Although it is most certainly not June outside (as much as I would like for it to be) I couldn’t help but write a post about the first time that I encountered Ganoderma tsugae, a strikingly beautiful and highly medicinal mushroom back in the hot, humid deciduous forests of southern Ontario back in 2015. This is exactly what happens when you take so many photos of plants and fungi on your excursions during the summer and can’t get to them all in season.
In other words, you end up running into a post deficit where there just simply isn’t enough time to write about everything that you would like to write about while also attempting to cultivate a social life, remain well fed, maintain relative sanity and stay securely employed. One of these days one or more of these might just have to give to make some more room for my casual writing habit.
On the bright side, having now resided in Winnipeg Manitoba for just over 2 months as of this writing, the cold (-22°) temperatures and snowy, frozen landscapes outside have given me plenty of excuses and/or opportunities to stay inside and look over some of my old photos. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll get around to actually writing the stories that surround so many of my as of yet undocumented adventures that have been wanting to get out of my head and my camera for quite some time.
So today I have decided to introduce you to one of my most spectacular finds of 2015: A vibrant and colorful troop of Ganoderma tsugae. Perhaps better known as the hemlock reishi or hemlock varnish shelf, this is a shelf forming polypore mushroom that as the name implies grow almost exclusively as a weak parasite or saprophyte on dead or dying hemlock (Tsuga) trees throughout eastern North America. In North America there are 4 species of hemlock with only the eastern hemlock (T. canadensis) present in eastern Canada.
The eastern hemlock is a relatively common coniferous tree preferring cool, partly shady north facing slopes in sheltered ravines, valley bottoms with acidic, well drained rich soils in mesic forests. This species is characteristic among Canada’s native conifers in that the needles are particularly short with blunt tips and are produced in more or less flat strays along delicate wispy the branches with thick stout trunks producing rough, overlapping ridges of purple-grey park. Eastern hemlock cones are also unique from other native conifers in that they are quite small, round and composed of few scales. 
This would leave one to conclude that since very rarely does one find Ganoderma tusgae growing from any trees other than Tusga that the range of this species in Canada is entirely dependent on the geographical distribution of the eastern hemlock, which is restricted to southern Ontario and Quebec as well as certain parts of the Maritime provinces. If you do happen to live within this area, the hemlock reishi can be found fruiting individually but more often gregariously from fallen hemlock trunks, stumps or standing snags. 
Ganoderma tusgae is most often encountered during the warmer months of the growing season, usually emerging in June or July in southern Ontario, slowly maturing over the course of a few weeks thereafter and often persisting well into autumn or even early winter on occasion. During the earliest stages of growth, the mushrooms appear as round, bright white lumps that are soft and delicate, easily dented with your thumbnail or a knife, with a knobby stalk attaching them to the tree.
At this stage the mushrooms grow very quickly, expanding and becoming much more distinctive; flattening out and producing a wide, roughly elliptical shelf with concentric rings of bright yellows, oranges and reds outlined by a rim of white, rapidly expanding tissue. Eventually the caps become bean or kidney shaped, with the edges of the cap curling back and inwards towards the stalk, with the colors darkening to an even rich burgundy, maintaining all the while a brilliant sheen.
I was alone on the Bruce Trail along the Niagara Escarpment in Hamilton that day when I stumbled upon these vividly colored mushrooms, positively glowing and bright as if varnished with shellac in the damp and unbearably humid forest. It was steadily raining and stifling inside of my rain jacket and pants as I stood on the muddy path, rain slapping the top of my hood and dripping down and off the rim as I stood, sweating profusely in the tropical heat, in awe of the display in front of me.
Ever since happening upon this particular hemlock snag on that faithful day in 2015, I have had the privilege and opportunity of returning to that same location (which just so happens to be up a steep, rocky slope thick with moss and ferns) last June to harvest another (although less heavy) crop of beautiful hemlock reishi mushrooms. The mature fruiting bodies have a tough, corky texture that makes using a knife absolutely necessary for removing them from their securely fixed position on the tree.
Now why exactly would you want to bother seeking out these mushrooms, if not purely for the pleasure of enjoying them as they are? It just so happens that Ganoderma tsugae is very closely related to Ganoderma lucidum, which is known as simply as reishi mushroom, or lingzhi in Chinese. Alternatively to our eastern North American reishi species, G. lucidum grows from a wide range of predominately deciduous hardwoods including oak, elm and beech. It is found throughout much of Asia, South America and the southern regions of North America, particularly the gulf states.
Lingzhi has an astoundingly rich history of medicinal use throughout the world, particularly in Asia where this highly revered species has been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine for thousands of years. The fruiting bodies of both G. lucidum contain antioxidant compounds as well as hundreds of unique polysaccharides and triterpenoides, many of which demonstrate immunomodulatory (immune system regulating) properties. Triterpenoides are steroid-like compounds which inhibit allergic responses, cholesterol synthesis and histamine release by the body.
I could spent easily another 1,000 words intimately describing the bewildering number of studies that have been performed on linghzi (the vast majority of which have been conducted in institutions located in China, Japan and Korea) but I will hold off for now, as this is something you can, and that I recommend you should, look into yourself if it interests you. It is also very likely, although it has not been definitively proven in writing (except for the presence of anti-inflammatory compounds) that our native G. tsugae contains many of (if the same) medicinal compounds as G. lucidum based on their close genetic lineage.
A common procedure for effectively extracting and enjoying the medicinal benefits of Ganoderma mushrooms, many of which contain useful medicinal properties that are being discovered in labs all around the world as I am writing this, is to break up the fresh or dried mushroom and boil them into a tea or make a tincture using glycerin or alcohol. In order to dry the mushrooms, I recommend slicing them thinly (1/4-1/2″) if there young or breaking them into small chunks if they are older and drying them in a shady, well ventilated area for several days or up to a week, turning the pieces as is necessary to ensure even drying.
A few years ago I came across a recipe for a double extraction method, which is used to liberate both the water and alcohol soluble compounds from the mushrooms, that you can read all about right here. In that same article I also discuss the proper ways in which to make a tea from medicinal mushrooms. As if I have not quoted from Paul Stamets’ Mycelium Running enough already in this article (as well as some other texts in my Resources section that you should definitely check out), Paul recommends the following way of preparing a reishi mushroom tea:
“My family enjoys making a tea from fresh, living specimens, breaking them into pieces, boiling the in water for an hour, and then steeping for 30 minutes. the tea is then reheated, strained, and served without sweeteners. If a daily regiment of [G. lucidum] tea is followed, as little as 3-5 grams per person is a customary dose”
This just goes to show you how potent and chock-full of medicinal properties these fungi are, that 3-5 grams of tea represents an adequate dose for those following a daily routine. Definitely a species worth while to learn to identify, seek out, harvest* and enjoy. At some point in the future I would very much like to learn to cultivate L. lucidum, so as to refrain from harvesting wild mushrooms and also have my own personal supply. Therefore, you can bet your bottom button that one of these days there will be a post on my first trials and tribulations. Until then, happy thoughts of summer and the growing season to come!