Maitake (Sheepshead, Hen of the Woods) Mushroom Hunting Tips

maitake mushroomThe Maitake mushroom, also known as a Sheepshead or Hen of the Woods mushroom, is a mushroom that can be found annually in the fall. The Maitake (Japanese for dancing mushroom) is a shelf/bracket mushroom due to how it’s meaty leaves (conks) are stacked. The Maitake mushroom is also a polypore which means that instead of having gills on the underside of the conks, it has a solid system of pores or tubes. These mushrooms can’t weigh upwards of 50+lbs so when you find one, you may be set for a while!

The Maitake mushroom makes excellent table fare and is much easier to find than the springtime favorite, the Morel mushroom. In addition to its delicious taste, the Maitake is a powerful medicinal mushroom. The polysaccharides or beta-D-glucans in the Maitake mushrooms have been known to help the body fight cancer, diabetes, the symptoms of HIV/AIDS, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

giant maitake mushroom

So the Maitake mushroom tastes great and is good for you? Great! But how do you find the Maitake (Sheepshead, or Hen of the Woods) mushrooms? Follow these simple Maitake mushroom hunting tips!

Maitake (Sheepshead, Hen of the Woods) Mushroom Hunting Tips

Study the following tips to ensure you find your fair share of Maitake mushrooms this fall.

    1. Timing is everything.
      Like with other mushrooms, certain environmental factors have to be right for the Maitake, sheepshead or hen of the woods mushrooms to grow. The growing season depends mainly on moisture and 60-65 degree temperatures, so in the US, focus your efforts from September to October especially after rainfall. It is best to check an area multiple times so you don’t miss the short growing period.
    2. Look at the base of oak trees.
      The Maitake, sheepshead or hen of the woods mushrooms grow at the base of large oak trees. Oak trees are pretty easy to identify due to the presence of acorns, their deeply grooved bark or their leaves’ pointy/jagged lobes. Find large oak trees and the battle is half over!
      oak leaves
    3. hen of the woods mushroom

      Maitake mushroom found in the middle of a 3 trunked oak tree!

      Look in old, mature woods.
      Get yourself into some well established hardwood forests for the best luck. You’ll find the right age and size of oak trees in an older woods compared to a younger one. Are the trees large in diameter? Is the woods somewhat dark due to the impressive oak canopy? If so, you’re in the right spot.

    4. Vary elevations to find the right moisture content.
      Rainfall totals vary from year to year and certain elevations may be dryer than others. Search different elevations and take note of where you are finding your mushrooms. Some years this may not matter much, but in drought years, you may notice a pattern. Search oak trees from the creek bottoms to the hilltops to see where the Maitake are hiding.
    5. Look on all sides of the tree.
      Although some report that the Maitake mushrooms prefer the north side of oak trees, I have found them all around oak bases and even in the middle of the tree! (see picture) It may look like a goofy game of ring around the rosie, but go from oak to oak and do a complete circle around them.
    6. Search the hard to reach areas.
      I hate to bust your bubble, but you are not the only one that is going to hunt Maitake, sheepshead or hen of the woods mushrooms this fall. You, however, can reach those harder to reach mushrooms that others will pass on because they are too far off the beaten path. Put in the work and you’ll reap the rewards.
      sheepshead mushrooms
    7. Keep a log of known producing trees.
      If an oak tree produces a Sheepshead mushroom one year, chances are, it’s an annual event. Bring a GPS and mark the trees where you find mushrooms. Utilizing a GPS will give you a proven route to take that will bring you many pounds of success.
    8. Cut the Maitake, sheepshead, or hen of the woods at the base of the mushroom.
      As with all mushrooms, it’s best to cut the mushroom while leaving the base rooted into the ground. Carry a long filet knife to allow for an easy harvest and you’ll help to ensure the spot will be a repeat grower in the following years.
    9. Bring a very large duffle bag.
      Maitake or sheephead mushrooms (as I call them) are large and take up a ton of space. You’ll need a good strong duffel bag to bring home your harvest in! Go big or go homel

Conclusion on Maitake (Sheepshead, Hen of the Woods) Mushroom Hunting

I hope these tips will help you to find some Maitake mushrooms this fall. No matter what you call them, they are an abundant and tasty mushroom that possesses great medicinal qualities. Good luck this year on your hunt for the Maitake!