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The Red Belted Polypore

BLOG 22: Most herbalists and mushroom hunters have understood for a long time how the practice of hunting and gathering wild foods, called foraging, has enhanced their health and happiness. Eating wild food is natural and proven most advantageous to Homo Sapiens. It just is. Ultimately we believe consuming wild foods is critically important for longevity and the survival of our species. We are discovering every day through scientific studies and through their own ill health how we cannot survive on artificial and other non-viable foodstuffs. Obviously, the practice of hunting and gathering edible plants and medicinal mushrooms is not new. It is ancient and cannot be classified as a ‘human’ fad or diet craze. We have known for centuries what our diet should consist of and have chosen to ignore the basics of living. It is not a mistake that edible plants and mushrooms have multiple key nutrients that create a matrix of uses for our health. To simplify, overconsumption can cause one to have indigestion and gas, a headache, sinus congestion and constipation. Peppermint leaves served in hot water can address all of these symptoms at once. No need to take the artificial pharmaceuticals like gaviscon, a tums, an advil, a sudafed and dulcolax to address the issue. Jeesh, aren’t you already full from overeating anyway? Tea, please…. I know firsthand how wild food foraging is a very satisfying practice. It is liberating and humbling to hike and forage in the wild just like any other creature. One can literally feel younger in the forest and easily return to the exploratory and adventurous self they may have shelved years ago. I have enjoyed watching some clients facial expressions transform before me from serious brow-furrowed adults to happy go lucky inquisitive people. I hope they realise the gift they have just received was from the mighty forest and her essential oil spewing party. I see the vitality force light up in their eyes. It is rewarding. This is one of the many reasons why I love being a hiking guide. Identifying wild foods is fun but did you know that eating them is way cooler? Ingesting a freshly picked plant and it’s vital ‘life force’ is like no other. It makes us live and also to be alive. You feel electrified and invigorated when you practice foraging and nibble along the way. Just imagine if you do it on a regular basis. It is the gift of the wild. I make sure I get out every week into the forest for my vital recharge. Dead processed food drains us. You cannot get energized or healthier from poutine, in fact the opposite happens...your vitality is compromised and you may willingly become a couch potato. You are what you eat. The ‘life force’ from fresh wild foods is more vital than you may imagine. A miracle, really. Did you know foraged foods in the vicinity of YOUR nearest wild space has nutrients uniquely balanced to YOUR health? Yes. Wild foods adapt to the same environment you are living in and create exactly the right nutrient profile needed for survival. Wild foods present themselves where needed. Synchronicity, right? Its an evolutionary intelligent design. Mushrooms, or more specifically, the mycelium are the Earth’s original and natural internet highway. These intelligent elders of the Earth supply information via micronutrients to other plants and this intelligence is wise to the survival of the forest it inhabits. The fruiting bodies (mushrooms) pop up just in time to share their information with us so that we can benefit from their survival brilliance. It's fascinating and mysterious. Mycelium are also the forest’s housekeepers and can be used for ‘housekeeping’ in our bodies too. It's the miracle of Nature or as my friend Shelley used to say ‘It is what it is.’ The Red Belted Polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola), pictured, is just such a mushroom. It is popping up everywhere now in November in the highland’s mostly on coniferous trees. It can be foraged well into February and beyond. So why is she trying to get our attention? What does she want to offer us? Why now? This gorgeous medicinal mushroom (see pictures) has been traditionally used by many First Nation Peoples of Canada with many mentions of use by the Blackfoot, Cree, Northern Dene and Iroquois Nations. It is a perfect winter immune system modulating mushroom that can easily be added to soups or prepared in tea for all that ills us during this season of colds, flus, fevers and chills. According to Albertan Master Herbalist Robert Rogers in his article published in the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild, the Red Belted Polypore does more than modulate our immune systems. He states it can also be used as a styptic, emetic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-pathogenic, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and adaptogenic. Umm, yup, that’s the multiple uses theory