September 27, 2021
Good evening friends,
Today’s mushroom is Laetiporus sulphureous, commonly known as chicken of the woods. Astute readers of Mushroom Monday will recall that we looked at a similar mushroom – technically bearing the common name “white-pored chicken of the woods” (Laetiporus cincinnatus) – on June 28th, and now we’ll be covering the other mushroom in the area that goes by the same common name. This was a no-brainer to feature this week as I got reports of it growing in the south end of the park from Mimi (whose pictures I’ve also included), and in the north end of the park from Lisa, before I even found some myself in the Ramble (pictures 3-5).
L. sulphureous grows summer through fall east of the great plains. It is saprobic (obtaining nutrients from dead wood) on oaks and other hardwoods, but is also considered parasitic since it grows on living trees. It causes a heartwood rot – the heartwood is the dense, dead wood in the center of the tree – which made me wonder if it should still be considered a parasite since it is consuming the dead cells in a living tree. Perhaps this could compromise the tree’s structural integrity, or make it more prone to infection/disease, but it’s an interesting notion nonetheless. The previously featured chicken of the woods, L. cincinnatus, was a butt rot fungus that consumes the wood in the butt (base) of the tree and therefore it grows close to said butt. L. sulphureous can grow anywhere from the base of the tree all the way up toward the canopy since the heartwood runs vertically up the tree. That is one major factor distinguishing the two and the other major dichotomy is color. The colors of L. sulphureous are vibrant – orange on top with a neon yellow pore surface underneath, and I even read contradicting information about whether the mushroom has been able to be used for food coloring and dying wool. If you recall last week, we parsed out the difference in brown rot and white rot fungi (brown rot consume the cellulose and white rot prefer the lignin in plant cell walls), and L. sulphureous is a brown rot fungus. The orange conks of L. sulphureous typically grow in clusters and are hard to miss when traipsing around woods or parks this time of year (remember to look up too).
Most folks that seek out this mushroom are interested in the culinary aspect. It gets its common name from not only having a similar taste to chicken when cooked, but also the texture holds up as well. I harvested the L. sulphureous I found on Saturday and was able to grill it that night (thanks James) with just a light coating of olive oil. I’ve cooked it in a cast-iron skillet before but grilling it definitely allowed it to maintain the chicken-like texture. I also think a big factor is how young the mushroom is when harvested, and how quickly you consume it after harvest. Obviously, eating it the same day you harvest will yield better taste/texture, but what is also neat is you can freeze this mushroom (cut it into manageable sizes that fit in your freezer first) and then cook it at your convenience without much of a drop off in quality. There are plenty of fun recipes out there, and I know Mimi and Lisa both ate the mushrooms they showed me, but the mushroom can basically serve as a chicken substitute in any dish. Further, it has a bevy of purported medicinal benefits including antimicrobial, anti-carcinogenic, and hormone balancing properties. These have been substantiated to varying degrees but compounds extracted from the mushroom have killed a variety of cancer cells (stomach, liver, breast, skin, and bone cancers) in mice and in cells cultured in a lab (Reference 3). Some people are allergic to chicken of the woods so if you want to eat it just start out by consuming a few bites.
Not So Fast, My Friends
Now I’m sure you’re all jazzed up to go out and find mushrooms you can eat. However, there is a lot more to it than reading an email. It’s not rocket science, but you also don’t want to make yourself sick (or worse ). The best way to learn how to identify and forage mushrooms is to get involved in your local mushroom club (New York Mycological Society https://newyorkmyc.org/ and for those in CT/Westchester https://www.comafungi.org/). If you’re outside of the metropolitan area here is a list of mushroom clubs affiliated with the North American Mycological Association: https://namyco.org/clubs.php. You can also purchase identification books, Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada by Tim Baroni and The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms by Gary Lincoff and Carol Nehring are my two favorites). There is plenty of information online as well, and in the references section I’ve noted which references I used today have culinary value.
Further, you folks have been asking and so I’m here to deliver: I’ll be hosting a walk in Central Park on Saturday, 10/9, so if you’re available over the holiday weekend I’d love to see you and learn together. I’ll provide more details next week.
Just a few more days of dancing in September,
1) Kuo, M. (2017, November). Laetiporus sulphureus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/laetiporus_sulphureus.html