Learn About Hen of the Woods Mushroom & Grow Your Own at Home

Learn About Hen of the Woods Mushroom & Grow Your Own at Home

Discover why people grow and consume hen of the woods mushroom at home as a healthful food or supplement 

The hen of the woods mushroom (Grifola frondosa) is also known as the maitake mushroom. We find these mushrooms growing wild in the Northeast in the late summer and fall. This article will use the names of the mushroom interchangeably, so keep in mind that it’s the same mushroom being addressed throughout.

Maitake is great for eating and it has various healthful properties as well. Today we are getting into some reasons why people like to consume hen of the woods mushroom, as well as ways to grow this mushroom at home. 

Understanding hen of the woods mushroom

As mentioned, hen of the woods mushroom is also known as maitake, particularly when it is cultivated. Considering the word “maitake” we can break it into two pieces: “mai” meaning dance and “take” meaning mushroom. Some resources have said that this name was purportedly given due to a joyful feeling one gets after eating the maitake mushroom. Perhaps that is the first of the maitake mushroom benefits we should mention: Eating hen of the woods may lead you to dancing!

This mushroom grows in clumped, leaf-like shapes at the base of oaks and maples. Maitake has umami flavor, which is also known as the “fifth taste” and it involves a savory component. These mushrooms are semi-firm and have a complex flavor, with additional hints of fruitiness, spiciness, and earthiness.

Healthful benefits of consuming hen of the woods mushroom

Glucans are one of the healthful constituents found in many of the mushrooms considered as medicinal. Beta-glucans have shown to modify biological responses, and alpha-glucans have been shown to enhance immune function [1]. 

One study on maitake mushrooms looked at its glucan levels and their ability to stimulate immune defense. Extracts of maitake and shiitake mushrooms were used, in addition to an active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) that was used for comparison. 

“Our current study clearly demonstrates that Maitake-derived glucan act via the same mechanisms as other highly active glucans to strongly stimulate immune defense reactions and, when combined with Shiitake glucan, the MaitakeGold 404-Shiitake blend is even more immunologically and biologically active than either glucan alone or AHCC.”

The study concluded with the following results: “We found significant stimulation of defense reaction. In all cases, the most active was the Maitake-Shiitake combination, with Maitake alone being the second strongest, followed by Shiitake on its own and AHCC.”

This study was conducted with the use of mice, so hopefully there will be trials on humans in the future. These results do make it clear that immune defense is possible from maitake mushrooms, and may even be more significant when multiple mushrooms are combined. 

Growing hen of the woods mushroom at home

Hen of the woods is an advanced mushroom to cultivate. This is the case because hen of the woods is not a strong competitor, so any type of other fungi or bacteria may win the battle for colonizing a substrate or log. The complete growing process also requires specific parameters to be successful. 

If you plan to grow hen of the woods mushrooms on logs, then you should consider sterilizing the logs beforehand. This will ensure that there is no other competitor that will stop the hen of the woods from colonizing the log.

For those who are interested in sterilizing logs, a pressure cooker, steamer, or pot with boiling water can be used. You will want to use autoclavable bags in the process as well. So you can begin by cutting log segments that will fit into the device used for sterilization. For instance, if you choose to use a pot and boiling water, then you can cut the logs to fit into the pot. Once the logs are cut you can place each log segment into an autoclavable bag. Then once the logs are in the bag, you can place the bagged log into the pot with water. Allow the bagged log to sit in a rolling low boil for an hour. Once the bag is cool enough to handle, move the bag to a clean area. 

We have a few different options for you if you are interested in growing maitake mushrooms at home. If you are planning to grow hen of the woods, we recommend using oak trees. 

Plug spawn for growing hen of the woods mushrooms: Using the plug spawn is a great option if you want to inoculate oak logs at home. You can use a palm inoculator or you can hammer in the plugs yourself. Once the plugs are in the logs, seal the holes with some cheese wax, beeswax, or food-grade paraffin wax.

Grain spawn for growing hen of the woods: If you want to try growing maitake indoors you can use grain spawn to inoculate your substrate mixture. An oak-based substrate would be ideal, and it could be supplemented with bran.

Sawdust spawn for growing hen of the woods mushrooms: Using sawdust spawn also goes well for inoculating your oak logs. Sawdust spawn tends to colonize the logs quicker than the plug spawn, although it might be slightly harder to fill the holes with the sawdust than with the plugs. Using a palm inoculator is helpful.

Burying maitake blocks or logs

If you are going to bury hen of the woods logs, you can do so in the spring early September. Burying at this time will hopefully lead to fruiting mushrooms by the end of October. 

If you create hen of the woods blocks, you will notice the grey-colored primordia developing on the top layer of the blocks once growth begins. 

Have you ever cultivated your own hen of the woods? Have you been able to find hens while foraging?

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