We as Canadians are so lucky to have some of the most diverse ecosystems and natural habitats on the planet. My family is lucky enough to have access to some of the most beautiful forests i have ever stepped foot in. Porcupine, beaver, red headed wood peckers, deer, coyotes, these are just some of the animals that we come in to contact with on our adventures. We happened across a deer game trail on Friday, that was used quite recently by many animals! Coniferous trees, running creeks, beaver dams, birch and aspen forests, fungus, plants insects and more! Our forests are filled with a spectacular array of plants and animals, you just need to slow down, take a breath and take in the beauty that surrounds us!
Something that our family stands strongly behind is that Mother Nature provides for us everything that we need to survive. Food, shelter, medicine, clothing, water. These are things that we as a society have gotten so used to ordering up online , or dial a doctor for medicine, take a pill for this or take a pill for that. People have lost touch with their roots and have lost touch with nature. It is my hope, that we can try and help people to get some of those roots back, and teach people that you do not need to run to the doctor for every tiny aliment. With time, and proper healing, many things can be managed with the support of herbal remedies. That being said, there is always a place for western medicine our world. For many many conditions, it is a necessity to have regular care from your physician. Without the use of some medicines and treatments, many people would die.
The information i am about to share does not replace any treatment or therapies that are prescribed by your doctor. The information here is for education purposes only and is never intended to treat or diagnose or cure any condition that one might have.
So what the heck is a Polypore you say? Polypore are a group of fungi that form large fruiting bodies with pores or tubes that grow on the underside. A mushroom on the other hand, forms gills. Polypore are dependable on their host, which are trees for survival. You may also hear the term "bracket fungus" and their fruiting bodies are referred to as " conks". My children call them "fairy steps" as they tend to look like steps that flow all the way up a tree as if they were meant for a tiny little forest fairy!
Polypore inhabit the host tree, by slowly consuming the wood. They are a necessary part of the eco-system and should never be over harvested. If you find a group of Polypore, please make sure to leave some healthy ones behind so that they can continue to grow. They help dead and rotting trees return back to the earth and they play an important role recycling nutrients and carbon dioxide production in a forest Eco-system. Make sure to keep this in mind when foraging.
Many people say that there are no known toxic polypore, but this is not entirely true. Polypores that belong to the genus Hapalopilus are known to be toxic to some people. More specifically, Hapalopilus nidulans. Please do your research and never harvest a polypore or any fungus without properly identifying them.
Now lets get talking about the polypore that we go looking for on our forest adventures! My favorite, the Tinder conk polypore, or scientifically Fomes Fomentarious, also known as horses hoof becasue of its spectacular shape that tends to forms into the shape of a horses hoof. Shown below are some examples of the Tinder conk. These polypore grow almost exclusively on dead or dying Birch trees.
The other reason this fungus was given the name Tinder Conk, was because of its ability to catch a spark. It is amazing for using to start fires especially during the cold winter months when dry tinder is hard to come by. Another use is if you need to move your fire from one camp to another, you can bore a small hole in the middle of the fungus and place a hot burning ember inside. This ember will not catch fire but it will slowly smolder, allowing you to move your fire to any location you need! It seems to be really good at keeping pesky bugs away when it burns. This fungus is not edible, meaning not palatable to eat.
While this is not an edible fungus, it is safe to ingest. It has a multitude of medicinal uses. As a perennial, this guy can be found from spring and will persist all the way through winter, growing a little bit larger each year. There are currently many scientific studies that back up the medicinal uses of this fungus. Uses in traditional folk medicine and modern day herbalists include treatments for hemorrhoids, bladder disorders and dysmenorrhea. It has been shown to be active against herpes, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and E. coli. Other traditional uses as a diuretic, laxative, soothes anxiety, stomach cancer and cancers of the uterine.
Many scientific studies testing the chemical constituents concluded that this fungus contains anti-inflammatory properties, antiviral activity, antibacterial activity, antitumor activity, anti-diabetes effects and antioxident activity. You can find some of these sources and studies (here) . Used as a lung tonic, helps wit symptoms related to colds and flus.
There are also a multitude of resources that you can find online regarding this miraculous fungus, and others, including this book id like to share (here).
The second amazing Polypore i want to share with you is called the Red Belted Polypore, (fomitopsis pinicola). This fungus grows in conifer forests all over the Northern Hemisphere. An extremely durable perenial, this polypore can be found year round. We found ours growing on the stump of a dead tree. These are mostly found growing on Hemlocks and Douglas Fir trees, but can be found growing on over 100 host species!
The color of these polypore can vary. The younger ones can be a reddish color with a cream colored rim, and the older ones can look dark red to even black. They have a distinct band that forms with each growing season. The color can vary between specimens, but once you have the general understanding about how they look, they are quite easy to recognize even from a distance. The flesh is quite tough hard and dense. When harvesting these , be careful as they are attached to their host quite strongly. You may even need two hands to remove this from the tree. Just be mindful and remember to give gratitude and show it dignity when harvesting these, as they really do command respect!
