It doesn’t surprise me as modern Canadian scientists and mycologists examine the medicinal actions of fungi that they end up proving what ancient shamans and healers knew all along...how most polypore fungi and/or their mycelia have antimicrobial actions. Anti-microbial fungi can be defined as having both antibacterial and antiviral actions similar to the modern notion of antibiotics. Outstanding to say the least and what great timing for Canadians when allopathic antibiotic resistant microbes abound. It’s very exciting to see all the new studies coming out to confirm the natural uses of polypore mushrooms.
How paleolithic Europeans, like Otzi the Iceman, and Canadian northwest coast indigenous First Nation peoples intuitively knew how to use polypores medicinally is marvelous to ponder. The Haida of the archipelago Haida Gwaii in the northern Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia, as well as other indigenous NorthWest Coast peoples used medicinal polypores for hundreds of years. Otzi, the 5300 year old frozen mummy found high in the Himalayas, was carrying a pouch with a couple of polypore mushrooms assumed to be for starting fires and to heal his shoulder wound and stomach parasites. He had both the Birch and Tinder polypores in that pouch. The army physician and pharmacologist Dioscorides who lived between c.40AD - c.90AD acknowledged the use of the Larch polypore (Fomitopsis officinalis) for medicinal purposes related to the tuberculosis (TB) infection.
Even better is the fact that because mushrooms and humans are related to each other closer than they are related to plants they share common anti-microbial antagonists like staphylococcus aureus and e coli and because of this Paul Stamets knows we can certainly benefit from the intelligence of how fungi produce antibiotics to fight similar infectious microorganisms in humans. Stamets also stresses that polypores have low cytotoxicity and are relatively safe for human consumption. In fact of the hundreds of species of polypore tree conks only one is deemed toxic and that is the Hapalopilus nidulans or commonly known as the purple dye polypore or the cinnamon bracket.
Commonly found antimicrobial polypores in old growth forests of the highlands in North Eastern Ontario and West Quebec are the artist’s Conk, the birch polypore, the tinder polypore, the hemlock varnish shelf (a Canadian Reishi mushroom) and Turkey Tail polypores. We have access to these polypores in our forests and should only harvest them with 100% proper identification with the help of an experienced guide. You can also easily order them online from reputable sites like Paul Stamets’ ‘fungi.com’ or from reputable health food stores and Chinese markets in Ottawa. Polypores are a hot commodity at the moment and many companies acquire only small batches and unfortunately become out of stock quickly so you even have to hunt for them online too.
The five above-mentioned polypores I work with have many more awesome medicinal actions than just their antimicrobials properties. These proven properties can be found in handy charts in the book called The Fungal Pharmacy by Robert Dale Rogers, RH (AHG). He has recently written a new book which I plan to read this winter during our upcoming lockdown. This book is entitled Medicinal Mushrooms:The Human Clinical Trials. I can’t wait to read it!. Both books are based on proven scientific studies and can be purchased online and shipped to your door. Also mycologist Paul Stamets will send you his order catalogue for free from his website fungi.com if you want to grow your own. His book How Mushrooms Can Save The World is also a must read for everyone.
In order to benefit from all the properties or actions of a given polypore its best to make or buy a dual extraction tincture that extracts both the water soluble actives like the immune modulating beta glucans or polysaccharides and the alcohol actives like the triterpenes, for example. This is especially true for woody and hard polypore tree conks. Dual extraction tinctures are easy to make and can easily be added to your coffee, soups, stews or smoothies.
How to make a simple dual extraction tincture:
Fill a 2 cup sterilized mason jar half way with small ½” pieces of dried and chopped polypore of choice (use one type of polypore per recipe and do not mix them, also some say use the powdered polypore for greater surface area extraction of the actives but I find this way too messy to filter and sediment that could go moldy may be left at the bottom of the final product if you are not careful)
Fill the mason jar with 40% proof alcohol and leave an inch of space on top ( many people use vodka for its purity but I prefer brandy for its flavour)
Cover with the lid and store for 6-8 weeks in your pantry or somewhere visible so you don’t forget about it.
Shake mixture daily for 3 weeks and then once or twice a week thereafter.
After 6-8 weeks strain out the polypore pieces using a cheesecloth lined colander and put these pieces in a pot of freshly boiled water and simmer for two hours.
Pour the clear (free of any polypore sediment or pieces) alcoholic tincture into a new sterilized mason jar and close the lid tightly until further use.
While simmering the uncovered polypore water decoction (aka strong tea) you may need to add fresh water from time to time as it may steam off and measure below the equal amount of tincture already prepared. (For example if you have 12 ounces of the alcohol tincture you will need 12 ounces of the water decoction.)
Check and stir your simmering decoction constantly to ensure it doesn’t boil ! Remove from heat if it insists on boiling and cover. Let your mushroom tea steep while covered for the remainder of the two hours.
Strain out the polypore pieces from the decoction using a colander lined with cheesecloth.
Add equal parts of the alcohol tincture to the mushroom water decoction. Stir and pour into sterilized 2-4 ounce tincture bottles that one can purchase at your local health food store or online packaging supply stores.
Adults 1-2 tsps daily or every other day to your morning coffee, tea or smoothie for immune modulating purposes. Or 1-2tsp three times daily for up to a week to help fight a particular bacteria or virus. Which polypores fight certain microbial infections is listed in the Fungal Pharmacy’s handy appendix charts.
Children can have alcohol free tinctures by placing ½ tsp in a warm drink like hot chocolate or herbal tea and wait 2 minutes until all the alcohol evaporates off and leaves only the polypore actives in the drink.
Dual extraction tinctures have a three year shelf life.
If you make or buy your own polypore tinctures there will be no need to constantly forage or over forage polypores as you can make a three year supply in one shot. Mushrooms have been here since the beginning of time and are necessary for the survival of our planet and its biosphere. We all need to share. We teach our children the importance of sharing and the evils of greed so we surely need to practice what we preach. The meaning of longevity, resilience, sustainability and conservation are important lessons we should be teaching our children. Foraging for polypores with your children can do this marvelously.
Clockwise/ Antimicrobial Polypore Photo: me & Hemlock Varnish Shelf, Birch Polypore, Turkey Tail Polypore, Artist’s Conk and Tinder Polypore