October 4, 2021
Good evening friends,
This week’s mushroom is Grifola frondosa, commonly known as hen of the woods. A fitting follow-up to last week’s chicken of the woods. The one-year anniversary of Mushroom Monday is next week, and on that first edition I featured G. frondosa along with two other mushrooms. At that time, the newsletter was a mere spore landing on the substrate of my work’s microsoft outlook. There was a brief paragraph on this fascinating mushroom, but it’d be a great disservice to all of us if I didn’t properly profile G. frondosa. I found these mushrooms growing at the base of a red oak (Quercus rubra) in the ramble on 9/25/2021.
Not only is it aesthetically pleasing to follow chicken of the woods (L. sulphureous) with hen of the woods, but we can build on some of the ecological ideas we learned last week. G. frondosa, like L. sulphureous, can be both saprobic – consumes dead wood – and parasitic (it won’t kill the tree, but it may compromise its structural integrity). L. sulphureous, however, is a brown rot fungus that consumes the heartwood. Conversely, G. frondosa is a white-rot fungus (consumes lignin rather than cellulose) that causes a butt-rot in trees. Since it is a butt-rot fungus the mushrooms will only grow around the butt (base) of the tree, and that’s seen in the pictures. These large mushrooms grow from a sclerotium which is essentially a mass of stored nutrients created by the mycelium, the body of the fungus. G. frondosa grows in Eastern North America, Europe, and Asia in the fall – specifically September & October. Additionally, you can return to the same tree every fall for ~5-10 years to find these mushrooms. The mushrooms regularly weigh 5-10 pounds but can get all the way up to 50 pounds. Lastly, in the second picture you can see the color varies with age and the mushroom darkens as it matures.
Like chicken of the woods, hen of the woods is also considered a choice edible with purported medicinal properties to boot. It can be cooked in many of the same ways as chicken of the woods, so I won’t elaborate on the recipes, but Reference 3 contains eleven recipes for you to play around with. G. frondosa is said to regulate blood pressure, regulate cholesterol, boost your immune system, and kill tumor cells – among a variety of other claims.
Upon researching the medicinal properties of G. frondosa, I came upon a larger conundrum that spans the entire medicinal mushroom world. Michael Kuo, the author of mushroomexpert.com (which I use as a reference for every applicable mushroom), poo-pooed the medicinal qualities of this mushroom and mushrooms in general; citing an article published by the British Mycological Society (reference 4). I read the article and the author, Nicholas Money, points out that there haven’t been any scientific studies that show any mushroom will help cure cancer, or other ailments. Additionally, a lot of the isolated chemicals that have anti-cancer or anti-microbial properties in a lab-setting haven’t been proven to have that quality when ingested by humans. However, it doesn’t mean these medicinal properties aren’t real, or are ineffective in humans, it just means the science hasn’t been conducted to validate all the medicinal claims. He notes that penicillin and other important drugs have been derived from fungi, but calls for more scientific studies to be conducted on all of the commonly consumed medicinal mushrooms (including hen of the woods). I take a few different mushroom extracts with my coffee in the morning and I view it more as preventative medicine, to help regulate immune system and cell functioning in my body, but wouldn’t expect them alone to cure cancer. If you’re still curious about this dissonance in the medicinal mushroom world I encourage you to read Money’s article and some of the references I include at the end.
In Japan they call hen of the woods “Maitake” which translates to “the dancing mushroom” because people are said to jump for joy upon finding it. It derives the common name “hen of the woods” because it is said to look like a hen nesting in the woods. In Europe it goes by “ramshead” or “sheepshead” because that is how they interpret the mushroom’s unique shape – which can be called a rosette. The earliest use of this mushroom for medicinal purposes was in Shen Nong’s Scripture of Herbal Medicine dating back to China sometime between 200 BC and 200 AD.
I teased it last week but this Saturday I will be hosting a mushroom walk in the ramble in Central Park. We’ll meet at 10am on the west-side entrance to the Ramble, by my toolboxes, and I’ve attached an image of the location (GPS coordinates on the bottom of the image). You can email, or call/text me at 203-252-9421, if you want to RSVP or need help with directions that morning. I’ll bring identification books and all I ask is that you bring your curiosity for the natural world – particularly the one beneath our feet.
Additionally, the president of the New York Mycological Society and a personal fungal mentor, Sigrid Jakob, is giving a zoom presentation on mushrooms on Wednesday, October 20th. It’ll be an introduction to mushrooms so it’s a great opportunity for all of us to familiarize ourselves with the basics of these fascinating organisms. From my understanding, anyone in any part of the world can register so this is applicable even if you’re not in the NYC metropolitan area. Here is the link to register: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/7816330032909/WN_mEyH7E-3TwWD-yKZPA1P8A
See you Saturday,
PS. I’ve got some super exciting news that I’ll announce on the one-year anniversary edition of Mushroom Monday next week.
1) Kuo, M. (2017, October). Grifola frondosa. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/grifola_frondosa.html