The Hen of the Woods

Maitake or Hen of the Woods is one of the easiest to identify and nutritious mushrooms found in North America.

| October 2016

  • Maitake is known for being more nutritionally beneficial than most common mushrooms nutrients, Vitamins B, C and niacin, minerals like iron, zinc, potassium, selenium, protein, amino acids, and fiber.
    Photo by Leda Meredith
  • In “The Forager’s Feast” by Leda Meredith you will find delicious wild edible plants and mushrooms are abundant throughout North America, not only in the wilderness but in urban areas, too. Learn how to identify, harvest, and eat the tastiest plants in your backyard. Intended as much for the cooking enthusiast as for the survivalist, this book includes recipes that will transform even the most common edible backyard weeds into guest-worthy fare.
    Cover courtesy The Countryman Press

In The Forager's Feast (The Countryman Press, 2016), by Leda Meredith, even experienced foragers will be impressed with plantain leaf chips that are crisper and tastier than kale chips. Dandelion flowers become wine, Japanese knotweed becomes rhubarb-like compote and tangy sorbet, red clover blossoms give quick bread a delightfully spongy texture and hint of sweetness.

You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: The Forager’s Feast.

When a forager says, “I found hen today,” he isn’t talking about poultry. He is talking about one of the best and easiest to identify edible wild mushrooms: hen of the woods, also known as maitake.


Grifola frondosa grows in large clumps at the base of trees (especially oak trees) and on tree stumps. It has a firm, fleshy but tender texture. Maitake sometimes appears to be growing on lawn or bare ground, but if you look up or dig around you’ll realize it is growing on buried wood or tree roots.


When I said large clumps, I meant large, sometimes measuring as much as 2 feet across. The clumps look like big corsages made up of gray, brown, and/or off-white ruffles. The layers have pores on their cream-colored undersurface rather than gills.

Beginners might confuse turkey tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) with maitake. Turkey tail is much smaller and usually spread out along a log rather than in a rounded clump at the base of a tree trunk. It is thin, tough, and leathery or papery, rather than tender and meaty like maitake. Although it has medicinal properties and sometimes the flavor is interesting enough for soup stocks and infusions, the texture is pretty much shoe leather (unlike the firm but tender texture of hen of the woods).

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