Hen of the Woods: Identifying, Uses, Cooking, Saving & More

Hen of the woods, scientifically known as Grifola frondosa is a common mushroom found in the summer and fall around the base of trees. The best place to find them is in wooded areas with oak trees.

The mushroom makes good eating, but it doesn’t stick around for long once it pops up each year. That means you need to know how to find it and identify it if you want to get your hands on it.

How do I identify the hen of the woods? Hen of the woods is easily identifiable: it grows towards the base of trees, specifically oaks; has a brownish color to it; and looks slightly like a brain. It varies in size, growing as tall as 4 inches and as wide as 3 feet. Hen of the woods also has a distinct and pungent 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.

Hen of the Woods Identification

The hen of the woods mushroom is a polyporus type mushroom known scientifically as Grifola frondosa.

You’ll find it growing at the base of trees during the late summer and early summer in North America, Europe, China, and other parts of the world. 

After you know where and when to look for it, identifying the mushroom isn’t hard as it has several distinct features:

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

Below, we discuss each of the most significant factors that play into hen of the woods identification.

Can Hen of the Woods Be Orange?

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.

Like hen of the woods, chicken of the woods is found growing on trees in the woods each year.

Where To Find Hen of the Woods

Hen of the woods is one of the easier mushrooms to forage for. That’s because it’s not only bigger than other mushrooms but also because it grows near the bases of trees.

All you need to do is stroll through the woods and look around the tree trunks.

What Kind of Trees Do Hen of the Woods Grow On?

Oaks are the most common trees that hen of the woods tend to grow around. However, they are also commonly found growing around elms and maples as well.

That said, they may pop up around the base of other trees in the area.

Hen of the Woods Season

Late August kicks off the beginning of hen-of-the-woods season. It is usually wrapped up sometime during late September or early November.

So, if you want to catch some of these elusive hens, you’ll need to do it as soon as they start popping. If you snooze, you lose.

Hen of the Woods Look-Alikes

Hen of the woods don’t have too many look-alikes, though there are few: Berkeley’s polypore mushroom, cauliflower mushrooms, and black stain.

That said, upon closer inspection, you’ll find that these look-alikes don’t have the same grayish undertones as the brownish colored hen of the woods (except for black stain). They are also slightly different sizes.

How Do You Tell Black Stain From Hen of the Woods?

The black stain mushroom is the toughest hen of the woods look-alike there is, literally.

If you pick it, you’ll notice it is almost as hard as rock. If you try to eat it, you’ll soon find that it is as tough as leather in your mouth. 

Are Maitake and Hen of the Woods the Same?

Maitake and hen of the woods are indeed one and the same; maitake is simply the Japanese word for “dancing mushroom,” the Japanese name for hen of the woods mushrooms.

How Long Does Hen of the Woods Take To Grow?

Hen of the woods are a somewhat slow-growing mushroom compared to other wild species. Their mycelium may take as much as 2 or 3 years to start fruiting.

However, once it does start putting out mushrooms, it’ll be active for years. Once mushrooms appear each summer, they grow to full size in days.

Do Hen of the Woods Bruise?

Hen of the woods must be handled with care because it can and does bruise. Once bruised, depending on the severity, the flesh of the mushroom may turn black within minutes.

Sometimes bruising takes half an hour to show up and isn’t as dark. Bruised hen of the woods’ value is significantly lower.

What Is Hen of the Woods Used For?

Hen of the woods, like many mushrooms, is extremely beneficial for your health.

This particular mushroom is known for fighting cancer, treating HIV, lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, and boosting the immune system just to name a few of the most significant uses.

What’s the Difference Between Chicken of the Woods and Hen 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 is a mushroom that is often mistaken for hen of the woods as they have virtually the same name.

However, that is almost all they have in common (other than the fact that they both grow on or near oak trees). 

Chicken of the woods is an orange shelf-like mushroom with a wavy structure. Hen of the woods are lower to the ground, brownish gray in color, and have a brain-like cluster-type structure.

Is Hen of the Woods Good To Eat?

Hen of the woods is considered highly edible and rather tasty. It is one of the most popular mushrooms to forage for each summer and autumn.

Those who enjoy the mushroom describe it as a meaty-like taste with a spicy-earthy undertone. 

What Part of Hen of the Woods Do You Eat?

The entire mushroom is edible after a thorough cleaning.

If there are wood chips or other debris from the forest floor embedded in the bottom or sides of the mushroom, simply pluck or cut them out while cleaning them. 

Can Hen of the Woods Make You Sick?

Hen of the woods is one of the safest wild mushrooms that you can hunt for and eat. Generally speaking, there’s no reason that you’d get sick from eating hen of the woods.

That said, there is one exception: if you happen to find hen of the woods growing near the base of cedars, conifers, or eucalyptus trees, they may contain some sort of toxin that will upset your stomach and possibly even make you sick.

What Does Hen of the Woods Taste Like?

Hen of the woods is a mushroom with a mild and savory meaty flavor. Depending on the batch, they may have more or less of a spicy taste to them as well.

At any rate, almost everyone agrees that they taste better cooked than when eaten raw.

When To Harvest Hen of the Woods

Hen of the woods is a safe-to-eat mushroom that is easy to identify and grows in the woods of North America, China, and Europe during August, September, and possibly part of November.

If you want to harvest the freshest and healthiest specimens of hen of the woods, you need to get out and hunt for the mushroom several times each month during the late summer and early autumn.

How To Clean Hen of the Woods

Hen of the woods is as easy to clean as it is to identify. Start by rinsing them off in the sink to remove dirt, debris, and any embedded wood chips.

Next, fill up the sink (or a large container) with fresh warm water, add a bit of salt, and plop the mushrooms into the mix. 

Check back on the soaking mushrooms in 5 to 10 minutes and try not to be too surprised at all the dirt and insects floating in the water.

Remove the mushrooms from the water, and allow them to air dry on the kitchen counter.

How To Cook Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

A bunch of hen of the woods mushrooms in a rustic wooden bowl.

Hen of the woods mushrooms may be prepared in a variety of ways – just about anything you can do with other mushrooms, like slicing or chopping and sautéing them to battering them and deep frying them.  

Hen of the Woods Recipe

  1. Prepare mushrooms, slicing them lengthwise, and slice garlic as well.
  2. Heat a properly sized skillet with a bit olive oil drizzled inside.
  3. Add the garlic to the skilled, and cook until almost crispy before removing.
  4. Gently drop the mushroom pieces into the skillet one by one, and allow each piece to sauté until golden before flipping them.
  5. Sprinkle with seasonings (salt, pepper, thyme).
  6. Serve with the garlic and additional seasonings.

How Do You Save 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.

It’s suggested 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.

A Final Word About Identifying and Using Hen of the Woods

Hen of the woods is a great wild mushroom that is easy to find, identify, harvest, clean, and prepare (or store). They can be eaten raw, dried, frozen, refrigerated, and even smoked.

Better yet, they are one of the meatier mushrooms out there. Another perk is that there are no poisonous look-alikes that you need to worry about if you’re new at hunting them.