Now is prime time to find tasty hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Because of recent rainfall, it appears there will be a good crop of the big fungi; at least that's what I found while tromping the woods a few days ago.
It’s been nearly two decades since I discovered my first hen-of-the-woods mushroom. My venture on that late August afternoon was initially intended to be a deer-scouting effort. More precisely I was scrutinizing the local bur oaks to see if the acorns were ripe and dropping to the ground. As most deer hunters know, acorns are a favorite food of whitetails. During late August and early September, one need only find newly fallen acorns and eventually deer will show up. True also of bears, turkeys, squirrels and other woodland wildlife.
When I spotted the first hen-of-the-woods I was at first surprised. I had read about the big woodland mushrooms, but had never actually gone out looking for them. What I remembered was that they were a mushroom that grew during fall. Well, fall was almost a month away.
Late last week I was again poking about among bur oaks, but this time I was looking for mushrooms. I wasn’t disappointed because I discovered two of the big fungus, and I know the mushroom season is just beginning.
Using a long knife, I harvested one of the mushrooms and brought it home. I left the other “hen” to be collected in a day or two. Once home I removed the many spoon-shaped petals from the main stem, washed the pieces under cold water, and popped them into a fry pan. The main stem is edible, but not preferred.
Hen-of-the-woods are regarded as one of the most preferred mushrooms. Every hen-of the-woods I have discovered grew at the base of a bur oak tree. I've found cool days following heavy precipitation are the best times to look for “hens.” Bur oak savannas are prime locations.
The hen-of-the-woods mushroom is reasonably easy to identify. To me (and obviously to others) the mushrooms resemble a brown or tan hen chicken sitting on a nest. Thus, the name hen-of-the-woods. Some people call the mushrooms “ram’s heads” because, with some imagination, the fungi do look like a brown wooly sheep’s head. Even though the brownish colored fungi are in some cases well-camouflaged against the forest floor, because of their large size they are relatively easy to find.
BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at email@example.com. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.