Red Belted Polypore have a variety of traditional medicinal uses. Some of the most common ways to use this fungus is in a tincture, a deconction or dual extraction.
These polypore have been used traditionally by many first nations communities, including Dene, Cree, Iroquois and Blackfoot. They have a variety of uses including to treat headaches, used a a purgative, and to stop bleeding. The medicinal uses for this fungus are amazing! Anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, immuno-modulating, anti-pathogenic, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and adaptogenic. Prevention against sarcoma and cancer cells,
Can be used as a daily preventative tonic for support of the entire immune system, treats persistent fevers, headaches, crones disease, and jaundice. Daily dose can be used as an effective anti inflammatory.
For the Red Belt, be ready for quite a task when processing these polypores for your medicinal needs. I highly recommend dicing these up in the field if possible, as the flesh of these bad boys is very hard durable. We made the mistake of letting them sit overnight before tackling them, and we sure paid for it, the sharpest knife we had was barely a match! It was like cutting through rubber. Had we cut them up the same day, we probably wouldn't have such sore hands and blisters from holding the knife so tightly.
Polypore of all kinds are an important part of the forest, and they can be an important player in maintaining a good healthy immune system as well. We use these fungus purely as a preventative measure and for immune support. With all the chemicals and toxins that are hitting us on a daily basis, it is important to have something in your diet to counter act the effects of the modern world. While we all know theres no way predict how our lives will be as we age, we can take the right steps right now to help our immune system stay strong and healthy as we get older. Did you know that most chronic diseases are completely preventable ? The doctor will tell you its genetic or you just got dealt a bad set of cards, but the truth is, chronic disease is the outcome of all the damage we do to our bodies through the years. Take back control of your life, and your body and most importantly , take control of your health.
While there are a few different ways of using medicinal mushrooms as i mentioned above, a very simple way, it to simply make a decoction, or to use extraction method. Here are a few recipes to get you started!
PROPER DRYING METHOD
Slice your polypore into thin manageable pieces, and then chop into smaller pieces. The smaller they are , the easier they will be to work with. You can even grind them into powder easily.
Spread them out onto a slab of cardboard, or paper towel. This will help to absorb moisture. Now place a fan over them. It is important to keep moving air circulating around, to prevent mold growth. Nobody wants fungus on your fungus! Place them on a nice sunny area if possible, this allows for Vitamin D absorption. This process should take 2 to 3 days, 5 max. To know if the are fully dry, you should be able to snap a piece of fungus in half. If it bends, its not ready!
Make a simple water extraction (tea)
To make a simple water bath extraction, fill a pot with water. The size depends on how much tea you want to make. I use a medium sized pot.
Add in your fungus. For this example, i used tinder conk, red belt, and birch bark.
1-4 tablespoons per litre of water using chunks.
OR, i like to just pinch with my fingers, a little bit of each and drop it into my pot. Once you get the hang of brewing tea this way, you start to get a feel for how much you really need. Turn on your stove and allow to come to a rolling boil. Allow to roll for less then 60 seconds, then turn the heat off. Allow to steep on the burner still to stay warm. Or if you like hot tea, keep on the lowest setting. Let this sit for an hour, or longer. This will allow for maximum extraction. The longer it sits, the darker and stronger the tea will get, meaning the more medicine will be pulled from the fungus.
When you have reached the desired strength, you can now strain it! Find a jug or container of some sort, and strain it out using a sieve.
Keep in mind!! Medicinal mushrooms taste like crap ! Ok they dont taste like crap, they just taste very earthy and bitter, as do most things that are good for you. You can help to mediate the taste, by making a hot chocolate with the hot water extract, or using it with coffee. The bitterness of cocoa and/ or coffee cancels out the bitterness of the fungus. You can also grind up the fungus and add it straight into health smoothies, ( recipes to come) sprinkle into soups and stews. There are many different ways to get your daily vitality boost!
The other way you can extract fungus is by using vodka. I am going to be making some tinctures in a few weeks and will be updating my blog with the recipe that i use. Water bath extraction is amazing, but there are some medicinal compounds that are left behind, using an alcohol extraction method will ensure maximum health benefits from your fungus.
The information that i have provided is intended for EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. I highly recommend that anybody who intends to hunt , harvest or forage for mushrooms and polypores seek a credible and reliable professional. None of the above information , or any information on our website is intended to treat, diagnose or cure in any way shape or form any disease or illness. We do not endorse the practice of self diagnosing or self treatment of any illness, therefore we highly recommend that you seek the professional advise of your trusted healthcare doctor before taking any herbs and supplements. All of our bodies are different, we all have different metabolisms and some people may react very differently then others when using any kind of natural remedy. Also be aware of any allergies that you may have before consuming plants and botanicals. As mentioned before, the information provided on this website is for education only. Please take control of your own lives and do your own thorough research!
Sources for this article are :
Robert Rogers- The Fungal Pharmacy : The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms and Lichens of North America (here)
Christopher Hobbs Ph.D - Medicinal Mushrooms (here)
Paul Stamets - Vitamin D and Mushrooms (here)
Study done on the antitumor effects of tinder conk (here)