are delicious cooked, and I give some cooking suggestions further down.

But extracts are a good option too, because certain healthy nutrients become more concentrated, and thus you can get more out of a spoonful of extract than you would from eating a pound of fresh mushrooms.

Extracts

You can buy Hen of the Woods mushroom extract in powdered form, tinctures, capsules, and in teas and coffees.

Extract Powder

Naturealm Maitake Mushroom Extract Powder —  This is my favorite, as it is pure with no added fillers.

Extract Tinctures

Host Defense Maitake Extract — I add this high-quality organic tincture to my smoothies.

Extract Capsules

Mushroom Wisdom Maitake Extract Capsules — These capsules contain D-fraction, which is one of the reputed immune-boosting compounds in this mushroom.

How to Cook Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

Hen of the Woods is also great cooked.  You can add them to any dish that you would add White or Cremini mushrooms.  Pizza, soup, casserole, pasta, stir-fry, salad, omelets, sautéed — the list goes on.

Chicken, Pesto, and Maitake Rolls

Here is a quick, easy and delicious Hen of the Woods mushroom recipe

Ingredients

  • Chicken Breasts or Turkey Breasts
  • Bacon
  • Pesto
  • Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

Method

Preheat oven to 450°

Thinly slice chicken or turkey breast. Place on bacon strips and add a layer of pesto. Roll up and either tie with string to keep closed or use a cocktail stick/skewer. You can sear these in a pan to brown and then cook in the oven, or place directly in the oven to cook for 20 – 30 minutes until the chicken/turkey is thoroughly cooked, (this depends on how thin your slices are)

To make sauce

Sauté one pound of Hen of the Woods mushrooms in butter until soft and golden.  Add broth or stock, Keep this on the heat to reduce and thicken the sauce.

Once your sauce has reached the desired thickness, pour over the chicken rolls and serve.

Note that old Hen of the Woods mushrooms can be difficult to digest, so make sure you use up all your fresh ones quickly.

Conclusion

Hen of the Woods mushrooms are delicious, and they offer many health benefits. Growing your own can be very satisfying, and there are a variety of ways you can preserve them. Perhaps they do not have quite as many health-giving benefits as the two ‘Kings of Mushrooms’ (Reishi and  Cordyceps), but their taste and flexibility will make you want to cook with them over and over.

If you have any favorite recipes for Hen of the Woods mushrooms, I’d love to see them.  Pleaes leave them in the comments section below.

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How to Use Hen of the Woods.

 

jay

jay

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