Foraging for maitake mushrooms–the time is now.

a seventeen pound plus maitake

A seventeen-pound plus maitake. Never eat anything bigger than your head.

Maitake season is upon us. I was mourning that we had not gotten any this year, and that my supply was getting rather slim, and that it was pretty late, and whine after whine. Then, a burst of rain, and they were popping up all over. Now I have to scramble to freeze or cook them, and give some away, and we only picked half of what we found. Believe me, leaving so much behind was not easy. So I have a plethora of maitake, but I am not whining now.

Maitake on scales

This wild mushroom was so big it covered the scale’s display window

I still have not figured maitake (Grifola frondosa) out. Oyster mushrooms come back June 25, almost to the day, every year, in the same place. Maitake seem to have a mind of their own, and no interest whatsoever in our Gregorian calendar. Third week in September I found four recently gone-by clumps. And mourned. I should have checked sooner, I muttered bitterly. I did not begrudge the nibbles a slug had removed, but was very sad about the pounds that had simply gone back into the earth without taking center stage on my dinner table. We checked the family camp, usually a reliable source, and they too, had gone by.

With the shortening days, I only have weekends for adventures of more than an hour or two. Sunday afternoon some inner guide said forget looking for the lynx reported hanging out at the Featherbed on Cadillac Mountain, go check for mushrooms. But it is late, too late, they are gone by, I thought. Then remembered those November maitake from about ten years ago. I really want to see the lynx, or lynx scat, but I listened. And I was astonished, and delighted, when we found over 50 pounds of perfect maitake roses. (Not a technical term, but they really do resemble the petals of a rose, just on a grand scale, and brown.)

We harvested, and one mushroom weighed in at 17.6 pounds. That one will be dried and bagged, and used throughout the year. The most beautiful, perfectly round clump went to a friend who then offered to share moose meat with us. We did not ask for anything, but I love how giving generates giving. The rest has been divided and found homes, although there is still some up for grabs (send me a message).

maitake at oak base

Classic maitake rose, at the base of a red maple, Acer rubrum

Want to find your own? Go now, today. Look for large oak trees, and head towards any that have dead branches or show signs of stress. May you find a maitake or two. They do like to hide in the leaves. Take a knife, and cut it away at the base. I use my old dive knife. It straps to my leg in a sheath, is easy to reach, and makes me look tough.

This year turned out to be a year of abundance for maitake after all. Who knows what it will be like next year, so don’t wait, grab your basket and get out there. Tempting though it is, take just what you can use or share, and be sure to gather where you have permission.


Maitake past:

Maitake and chicken of the woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, from seasons past

Maitake and chicken of the woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, from seasons past. Read about that year’s collecting here.





Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.