It has been a long long time since I’ve seen this fungus, especially in my neck of the woods in Leicestershire. Then three come along at once!
Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) is a lovely sight for any mushroom fan, especially foragers looking for that special something to cook up. They’re widespread but occasional and the specimen featured here is the best of the three examples I discovered.
The other two were much older, with one unfortunately way beyond its prime and was decaying. Saying this, its good to point out that Hen of the Woods (like many polypores) don’t take long to become tough and leathery, and with regard to this fungus, when decomposing they produce the most awful stench. I had smelled the last one before I’d even seen it!
So this young, fresher specimen was just right (especially from a culInary point of view). Their favourite haunt is always snugly tucked up right next to the very base of broad-leaved trees (mainly oak, as in this case). Unfortunately for the tree, they’re actually parasitic, causing white rot in their host.
The whole fruiting body is a mass of many tongue or leaf-shaped fronds, emanating from a central, branching stem. They have fawn grey-brown colouring (with a hint of olive) and wavy margins, ranging from 2-7cm across. In this younger state, they have a smooth texture and the flesh (up to 1cm thick) is quite malleable. The underside shows the white pored layer – these are quite small and semi-circular/irregular in shape.
In fact, the whole appearance of this fungus reminds me of its ‘similar looking’ but much larger cousin, the Giant Polypore (Meripilus giganteus), although Hen of the Woods (as a whole) can grow up to 100cm in diametre. You’d be lucky to see one that big though as the average size is around 20-40cm.
As the title of this post suggests, this species has high culinary status in Japan as well as China (we caught on later!) and is often used in many of their ‘one-pot’ or ‘nabemono’ recipes. They also contain high levels of antidioxants which are excellent for the immune system, as well as being effective in the treatment of diabetes and certain cancers. You can even pick them up in a health supplement. There’s a entire world of powders and capsules out there. So it looks like the west is catching up with the east when it comes to their herbology techniques. We just get them from Amazon!
For now, I just like to enjoy savouring the great taste. Good luck in finding some on your forays, and I hope they’re young, fresh and ‘just right’.
QUICK ID TABLE: HEN OF THE WOODS Grifola frondosa
30-40cm across (rarely grows larger). Made up of many tongue-shaped fronds with short stems fusing at a common main stem (whitish in colour). Each wavy frond is approx 6-10cm across / 0.5-1cm thick. Upper surface concentrically zoned light and darker grey-brown (with olivaceous tint). Flesh is white, soft and fibrous. Fruiting body ages quickly becoming tough and leathery.
PORES / SPORE PRINT
Small; 2 per mm, sub circular shape, irregular. White.
HABITAT / SEASON
Parasitic, at the very base of deciduous trees; mainly oak (growing from an underground tuber-like structure known as a sclerotium). July-Oct.
Edible when young and fresh. Excellent.
The Genus POLYPORUS & Related (Polypores etc): Characteristics to look out for:
• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.