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Hen of the Woods: Look-Alikes & Benefits + Foraging Tips

Hen of the Woods: Look-Alikes & Benefits + Foraging Tips

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The edible fungus commonly known as “Hen of the Woods” and scientifically named “Grifola frondosa” can often be found near oak trees. Its unique brown, brain-like appearance and distinct odor make accurate identification crucial when gathering and preparing it. (Source:

Hen of the woods, a mushroom with a brain-like shape and brownish color, grows near tree bases, especially oaks, in summer and fall. It can reach 4 inches tall and 3 feet wide, and has a strong smell.

Hen of the Woods Facts

In the following, you’ll discover everything you need to know about hen of the woods including how to identify it, cook it, preserve it, and more.

How to Identify Hen of the Woods?

The hen of the woods mushroom, also known as Grifola frondosa, typically grows at the base of trees in late summer and early fall. It’s found in various regions, including North America, Europe, and China.

This is how to identify hen of the woods:

  • Brown color
  • Shaped like a brain
  • Pungent odor
  • 3 to 4 inches tall
  • Up to 3 feet wide

Hen of the Wood and Its Benefits

Hen of the Woods, also called Maitake, is known for its health benefits. Studies show that it can boost the immune system, which helps you fight off illnesses. It’s also said to help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and it could play a role in fighting cancer and treating HIV. (MedicineNet)

This mushroom is healthy and also adds great flavor to meals. Whether you buy Hen of the Woods mushrooms or forage for them, incorporating this fungus into your diet could be one of the easiest and most beneficial choices you make for your well-being.

Hen of the Woods Naming, Look Alikes, and Growth

In this section, we delve into various aspects of this intriguing mushroom, exploring its unique name, identifying its similar-looking counterparts, examining its growth patterns, and discussing its market value.(Source)

Why is it Called Hen of the Woods?

They are called “Hen of the Woods” because their shape and texture look a bit like the feathers of a hen. The mushroom grows in layers, resembling the ruffled feathers you see on a hen.

In Japan, they are called “Maitake,” which means “dancing mushroom.” The name comes from a legend that people would dance with happiness when they found these valuable and delicious mushrooms in the wild.

Hen of the Woods Look Alikes

Hen of the Woods has a few look-alikes, such as Berkeley’s polypore, cauliflower mushrooms, and black stain.
Here are some known Hen of the Woods look-alikes

Hen of the Woods vs Chicken of the Woods

Image of hen of the woods mushroom on the left and a chicken of the woods mushroom on the right.
  • Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus) is often confused with Hen of the Woods. Chicken of the Woods is brightly colored, usually orange or yellow, while
    Hen of the woods is a grayish-brown color and doesn’t grow in different colors. A similarly named mushroom, chicken of the woods, on the other hand, is a bright orange color mushroom.
  • Meripilus sumstinei: A look-alike to Hen of the Woods, darker in color, growing in a rosette pattern from the ground.
  • Sheepshead Mushroom: Sometimes mistaken for Hen of the Woods, has a more uniform cap structure.
  • Black Stain: The toughest look-alike to Hen of the Woods. Feels almost as hard as a rock and is tough as leather when eaten.

Are Maitake and Hen of the Woods the Same?

Maitake is another name for hen of the woods; it’s Japanese for “dancing mushroom. Have a look at the video below for more on this, if you’d like to dive into the naming and background of Hen of the Woods a bit more.

Hen of the Woods (Maitake, Sheep’s Head) Identification

How Long Does Hen of the Woods Take To Grow?

Hen of the woods grow slower than many other wild mushrooms. It can take 2 to 3 years for their mycelium to start producing mushrooms. However, once they start growing mushrooms, they will keep doing so for years.

Are Hen of the Woods Mushrooms Hard to Grow?

Growing these mushrooms can be a bit challenging for beginners. They need the right environment and care to thrive, which includes specific temperature, humidity, and light conditions. It’s not as simple as growing some other plants, but with the right knowledge and setup, it can be done.

Hen of the Woods – Foraging

Grifola Frondosa Foraging

How to Harvest Hen of the Woods?

Harvesting Hen of the Woods involves a few key steps and considerations. Here’s a straightforward guide to help you:

  1. Locating: You’ll typically find Hen of the Woods at the base of oak trees, although they can also grow around other hardwoods. The best time to look is in late summer through early fall.
  2. Foraging Tips: When you spot a Hen of the Woods, inspect the mushroom carefully. It should be firm, not slimy or very wet. Avoid mushrooms that look old or have insect damage.
  3. How to Harvest: Use a sharp knife to cut the mushroom at its base. Remember that it’s important to leave the root structure intact for future growth.
  4. Safety: Always be sure of your identification. Hen of the Woods has a few look-alikes, so it’s crucial to know the differences. If you’re unsure, consult a local expert or a reliable mushroom guidebook.
  5. Storage: After harvesting, store Hen of the Woods in a paper bag in the refrigerator. They can last for about a week when stored properly.
  6. Preparation: Clean the mushroom with a brush or damp cloth before cooking to remove dirt.

