In a post I wrote about over a year ago, I told the story of the “mystery of the stumps” where I described my relationship to the forest where I grew up, the forest to which I belong. I told the tale of a forest with mysterious stumps that my cousins and I couldn’t explain, and later, when I was 14, seeing the loggers come through and was devastated by the experience. I told the tale of the regrowth and healing of that forest as I ventured back in after many years, and the healing lessons that forest provided. And now, there is a new chapter to tell–the healing medicine that the forest produced out of those cut stumps.
This week, I took a trip back to my parent’s house and spent some time in the forest with a good friend. We had recently taken a summer mushroom workshop (which I’ll blog about soon), and we wanted to test out some of our new-found mushroom skills and see what else there was to harvest. When we were there in May, my friend thought that some of the stumps might have the first signs of reishi (Ganoderma tsuga
e) mushrooms, but we needed to look at them later in the season. And sure enough, when we returned, there the reishi mushrooms were, growing beautifully.
We excitedly frolicked through the forest and found them on probably about 15% of the stumps that had been cut down (trees cut about 17 years ago, from when I was around 14). These were hemlock tree stumps, for this is what G. tsugae enjoys growing upon. This experience was more than just finding a great medicinal mushroom–this was a powerful message in healing. These stumps were the trees that were cut, my tree friends that were lost but not forgotten when I was 14. These were the stumps that I couldn’t face, couldn’t enter the forest to see, for at least ten years. And here were the Reishi mushrooms, one of the best medicinal mushrooms in the world, growing there on those cut stumps. It was as if they were saying, “Look! We are fine! We have healed and now we can heal you as well!”
Something shifted in me. This was plant medicine, powerful and meaningful. I already knew that the forest was regrowing, healing from its past injuries. But I hadn’t realized that nature would turn such a tragic occurrence into something magical and medicinal in return. I was and am always astounded by the gifts that nature gives.
Reishi Mushroom Healing: I was first introduced to the Reishi mushroom by my good friend who brewed me some reishi tea with elderberry and honey when I was suffering a very bad head cold. He made me several cups, which I enjoyed and which helped with the cold, and then he sent me on my way with a reishi mushroom tincture. I recovered from the cold quickly, and I’ve had such respect for this mushroom ever since.
Matthew Wood discusses reishi mushrooms in his Earthwise Herbal: Old World Plants book. He says that the mushrooms contain protein, polysaccharides, phytosterols, and “help reduce autoimmune excess (heat) but also builds up exhausted, cold people, rebuilds the adrenal cortex, regulates blood clotting, and protects the liver” (272). It helps with nervous exhaustion, sympathetic excess, or adrenal burnout, helps with allergies, aids in hypertension by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis, and much more. He suggests that for Reishi to be effective, it has to be cooked for at least an hour and made into a tea or stock with soup bones (273).
Finding and Harvesting Reishi
Reishi mushrooms, specifically the g. tsugae that are native to North America, prefer Hemlock trees–or in my case, hemlock stumps. Matthew Wood suggests that the Asian version of this mushroom, G. lucidum, likes oaks and chestnuts. Another related species that can be found is G. applantum, which grows on Maples. The reishi I found were part of a mesic forest with multiple streams, at the bottom of an Appalachian mountain valley and along the ridges near streams/creeks. This is the same kind of forest where you find ramps, dutchman’s breeches, and wood nettles (we also found healthy amounts of chanterelle mushrooms).
Harvesting of reishi can take place anytime after the mushrooms spore (you don’t want to harvest before they spored because we didn’t want to reduce the population of reishi). After they spore, the fruiting bodies have done their work and you can go ahead and harvest! This will likely happen sometime in July. You want to get them when they are still white on the bottom–about half the reishi or more that we found were past their prime with worms and bugs and stuff in them. We cut out the bad pieces, but its tough work. They get worms, slugs, and such later, which you can cut around, but which doesn’t make a pretty sight (see photo below).
You can harvest reishi with a sharp knife. We used a cloth canvas bag to store our reishi. Here is my friend Paul harvesting reishi–you can note the nice white underside of the mushroom. These ones were a little smaller, but still quite nice.
After you harvest them, you want to clean them (we washed them lightly) and then we cut them up into small slices and dried them in a food dehydrator. Here’s Paul cleaning and cutting the reishi.
After about 12 hours, the reishi are dry, and you can store them in a mason jar with a tight lid till they are needed. What a wonderful mushroom!
So I will take this as a medicinal mushroom, in tea and in tinctures (I will be providing a post on how to make a double-extracted reishi tincture in the future at some point!) It will always remind me of the healing power of nature, the importance of the cycle of life, and is a reminder of the blessings that nature provides. I hope that you, too, readers, will have the experience of harvesting and honoring this wonderful medicinal mushroom. If you want to learn how to make a double-extracted tincture from these–check out this post.