Walking the murky and tulgy backwoods trails deep in the Pacific Northwest hills in the summertime and fall, you may find a treasure trove of edible, poisonous and medicinal mushrooms. As an herbalist I have long been fascinated by some of these strange creatures and specifically one genus of mushroom known as Ganoderma.
The most famous Ganoderma is the exceptionally prized Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) that is often commercially grown for its medicinal properties and is used extensively in Asian communities for its tonic properties. Known as Ling Zhi- or “Sacred Longevity Mushroom”, it has a glossy red varnished sheen and can be found in temperate and subtropical places throughout the world. Here in the States it is commonly found east of the Rocky mountains and mainly in the Gulf Coast states.
The Northwest has a few Ganodermas as well and I’ll talk about three of these medicinal fungi in this article. The first is known as Ganoderma applanatum, the “Artist’s Conk.” This mushroom got its name because one can easily etch on the underside of the fungi and make interesting designs.
Two other key Northwest Ganodermas are Ganoderma oregonense and Ganoderma tsugae. Ganoderma tsugae likes to grow on hemlocks (Tsuga genus) while G. oregonense can grow on a variety of conifers and has a much larger fruiting body (up to a meter long).
The Ganodermas are bracket fungi polypores and grow in nice rounded conks on trees. A polypore is a mushroom that has many multiple fruiting bodies that appear like tubes or pores on the underside of the fungus. Ganodermas are expert in decomposing wood and its cellulose and lignin. Because of this one can think of these mushrooms breaking down dead and rotting trees and recycling their base material to use again in another form.
In essence they are great alchemists, turning dead and rotting matter into living fungi. Insects, mites and other creatures then feed on the polypore mycelium and fruiting bodies and in turn these are eaten by larger birds and animals. This mushroom acts as a great forest engine for turning death back into life.
Mystical healing mushroom of immortality- Reishi- shines its warm red light upwards to the sky and transforms decaying matter into new life, new growth, new possibility. Your sweet, bitter taste nourishes us, clears out old sadness and warms the heart.
There has been a lot of research on Reishi and its medicinal effects on the human body. For a full explanation please refer to my article: Reishi the Great Healer. Here are the main constituents found in the mushroom.
Polysacharides: These are long chain carbohydrates that have been show to have immunomodulating effects, lower blood pressure and have anti-tumoural properties. In terms of immunomodulating effects, that means that Reishi can strengthen a compromised immune system or relax an overactive immune system, depending on the situation. These polysaccharides need to be extracted with hot water via decoction.
Triterpenes/Ganoderic acids and Sterols: These bitter constituents have anti-inflammatory, hypotensive and adaptogenic properties and can reduce the release of histamine which is helpful for those who are prone to allergies. Generally one needs to extract these constituents using alcohol.
Besides the medicinal effects mentioned above, Reishi has the ability to reduce fatigue, calm the nervous system, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, improve sleep and has an overall strengthening effect on the entire body. Reishi is also antimicrobial and useful externally for wound healing. On a basic level, it seems to help people who have gone through shock, trauma and are sad, anxious, perhaps with insomnia and feel shut down. The sparkle in their eye has dimmed. This is a classic sign of someone with PTSD, who has gone through deep suffering and has been deeply weakened by the experience.
In Chinese medicine this mushroom has been considered a “Three treasure tonic”. The three treasures in Chinese medicine are jing, qi and shen. Jing refers to our basic life force essence. It is housed in the kidneys and the adrenals and can be used up by too much partying, drugs and trauma. Qi refers to our overall energy levels and sense of vitality. And shen is related to our potential, realization and expression in the world; how we “shine.” In Chinese medicine, Reishi is unique in strengthening all three of these “treasures.”
Ganoderma: A Wise old Alchemist
As we delve into the deep dark Northwest forest we find these amazing and magical fungi. They are truly jewels that can help restore our health and wellbeing. As I hike up through the hills and Gorge near my city, I think of these beings as core protectors of the forest. I imagine the taoist sages who hiked hills, engaged in sacred movement such as qi gong and collected plants that brought longevity and good health. These old taoist sages were engaged in a form of alchemy, of transforming their spirits and trying to merge with the silent depths of the forest.
Like these ancient sages, these Ganoderma mushrooms are also engaged in a deep form of alchemy. They transform the forest to bring life from death and they can do the same for us medicinally. They can scavenge the old dark material, the trauma, fear and toxicity and transform that energy and bring in healing strengthening medicine.
Though I will make medicine from commercially harvested Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) I far prefer gathering Ganoderma in the wild to make medicine. “Wildcrafted” medicine is far more potent as a healing agent because the herb or mushroom has adapted specifically to that region and has weathered the storms and changes in temperature and season while remaining resilient and strong. There is also power in developing that special relationship of gathering your own medicine in the wild.
The Ganodermas start to fruit out in the summer and can be found and collected all the way through to the early Fall. To really utilize the full spectrum of medicinal constituents of Ganodermas, one needs to both make an alcohol extraction (tincture) as well as decoct (boil and simmer) the mushroom in water. This helps pull out both the important polysaccharides and the triterpenes for a full spectrum medicine. To learn how to make double extractions of Ganodermas, here is a quick and dirty guide to working with dried specimens.
In terms of differences between these species of mushrooms, scientific studies show that all three of these native Ganodermas have antimicrobial, anti-tumoral and immunomodulating effects. But though the Ganodermas appear to have strong similarities there does appear to be some difference in effect between Artist’s conk and the other two Ganodermas (oregonense and tsugae).
What some herbalists and myself have noticed is that G. applanatum appears to have less of the heart tonic effect and does not have that particular medicinal effect that helps people who have gone through trauma and feel sad and in shock. Artist’s conk appears to be more helpful on a global level with tonic adaptogenic effects but I think other two species are superior in effect for PTSD, shock and trauma based emotional issues.
That is not a firm opinion and I am very interested in any others who have explored the medicinal use of Ganodermas and their particular medicinal effects.
As an herbalist who lives in the Pacific Northwest, I have long been fascinated with the medicinal effects of local mushrooms. Ganodermas are perhaps the premier mushrooms for improving health and wellbeing and can be found in the deep forests, often living on rotted hemlocks and fallen trees. Like jewels in a hidden treasure chest, they are not easy to find and often elicit excitement and pleasure when mushroom foragers find them along the trail.
These powerful little treasures can help us find our way out of the dark sad places in our life. Just the simple act of searching for these beauties, gathering them with kindness and respect, and then making medicines from their flesh engages us in a process of healing and renewal.
Exopolysaccharide from Ganoderma applanatum as a Promising Bioactive Compound with Cytostatic and Antibacterial Properties
Ganoderma tsugae Induces S Phase Arrest and Apoptosis in Doxorubicin-Resistant Lung Adenocarcinoma H23/0.3 Cells via Modulation of the PI3K/Akt Signaling Pathway
Stamets, P., & Wu Yao , C. (1999). MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms.
Jong, S. C., Brimingham, J. M. (1992). Medicinal Benefits of the Mushroom Ganoderma. Advances in Applied Microbiology, 73, 108110.
Fabulous video with Yarrow Willard as he harvests Ganoderma oregonense
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