What is the Best Season for Harvesting Hen of the Wood?

Late summer to early fall is the best time to harvest Hen of the Woods. This is when they typically grow the most and are easiest to find, especially around the base of oak trees in forests.

Hen of the Wood – Where in the Wood? – Best Location

You can usually find Hen of the Woods at oak tree bases. However, they can also grow around other hardwoods like maple, chestnut, and elm. These mushrooms typically thrive in deciduous forests and wooded areas where these trees are prevalent.

Hen of the Woods – Price

  • Minimum Price Range: As low as $3.99 for a small package or $10 per pound at farmers’ markets or Asian grocers. The lower price often applies to smaller quantities or less premium grades.
  • Maximum Price Range: Up to $27 per pound for fresh mushrooms, with gourmet or organic varieties reaching $28 to $45 for a 16-ounce bag. The higher price is typically for premium, organic, or large quantities.

Is Grifola Frondosa (Hen of the Wood) Good to Eat?

Hen of the forest is healthy and delicious to eat. When preparing hen mushrooms, consider using the whole mushroom, as all parts are edible.

Before cooking, You’ll need to clean the mushroom thoroughly. You can do this by gently brushing off any dirt or debris and wiping it with a damp cloth. Avoid soaking it in water as it could absorb moisture and become soggy.

Hen of the Woods Recipes

There are many excellent hen of the woods recipes that you can choose from (Source), and below is today’s choice:

Hen of the Woods Chips Hen of the Woods Soup
  • Hen of the Woods mushrooms
  • Olive oil or cooking spray
  • Salt and preferred seasonings (garlic powder, smoked paprika, nutritional yeast)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Clean the mushrooms by gently brushing off dirt. Tear or cut into thin slices.
  3. Arrange slices in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  4. Lightly coat with olive oil or cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and seasonings.
  5. Bake for 20-30 minutes until crispy and golden brown.
  6. Check frequently and turn halfway through cooking.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes.
  • Hen of the Woods mushrooms
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Vegetable broth
  • Cream
  • Thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Clean and chop the mushrooms.
  2. Sauté onions and garlic until translucent, then add mushrooms.
  3. Add vegetable broth and thyme, bring to a boil, then simmer.
  4. Blend the soup until smooth, stir in cream, season to taste, and serve hot.

What Does Hen of the Woods Taste Like?

Hen of the woods tastes mild, savory, and meat-like. Some batches might be spicier.

Can Hen of the Woods Make You Sick?

Hen of the woods is among the safest wild mushrooms to find and eat. Generally, eating Hen of the Woods won’t make you sick. However, if found near cedars, conifers, or eucalyptus trees, it might have toxins that can upset your stomach.

How to Store Hen of the Woods?

The very best way to save hen of the woods is by freezing it before cooking it. If you do so, you’re able to preserve it for several months.

You can then pull it out, thaw it, and prepare it right away at any time (most enjoyably when it is winter or spring when the mushroom isn’t available fresh).

Should I Refrigerate Hen of the Woods?

Hen of the woods that isn’t prepared yet as well as leftovers from what you’ve recently cooked do well in the fridge for several days up to a week, but you should plan to use mushrooms from the fridge within three or four days of storing them there.

If you want to preserve hen of the woods longer than a week, stick it in the freezer rather than the fridge.

Can You Vacuum Seal Hen of the Woods?

Vacuum sealing hen of the woods is a great practice if you’re planning on storing the mushrooms for several weeks or months. Otherwise, sealable bags and the produce drawer in the fridge are just fine.

Can You Freeze Hen of the Woods Raw? 

Raw hen of the woods freeze rather well. In fact, it is much better to freeze your hen of the woods while they are raw and uncooked than otherwise.

Raw hen of the woods store much longer than the cooked version.

Can You Eat Hen of the Woods Raw?

They can be eaten in many ways: raw, dried, frozen, refrigerated, or even smoked. But most people say they taste much better when cooked

Related Reading

Go through some other articles in our collection for an idea and information about other edible mushrooms, and their role in your garden:
Puffball Mushrooms: Edible or Poisonous + How To Identify Look-alikes
– Are Mushrooms Bad for Your Garden? Mushroom Roles & Benefits

Note that not all mushrooms are edible! When foraging and preparing mushrooms, you need to be careful and make sure you know how to identify the poisonous mushroom types. This article can help:
10 Most Poisonous Mushrooms + Foraging Safety List