Although there are a number of high quality supplements derived from medicinal mushrooms available for sale, many people prefer to craft their own homemade herbal remedies themselves by hand.
If you are skilled at wild mushroom identification, you may wish to harvest your own medicinal mushrooms from local woodlands nearby where you live.
**Please note that it’s extremely important that you do not harvest and consume any mushrooms from the wild without being properly trained in mushroom identification skills so you know exactly what you’re doing!**
Medicinal mushrooms are by and large quite innocuous and very safe to ingest. However many other species of mushrooms are not. A number of species of fungi are poisonous, and some are downright deadly. So if you happen to harvest a type of fungi that is not a medicinal mushrooms and ingest it, you could most definitely be putting your health at risk.
The bottom line when it comes to wild harvesting mushrooms is that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you’re not absolutely certain about positively identifying any particular mushroom you find growing wild, either leave it alone or find a qualified person to properly identify it for you before attempting to use it for human consumption.
Alternatively, good quality dried medicinal mushroom can be purchased in various herb stores, as well as on the internet. I’ve listed a few of my favorite sources for purchasing these fungi online at the end of this post.
Chitin – Mushrooms’ Indigestible Substrate
When making remedies from them, it’s important to understand that the underlying cellular structure of medicinal mushrooms is made of a substance called chitin (pronounced kite-in) which is a tough, naturally occurring polymer. Chitin is the same material that comprises the exoskeletons of crustaceans such as crab, lobster and shrimp, as well as the bodies and wings of insects.
Extracting Active Constituents
Because chitin is indigestible by humans, in order to render the active beneficial components in medicinal mushrooms into a form that is available to our bodies for assimilation, the mushrooms themselves must be subject to one or more various different methods of preparation. Such methods break down the mushrooms’ chitinous cell walls so as to liberate, or extract, their therapeutic constituents.
Although some medicinal mushrooms are edible, a number of them are not because they’re very woody and tough abd also very bitter tasting. Therefore the active components of these mushrooms are best extracted in other ways besides cooking.
Hot Water Decoctions
A decoction is made by simmering an herb in water for a length of time to make a drinkable tea, and is normally used to draw the therapeutic constituents out of hard, woody herbs such as roots and barks.
This method of extraction is a very traditional, time honored way of preparing woody medicinal mushrooms such as chaga and reishi for internal use, and is the best way of drawing out their polysaccharides.
To make a decoction, fill a (preferably non-reactive) cooking vessel with pure water and add the medicinal mushrooms of your choice. You may also wish to add some other herbs to your decoction, such as licorice root or astragalus, as these will lend a bit of sweetness to your tea that will counteract the generally bitter flavor of the mushrooms.
Stir gently to mix and allow the herbs to sit in the water for 10 minutes or so. Then turn the heat on high and bring the water to a gentle boil, checking regularly to make sure so that the tea does not over boil.
Once air bubbles begin to rise to the surface, reduce the heat so that the tea is just barely simmering, and allow it to decoct for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours or more.
When you feel the tea is ready, drain off the liquid and drink it, storing any leftover tea in the refrigerator for later use, and reserving the mushrooms, which can be decocted again at least once or twice.
Steeping medicinal mushrooms in alcohol for several weeks to make a tincture is another classic traditional extraction method, one which draws out the fungi’s triterpenoids.
To make a tincture, fill a clean glass jar approximately 1/4-1/3 full of mushrooms, then cover the mushrooms and fill the jar with alcohol.
If your mushrooms are whole, it helps to slice or chop them into smaller pieces prior to tincturing them in order to create more surface area.
Because of its neutral taste, vodka is a good choice for making tinctures, although grape alcohol, rum or another spirit of your choice can be used instead if you prefer.
Be sure to choose a spirit that’s at least 90 proof, which is 45% alcohol, for making tinctures in order for the medicines to be effectively drawn out of the mushrooms.
Leave your tincture in a cupboard or other dark place to steep for at least two weeks, shaking it each day if possible. When it has steeped as long as you would like, strain off the liquid, using an herb press if possible to force as much of the liquid out of the mushrooms.
Pour your finished tincture into a dark brown glass bottle, cap tightly, and store in a cool, dark place away from light and heat.
A double extraction is a combination of a reduced decoction and a tincture. The reason for combining these two methods of extraction is to make a remedy that contains a wider spectrum of active components than either one method alone extracts.
To make a double extraction, make a tincture as described above, but reserve the mushrooms after the liquid has been pressed out of them and use them to make a decoction.
When the tea is as strong as you’d like it, remove the mushrooms and continue to simmer it until it enough of the liquid evaporates so that it reduces down to a thick syrupy consistency.
Combine this concentrated, reduced tea with the tincture liquid to create your double extraction.
Dehydrating and Powdering
Medicinal mushrooms can also be dried and pulverized to break down the chitin, then encapsulated, however doing so requires a high powered blender like a Vitamix, so it’s not the easiest or most convenient way to prepare remedies from woody medicinal mushrooms.
Shiitakes, maitakes and lion’s mane mushrooms are all examples of soft, edible medicinal mushrooms that can be cooked and consumed whole for their beneficial properties.
They’re quite delicious simply sliced and sauteed until tender in butter, ghee or coconut oil with a little salt and pepper and served over salads, in a sandwich, or as a side dish.
Edible medicinal mushrooms are very versatile and can also be added to soups, stews, sauces or gravies for added texture, flavor and nourishment, and can also serve as an ingredient in broths and stocks.
Online sources for dried medicinal mushrooms:
Fungi Perfecti sells mushroom growing kits and spawn for logs and tree stumps so you can cultivate your own.
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