And so another temp job of mine has bit the dust. Recent weeks have flown by as I helped put together a holiday light parade in my town, in between making the time to freak out over all the steps I still need to accomplish in order to get Antler Chocolate off the ground and running.
In times of stress, I may tend to become a bit unhealthy… eating out at Chinese buffets, chain cookie snacking, forgetting how much I benefit from a strenuous workout. But there is always a yang to my unhealthy yin, be it doing a few sets of pushups each day, dancing frenetically in my living room to a Journey cassette, treating myself to a new pair of shoes (which has worked wonders), or indulging in a tincture of immortality.
Reishi (or lingzhi) are polypore mushrooms that have long been recognized in eastern medicine as possessing immense health value. Referred to as the mushroom of immortality, the elixir of life, ‘divine mushroom,’ or – my favorite – ‘marvelous fungus,’ reishi has been found to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. It may inhibit cancerous growth. It is reported to be anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral.
There are a few ways to reap the benefits of reishi mushrooms. Cut or ground, they can be simmered in water for several hours, and drunk as a bitter tea. Looking for a more long-term gain, I chose to make a tincture, by letting mushroom slices steep in a jar of cheap vodka for several months in a dark cabinet. Two months should be sufficient, although mine steeped for nearly five, with a gentle shake every few days.
Once the tincture has been strained from the jar of mushroom carcasses, the remnants can be used to create a potent double extract.
And presto health benefits fantastico. It’s always nice to fuel up on a little life elixir, so that your holiday season is peaceful, calming, and filled with fun. The following photos come from a nearby lake, which was abundant with peculiar ice crystals over the weekend – I couldn’t wait to share these wild images with you.
Have you ever seen ice feathers before? I hadn’t. They melted away without a sound when touched, and seemed reminiscent of fragile silk. It was incredible.
On to preparing some of that elixir of life……
First Step: Identifying Reishi Mushrooms
Reishi refers to two related species of polypore mushrooms. Ganoderma tsugae (shown above) is found on conifers, most notably eastern hemlocks in North America – hence its common name of hemlock varnish shelf. Ganoderma lucidum grows on hardwood trees, common in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Both species look remarkably similar. Like the related artist’s fungus (Ganoderma applanatum), the pore surface bruises brown, allowing permanent markings to be etched into the underside of the mushroom.
Find Ganoderma tsugae on eastern hemlocks in the northeast US from May through July or August. The fungus is finger-like at first, with whitish tan to orange tones that become a deeper red as the mushroom balloons out into a fan or kidney shape. The edge of the fungus may be yellow, tan or whitish. Older mushrooms that have not been harvested will turn a deep varnished red color and will lose the yellow-white color ringing the fungus – do not use these.
Second Step: Preparing the Reishi Tincture
Slice 3 to 5 reishi mushrooms as thinly as possible (or pulverize in a meat grinder). The fresher the mushrooms, the more easily they will slice; as they dry, reishi become tough, and quite difficult to cut through. A very sharp knife will help. Smaller pieces are ideal, as there will be more exposed reishi surface overall.
In a clean quart-sized mason jar, thoroughly stuff reishi pieces. Cover with vodka until submerged. Don’t waste quality vodka – use the cheapest 80 – 100 proof that you can find. Cap with a lid, and let sit in a dark cupboard. Every few days, give the jar a few turns or gentle shakes. In time, you may need to add a bit more vodka if you have over-packed the jar with mushroom slices.
After two or more months, strain the tinctured liquid into a clean jar, using cheesecloth, coffee filters, or a simple strainer if you are lazy like me.
To make a double extract (optional), empty the used mushroom slices into a saucepan and cover with water until submerged. Boil for up to two hours until the liquid is reduced by more than half. Strain the reishi-infused water into a clean jar, and add an equal volume of the separate reishi tincture. This will give you a 25% alcohol extract.
Third Step: Using the Reishi Tincture
I am by no means an herbalist or expert in eastern medicine. Therefore, I anything but qualified to tell you how much of this tincture to use (disclaimer!). However, it can be stated that if you begin eating reishi or taking it in a tincture, try a small amount first, to see if your body reacts poorly to it.
I have been adding 1 tsp to a mug of tea once per day, which seems to me a safe but useful amount. Reishi tincture is quite bitter, so any more will likely make your mouth pucker unfavorably. If need be, sweeten your tinctured tea with some honey.
Store the tincture in the same dark place that you brewed it, or in the fridge – regardless, keep it out of prolonged direct sunlight.
Lastly, before embarking on this venture, read up on reishi as much as you can, from as many sources as you can find. There are plenty out there on various mushroom websites.
Drink up – to your health!