Hunting for chicken
of the woods
I can’t tell you how many times I have been out in the woods and noticed a bright orange-and-yellow mushroom of some sort growing on an old maple tree. Little did I know what I was looking at was edible. Heck, I didn’t like mushrooms anyhow. It was always a slimy ingredient on pizza or on an overcooked steak in my mind.
Last year though, I bit the bullet and actually tried some. “Tastes just like chicken,” they said. OK, why not. I have eaten some pretty horrible things over the years in the name of being adventurous. What would one more nasty mushroom do to me?
That one taste is what changed my mind about mushrooms. (Don’t get me wrong, they’re still nasty on pizza!) And now I avidly search for them when I’m out for a walk with my dog, riding passenger in a car, or just out and about in general.
Chicken of the woods (chicken mushroom, sulphur shelf) grows in clusters on both standing and downed trees, emerging as knobby growths, developing into layers of shelves. The color is an unmistakable yellowish-orange, and the pore surface is yellow (for L. sulphureus, and white for the closely related L. cincinnatus—both edible). Always make sure the underside has pores. If it has gills, you won’t be having chicken for dinner.
This chicken is best collected when young. As it ages, it’s easier to spot, but it becomes too tough to eat. The outer edges can still be salvaged and used in dishes when it’s mature, though. Like all wild mushrooms, it requires cooking before consumption. Just a quick hint: don’t go all out consuming too many of these the first time you try them. There could be a little gastrointestinal distress if you eat too much.
A little time on Google will give you plenty more tips than I can about finding this and other safe mushrooms. There’s a handful of mushrooms native to here that are easy to spot and be sure of, once you learn where to find them and what they look like.
Just remember, if you are not 100% sure what the mushroom is, don’t touch it. Happy hunting!
If you think you’ve found a chicken of the woods, check for these familiar features:
The sulphur shelf has no real stem. The caps grow in large brackets, which are individual “shelves” ranging from 2 to 10 inches across (about 5 to 25 cm) and up to 10 inches long.
The brackets are roughly fan-shaped and may be smooth to lightly wrinkled. They grow in an overlapping pattern stacked one on top of the other. Thus the fruiting body can be quite large.
The outside cap color ranges from bright whitish-yellow to bright whitish-orange. If you cut them open, the inside flesh will be soft and similarly colored. As the mushroom ages, the brightness of the colors fade and the flesh becomes harder and more crumbly.
The caps sport whitish to yellowish pores on the underside, not gills.
Always found growing on or at the base of dead or dying trees, never on the ground or alone in fields.
These mushrooms grow on dead or dying hardwoods, most commonly oak but also cherry or beech. Species growing on eucalyptus or cedar trees should be avoided, as they may cause gastric distress. They’re sometimes found under conifers as well.
Laetiporus species are all over North America and Europe. The main species discussed in this article, Laetiporus sulphureus, grows in Eastern North America. If hunting for this mushroom, check and see which species grow in your region.
Time of Year:
Summer through fall, which is August through October in most areas. Other species that grow in warmer climates may be found in early winter as well.