This week's wild edible is Chicken of the Woods! Also known as Sulphur Shelf (Laetiporus suphureus)
-Although this is a fungus and not what some may think of when the phrase “wild edible” comes to mind, I’ve decided to include it due to its easy and “almost” foolproof identification (provided you follow a few simple guidelines).
-It’s important to reiterate that you should never harvest any wild edible, especially mushrooms, unless you are 100% of the plants identification and also where it was harvested. With that being said, you should never harvest or ingest chicken of the woods from eucalyptus or any evergreen or cedar tree. Chicken of the Woods that grows on these trees actually has a different molecular structure than typical Chicken of the Woods which can cause severe gastro-intestinal problem and increase the risk of allergic reactions in some people. Therefore it is just best to avoid it when it is growing on any of the aforementioned trees.
-This mushroom grows in brackets (circular shelf-like formations) and can be identified through its characteristic colors of deep orange/salmon in the center of the bracket and a bright lemony-sulfur yellow (where it gets the name sulfur shelf) on the outer edges and underside. These colors typically start to fade as the mushroom gets older. The underside of each bracket or shelf is completely lacks gills and teeth or spines and instead is made up of tiny pores, therefore making this mushroom a polypore. When cut in half, this mushroom has the texture/appearance (and some people think taste) of cooked chicken (especially towards the base), this is where the name “Chicken of the Woods” comes from.
-The best and most sought after Chicken of the Woods are the young tender ones. These can often ooze clear liquid when cut open. Always make sure to cook them very thoroughly as this will reduce the risk of GI disorders. The older ones are still completely edible but become tougher and have a corky texture which will require more cooking to make palatable. It is recommended to only take the edges of the older brackets as this will produce the most tender portions and encourage new growth for future harvesting.
-This mushroom can typically be found at the base of living and dead of fallen oak trees and trunks, and is also said to have the best flavor when growing on oak trees (dead of living). It can also be found on other hardwoods and evergreens but should be avoided if found growing on any evergreens, cedars, or eucalyptus trees.
- Laetiporus sulphureus grows in large brackets. Sometimes 40-50lbs worth with many reported cases of more than 100lbs! That’s a lot of potential food for the weary survivalist or homesteader. It can also be made into an orange fabric dye when using ammonia as a catalyst.
- Laetiporus suphureus does have a very similar look alike: Laetiporus cincinatus. The main difference between these two mushrooms is the underside of Laetiporus suphureus is yellow and grows at the base and trunk of trees and stumps and the underside of Laetiporus cincinatus is white and grows up from underground from the roots of trees. Don’t be alarmed or put off because of this, both mushrooms are completely edible and some say Laetiporus cincinatus is the tastier of the two.
**It is very important to identify which “Chicken of the Woods” mushroom you are identifying. Using the characteristics above and avoiding those growing on eucalyptus, cedars, and evergreens will help to correctly identify Laetiporus suphureus, but it is still important to check multiple resources and get proper training from experts in the field of mycology. Also, when 100% sure the mushroom in question is Laetiporus suphureus, only try a tiny bit at first and give several hours to see if you have any issues. Some people have GI distress and/or allergic reactions.
**Never eat any mushroom that looks rotten, dead, dying, or is infested with bugs.
**When identifying plants and mushrooms you are unfamiliar with, please use as multiple references, as well as help from experts when available. Unless you are 110% sure what a plant or mushroom is, it is best to avoid it completely.
**If you plan on using any plants or mushrooms for medicinal uses, consult a healthcare professional, as well as botanist or mycologist familiar in the field of wild edibles. And as always, use as many references and expert opinions as possible when identifying a plant or mushroom.
**Be sure to avoid any plants or mushrooms growing near roads, around chemicals, other poisonous plants, or polluted/contaminated water.
**As always, be sure to use the Universal Edibility Test to ensure the plant is the correct plant and to help identify any unknown allergies you may have. (Never use the Universal Edibility Test for mushrooms. When identifying mushrooms use the rule “When in doubt, throw it out!”)