Magical Mushrooms

My repertoire of forageable mushrooms is still very small, and I only harvest and eat things that I can identify with 100% certainty.

I mean… this rule goes for wild plants as well, but with fungi it’s even more important we not “munch on a hunch”. We found death caps (Amanita phalloides) in our backyard this year, which is an extra reminder to be careful.

Death cap (Amanita phalloides) found in my backyard
Death cap (Amanita phalloides) found in my backyard

Recently, I added a new mushroom to my list, golden reishi (Ganoderma curtisii). Reishi are polypore mushrooms that grow from dead or dying hardwood trees. Reishi has no toxic look-alikes so it is relatively safe to forage.

Golden reishi (Ganoderma curtisii)
Golden reishi (Ganoderma curtisii)

The golden reishi can be distinguished from other varieties because of the matte appearance to its colorful top, rather than the shiny lacquered-looking surface of other species.

According to Practical Self Reliance, you could eat reishi mushrooms if you harvest them young enough. They quickly get woody as they grow. But – like turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) – reishi is primarily sought after for medicinal purposes. In fact, reishi has been used medicinally in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years.

When harvesting reishi, check that the undersides are still white because this indicates the mushrooms are still relatively young. As they age, they can develop potentially harmful molds.

White undersides indicate relatively young reishi mushrooms
White undersides indicate relatively young reishi mushrooms

All reishi mushrooms appear to offer the same medicinal benefits although they may not all be as potent as Ganoderma lucidum, the variety most frequently mentioned and studied. Reishi may work as an immune-booster and anti-cancer treatment; it may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as regulating blood sugar. Particularly of interest to me is the role it can play in reducing stress and improving sleep!

In fact, reishi is so popular that you can buy it either dried whole, powdered (bulk or in capsules), as tinctures, or blended into tea. You can even buy spawn to plug your own logs, or – even easier – growing kits.

Reishi mushrooms begin to spoil quickly after harvesting, so ideally you should slice and dry them immediately, or process them into a tincture. Reishi has medicinal properties that are soluble in water, as well as some that are soluble in alcohol, so a “double extraction” helps maximize the effectiveness of any tincture. I use the Herbal Academy instructions for double extractions (which I did last year for a large turkey tail score). (And their website explains nicely the science behind double extractions.)

Golden reishi is identified by its matte appearance
Golden reishi is identified by its matte appearance

The book Healing Mushrooms by Tero Isokauppila includes a variety of reishi recipes, as well as additional details about the mechanisms by which reishi supports health. (Note, I am NOT an Amazon affiliate, and this link is provided for your convenience; I highly recommend finding the book through your library instead of actually buying a copy.)

What magical foraging have you encountered so far this fall?

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