A fresh coat of snow has fallen upon last fall’s forgotten reishi (Ganoderma tsugae). Clinging to the thick trunks of hemlock trees, these eye-catching, medicinal polypores are the rotting reminders of a prodigious crop. Reishi mushrooms become unusable with the first hard frost, sometimes going rancid as early as June when the slugs and beetles have their way.
Fortunately, we have a fresh batch of reishi tincture in our larder, as well as dried reishi slices for tea. Today I simmered several slices of reishi along with grated ginger, adding just enough honey to cut the bitterness of the adaptogenic mushrooms and let their umami notes shine.
If your pantry is not stocked with the surplus of summer, reishi season will be here again before long, and you can scout likely host trees even in the depths of winter.
Look for white slivers of fleshy new growth on hemlocks in May, which make a mild, nutty sauté but should be left to mature for medicinal use. I typically wait until the end of June to harvest for medicine, once the white growing tips have thinned and the conks have developed a bold, lacquered gradient of color. Be aware that a heavy June rain can summon legions of hungry and industrious slugs – the timing of reishi harvest is a subtle art.
Note that our primary Northeastern reishi species is the hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae), but the less hardy Ganoderma lucidum is widely distributed on hardwoods east of the Rockies. Also look out for the rarer, yellower Ganoderma curtisii on hardwoods from Massachusetts to Nebraska, and Ganoderma oregense on Northwestern conifers.
All reishi species are potent healers, warding off sickness and bringing the body into balance. A double extraction tincture is the best way to capture the full spectrum of water and alcohol soluble constituents, but a cup of reishi ginger tea is always welcome medicine for a dark winter night.
Here’s what you’ll need to make a batch of reishi ginger tea for two:
- 3 grams dried reishi mushroom (25 grams if fresh)
- 3 grams fresh ginger, grated or minced
- 1-2 tablespoons of honey
- About 5 cups water
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Turn down to the lowest heat and slowly simmer the reishi for 30 minutes, adding additional water as needed. Add the grated ginger, and let simmer another 5-10 minutes. Strain with a fine mesh. Add the honey and stir. Pour into your favorite mugs and taste the rich, slightly bitter, mushroomy essence of the forest.