I was mentioning earlier. It is what it is, right? The fact that this mushroom is adaptogenic is very important as we know that adaptogens perform better and smarter the longer you take it, eventually working to bringing the human body back to ‘homeostasis’. That's incredible but true. This uncommonly used but commonly found mushroom is right up there medicinally with the likes of Chaga, Reishi and Ginseng. According to MH Rogers, just consuming 30g daily gives one a 51.2% prevention rate for sarcomas and other cancer cells! Wow! In his practice Rogers uses the Red Belted Polypore with patients suffering from bone-deep coldness and chills, persistent intermittent fevers, chronic diarrhea, inflammation of the digestive tract, periodic neuralgia, nervous headaches, Cancer, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, Crohn's disease, Diabetes, excessive urination and Jaundice. Other herbalists and mycologists mention that this conk also has antioxidant and anti-histamine properties too. Rogers recommends consuming this conk as a tea or added to soup in order to extract its water-soluble immune-modulating ingredients. One simply trims off the outer white ‘ring’ of the conk to harvest it, leaving the rest of the conk attached to the tree to continue living. This ring is then cut into thin strips and thoroughly dried and stored for later use in teas or soup. Some call this mushroom affectionately ‘noodles’ for this reason. The Red Belted Polypore is a perennial bracket mushroom and it’s age can be estimated (it's not a perfect science though) from each new ring it forms. The older it is the more intelligent it can be. It can be big as 40 cm across and 10 cm thick. The big red band is quite visible from afar on mature conks but not all Red Banded Polypores have a red band and this mushroom does look very different at different ages. Therefore you should seek expert advice for identification purposes before consuming the younger conks or bandless ones. (Psst, I know where all the ones in the photos live if you want to come hiking with me to see them. Just saying). This conk is too tough and woody to be eaten as an choice edible. Remember to cut thinly and dehydrate thoroughly to avoid mold. The young conk and new rings are usually found sweating with water droplets called guttation. These droplets are slightly bitter-sweet and pleasantly smell like melon rind. Yes if you have a positive ID please go ahead and lick them. Bees and wasps do this as observed by mycologist Paul Stamets and take the essence back to their colony. This practice miraculously doubles the life of bees. Very interesting indeed. The tea and soup have a moistening and warming nature to the body and are perfect for the winter chills and building resistance to bacteria and viruses. Hot water is the perfect extracting method for this conks immuno-modulating properties. An alcohol extract is best used for extracting the anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties of the mushroom. Therefore a dual water-alcohol extraction is the preferred method to contain all of this conks vitality at the same time. To use add a small handful of the dried strips or ‘noodles’ to simmering soups and simmer for a couple hours. Do not eat the ‘noodles’. Or grind the strips in a coffee grinder and simmer a tablespoon of grounds per 8 oz of boiled water for 30 minutes then strain and drink the bitter-sweet tea. If it is too bitter you can add honey to taste. To make a dual ‘water-alcohol’ extraction as Roger’s does and to get all the good properties in one bottle...simmer 1 ounce of the mushroom strips in 560 ml of water till the liquid is reduced to half. Let cool then pour into a jar and add 95 ml of 95% proof alcohol. Cover with parchment paper before screwing on the metal lid. Shake daily for three weeks. Strain and store in dropper bottles. Store in a cool dark place. You can consume 30-60 drops daily in water or preferred drink and use as a healthful adaptogenic tonic. If consuming mushrooms is not your thing… consider getting out for an invigorating fresh air hike and hunt this gorgeous conk for a souvenir photo. The largest one I have found was about 25 cm across. Can you find a larger one? I’d love you to email your shots to if you wish to share. In fact please feel free to send photos to me for ID purposes of any plant or fungus to fulfill my nerdy winter days. Remember, if you do go out please wear layers and bring your inner child or real offspring out with you to investigate firsthand this fascinating and beautiful species. Don’t forget to look for the ‘others’ too like the Turkey Tail Polypore and the Birch Polypore who will be hanging out all winter too. (Notice: Red Belted Polypore is contraindicated for menopausal flushing, and choleric with liver heat or gall-bladder irritation)

(This article was first published in the Madawaska Highlander on Nov 2018 winter issue.


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