Chicken Of The Woods, An Easy To ID Meat Substitute

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Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the Woods. Notice the Porous bottom surface. They do not have gills. (Photo By: Jim Champion / Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re a beginner to fungus foraging, Chicken of the woods( Genus: Laetiporus) is a great fungus to seek out because it’s widespread in The United States and easy to distinguish from any look-a-likes as long as you know a few fundamental identification features. There are a number of species in the genus that all look very similar, and are all considered to be edible, a very common species is Laetiporus Sulphureus, which grows in the Northeast and feeds more on hard woods like oak rather than softwoods.

Edibility And Culinary Use

Younger brackets are edible cooked. As they get old they dry out and become inedible.  This fungus’ claim to fame is its chicken-like fibrous texture.  The taste is bland but can pick up other flavors that it’s cooked with.  You can fry, bake or boil chicken of the woods, these cooking methods produce slightly different textures and give you some options for preparation. Here is a simple chicken of the woods recipe.

Health Benefits

Chicken of the woods has the ability to inhibit certain bacteria like staph bacteria(Staphylococcus aureus). It may also help prevent absorption of nutrients  into cancerous cells.

Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the Woods

Key ID Features

This fungus only grows on trees, either living or dead. Different species grow on different types of trees including hardwoods and softwoods, as well as different heights in the tree.  This fungus is a type of polypore which means that it has pores(small holes) on the underside, instead of gills.  The part that most people would call a mushroom is referred to as a bracket when it is a polypore growing from a tree and has no stalk.  The top of the bracket is orange/yellow and grows in a shelf-like pattern, hence one common name, sulfur shelf Mushroom.  There is typically a lighter colored margin at the edge of the bracket about 1/2″ thick(see photo).  The underside is lighter than the top and can range from white to yellow. The pores of this species are very small and dense so you will have to look closely to see them. Once you have found the fungus, chances are it will be in the same spot for a few years before it dies. You can also install chicken of the woods spawn plugs in a hardwood log or stump and grow your own.

Cautions

 Laetiporus Sulphureus
Laetiporus Sulphureus on Willow Tree( Photo By: Andy Potter / geograph.org.uk)

There are some minor cautions with chicken of the woods.  There have been rare reports of minor reactions in sensitive people including, swollen lips, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and disorientation.  These reactions may be due to a number of causes including, allergies to the fungus, individual reactions to the fungus’s proteins, toxins absorbed by woods such as eucalyptus or cedar, and eating old decaying brackets.

Conclusion

For expert and beginner fungus foragers alike Chicken of the Woods should be a staple wild edible. Its easy to identify, has no known deadly look-a-likes, and a texture that works well in many culinary dishes. This fungus is often perennial, so once you find it, you can return year after year to harvest.

Read our Article on: Safe Foraging


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Rose of Sharon Tree, A Beautiful Edible

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Rose of Sharon Tree

Rose of Sharon Tree
Rose of Sharon Flower. There are many colors and styles but they are all easy to identify (Photo By: Joel Mills / Wikimedia Commons)

Rose of sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a landscape plant native to Asia but very commonly planted in the US. It is a cold hardy tree or shrub with large tropical looking flowers, unmistakable once you’ve seen them.  Its edibility is often unknown, but there are a number of reasons to consider this plant for your next soup, salad, or sandwich.

Edibility And Culinary Use

The edible leaves of rose of sharon tree are available all spring, summer and fall.  They taste like lettuce but have a mucilaginous texture, which is pretty refreshing.  Because of this they make a great lettuce substitute in salads or sandwiches.  If you make your salad in late summer then you get the additional bonus of adding the edible flowers to the bowl.  They add some visual spunk, and the taste is great, mild, with a hint of nectar at the base of the petals. I also love to eat the unopened flower buds, they make a great alternative vegetable, eat them raw or cooked as a okra substitute. This recipe uses a traditional okra recipe and replaces it with rose of sharon.  The mucilaginous texture described above is a great thickening agent for soups, and sauces.  Another popular way to get the health benefits from this plant is to make a tea from the leaves and flowers.

Health Benefits

The number one health benefit known to science from consuming Rose of sharon tree is that it lowers blood pressure.  The plant is still being studied to determine what other benefits it may hold.  It does contain vitamin C, and anthocyanins which are antioxidants.

How to Identify Rose of Sharon

Conclusion

There are many good reasons to add Rose of sharon tree to your diet.  First of all it is a perennial plant, so once you’ve found it, you don’t have to go searching again, and finding it is easy since it is such a common landscape plant.  It has a mild taste with many uses.  It also has some important health benefits.  So don’t overlook this beautiful edible.



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Japanese Knotweed, Invasive In The US, So Eat As Much As You’d Like

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Japanese Knotweed Grove
Japanese Knotweed grove

We have all seen this plant growing along stream beds and in wet areas.  Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum / Fallopia japonica) is native to… you guessed it, Japan.  It’s also native to other parts of Asia.  This plant has naturalized in many parts of the world, it grows in 39 of the 50 United States and is listed as one of the world’s worst 100 invasive plant species by the World Conservation Union.  In other words there is no guilt in cutting down a Japanese Knotweed grove just to eat a few stalks. Another common name for this plant is Japanese Bamboo, because it grows with nodes similar to bamboo although it is not a bamboo.

Edibility and Culinary Use

Japanese Knotweed Shoot
Japanese Knotweed shoot, edible at this size and slightly larger

Japanese Knotweed is a favorite wild edible to many people around the world because it is so easy to harvest and identify, and it tastes so good.  The stems can be eaten either raw or cooked when they are still juicy in the early spring, they get too tough to eat as the season progresses.   The taste is similar to rhubarb, sour and tart.  It can be used as a rhubarb substitute in pies. 

Health Benefits

The nutritional benefits of Japanese knotweed are that it contains vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and manganese. It also contains resveratrol which is a substance still being studied for its numerous health benefits. 

Key ID Features

Japanese Knotweet spreads by runners which send up stalks that can reach about 6′ in height.  The stalks are segmented by nodes every 6″-8″ similar to bamboo. There are 2 types of new growth in the spring, seed growth and runner growth.  Seedlings are small and thin.  New stalks originating from runner roots come up about 1″-1.5″ stem diameter, and they grow very quickly, these are the stalks that are usually eaten.

Video on How to Identify Japanese Knotweed

Cautions

Japanese Knotweed contains oxalic acid just like rhubarb, spinach and some other common vegetables. Oxalic Acid aggravates conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity.  So if your doctor has told you to avoid oxalic acid then avoid Japanese Knotweed.

Conclusion

Japanese Knotweed
Japanese Knotweed mature stalks, too hard and dry to be edible (Photo By: Michael Gasperl / Wikimedia Commons)

This is a plant that can be harvested in large quantities. So unless your limiting your oxalic acid intake this plant should be part of everyone’s diet, it’s easy to find, identify, harvest, very good for you, and it tastes great. So next time you see Japanese Knotweed growing in a clean streambed in early spring think about taking some home.



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