top of page

Chicken of the Woods
Laetiporus sulphureus

A new frontier of food and medicine?

Sulfur shelf - Crab/Lobster of the Woods



Color: sulfur yellow to deep orange; fades with age

Height: up to 40 cm

Cap diameter: up to 40 cm

Spore print: white

Edibility: Excellent

What's in a  [common] name?

When you first hear L. sulphureus’ most commonly used name “chicken of the woods,” you might be inclined to think that this fungus tastes like chicken. To some, it might, but to me, it doesn’t and I don’t think it tastes like shellfish either as described by its less common epithet, “Crab or Lobster of the woods.” Instead, “chicken” is a reference to its yellow color, rather than its taste (Adamska. 2023).


Chicken of the woods was first described in 1789 by French mycologist, Pierre Bulliard, as Boletus sulphureus and then later renamed Laetiporus sulphureus by American mycologist, William Murrill in 1920. After more recent genetic analyses, several clades of this species have been delineated and the archetype, edible L. sulphureus has been sectioned off to be found in the areas of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Other closely related species can be found growing west of the Rockies such as L. gilbertsonii, which should be avoided when found on eucalyptus trees because it has been known to cause upset stomach and fevers in a small percentage of consumers.

Description and Ecology

These bright sulfur (as the scientific name implies) yellow to deep orange fungi can’t go unnoticed on a walk in the woods across North America, Europe, and Asia in August to October. They grow on several species of hardwood trees (oak, poplar, locust, and sometimes conifers) as semicircular fruiting bodies with short to no stems that can be up to 40 cm in diameter. Chicken of the woods commonly grows in clusters of overlapping shelves directly out of the tree trunk. The underside of these bracket shelves has white to yellow pores which release white spores over time. When young, their color is much more vibrant and they are significantly more palatable. When older, they become discolored, faded white and mottled with brown spots and oftentimes, the tissue is riddled with insects.


Unfortunately for the host trees, chicken of the woods parasitize them and cause what is called “brown rot.” They produce enzymes to break down the tree tissue except for lignin, leaving behind a brown residue as they chew their way through the tree (Langer et al. 2021). Chicken of the woods often infects these trees through either natural occurring wounds or human-made wounds via pruning. The fruiting bodies of this polypore fungus are often found high up in the trees, but also sometimes at the base. In addition to being parasitic, they can also live saprophytic lifestyles and feast on already dead tree tissue.

Warning/Look Alikes

Chicken of the woods is considered to be one of the safest mushrooms to eat because nothing deadly looks like it. It would be hard to confuse it with mushrooms like the poisonous Jack O'lantern mushrooms which can be similar in color, but not in shape. However, some people can be allergic to this fungus, so it is suggested that you try a little before eating a lot of it. Symptoms can include fever and gastrointestinal upset. As mentioned above, these symptoms are also seen when consuming chicken of the woods that grow on some conifers and eucalyptus, so as always, forage carefully!

Science and Medicine

Chicken of the woods has been regarded as a medicinal mushroom across cultures and modern analyses are suggesting that there may be something to it. L. sulphureus fruiting bodies produce several phenolic compounds and flavonoids that have demonstrated antioxidant activities to help protect healthy cells from damage (Adamska. 2023). A recent study also showed they contain compounds called sulphurenoids which exhibit significant anti-inflammatory activities (Khalilov et al. 2022). Additionally, extracts from L. sulphureus have been shown to have anti-proliferative activities against cancer cells (Younis et al. 2019). While the bioactive chemical composition of these mushrooms can vary widely per specimen, these initial studies into unlocking their medicinal capabilities can serve as a basis for future investigation.

Chicken of the Woods.JPG

Chicken of the Woods

Laetiporus sulphureus

Photo taken by author.

Culinary Uses

To harvest - If young, slice the mushroom at the base of the fruiting body close to the trunk of the tree. Make sure the shelves are still young and tender and any water droplets formed on the shelves are clear. Older specimens can be less palatable and full of bugs and only the outer 1-2 inches may be edible. Look for holes or bug tunnels in the cross section to make sure fungal gnat larvae aren’t chomping their way through. My suggestion is to cook harvested chicken of the woods right away to avoid any bugs stealing your crop!


To store - Common storage methods include freezing, dehydrating, and pickling. This summer (2023), I’ve frozen already cooked and raw mushrooms. Come back in a few months for an update on which method works best.


To eat - Always cook chicken of the woods thoroughly, at least 10-20 minutes. Mushroom steaks can be used as a vegetarian or vegan substitute for chicken. The easiest way to cook them is to sauté them in butter and a pinch of salt. Check out my recipe ideas below:

All photos on this page were taken by the author.

bottom of page