Mushroom Spotlight : Chicken of the Woods!

This time of year the forest can feel like an endless sea of green. Being out there is gratifying on it’s own, but there’s nothing quite like catching that telltale glimpse of orange through the trees to take a hike from enjoyable to exhilarating! Chicken of the woods is a really great find and well deserving of it’s status as a foraging staple.

Chicken of the woods, or COW for short, is a shelf style mushroom that grows primarily on dying and dead hardwoods. It can be found in much of North America, Europe and parts of Asia. On the US east coast it is most often found from May to October. The top is usually orange and white while the underside is a soft yellow dotted with pores. Often growing in massive clumps, it’s not uncommon to find COW by the pound. The biggest on record was found in the UK and weighed about 100lbs! Unsurprisingly, these large, vibrant formations make it easier to see at a distance than many other choice mushrooms. I was lucky enough last year to spot my own cluster. It was at the bottom of a steep hill near our campsite in Virginia. While I don’t walk well on inclines, I was too excited to stop myself. I took it slow, going from tree to tree for support with all sorts of recipes going through my head. Sadly once I was face to face with it, it became obvious that this specimen was well past it’s prime and was more suitable as insect housing than it was as food. That being said, I was still excited for the pictures!

Chicken of the woods is a beloved edible mushroom, known for it’s woodsy taste and a texture that has an uncanny resemblance to chicken. It truly is the perfect substitute for shredded chicken in any vegan/vegetarian recipe. If you are planning on trying COW, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. Like most mushrooms, chicken of the woods can make you ill if eaten raw and it has caused allergic reactions in some people. It’s generally important when foraging mushrooms that one be able to identify trees. With COW it is particularly important, as it can be found on toxic hemlock, conifers and eucalyptus which will make the mushroom toxic as well. Chicken of the woods is best eaten young.

Wanna try COW yourself? Now’s the time! I’ve included links below to a few fabulous recipes. While COW has few lookalikes,remember, never munch on a hunch! Happy foraging!

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