Foraging Fun: Taraxacum officinale

The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) hardly needs an introduction. It is one of only a few plants that the vast majority of those inhabiting temperate climates worldwide can easily recognize. Many of these same people are very likely to have interacted with dandelions in a meaningful way as well, whether as a child wishing  upon the wispy seed heads or frustratingly attempting to remove them from a garden.

Yet as you will see, this lowly weed is not only both edible & medicinal but is also an excellent conduit in which we may learn about ourselves as a species, how we have fundamentally changed the world’s ecology and how we should best react to our changing environments and landscapes. Understanding the life cycle of and experiencing dandelions first hand as an edible or medicinal herb will help to shed light on what this one plant among countless others can teach us.

Continue reading “Foraging Fun: Taraxacum officinale”

Edible Ornamentals: Ptelea trifoliata

The hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) is a large shrub or small tree native to swaths of low-lying regions of Eastern North America that is quite rare in Ontario, restricted to a few localities along the north and eastern shores of Lake Erie, most notably Long Point Provincial and Point Pelee Provincial Parks where it grows along sandbars or beaches. Continue reading “Edible Ornamentals: Ptelea trifoliata”

Foraging Fun: Fomes fomentarius

Fomes fomentarius, known by more readily decipherable names as tinder or hoof fungus, is a perennial polypore fungi that is indigenous to most regions of North America, Europe, North Africa and Asia. Despite it’s drab, mundane and seemingly uninteresting appearance that many of us have unknowingly passed by in the forests that we stroll through from time to time, this species possesses a rich ethnomycological significance to ancient societies that dwarfs that of some other more rambunctious fungi that we may commonly associate with today. Continue reading “Foraging Fun: Fomes fomentarius”

Achilles’ Heal Gruit Ale

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is probably one of my favorite native perennial medicinal herbs. It was one of the first plants that I learned to identify with confidence, and it is a common sight in many parts of the northern hemisphere, found virtually right across the top of our world. One of the chief medicinal applications of yarrow has been to both as a topical disinfectant and to stop profuse bleeding when wounded. It’s these compounded characteristics of the plant which earned it its genus name Achillea. Achilles is a warrior in Greek mythology who was believed to have treated the injuries his soldiers sustained in battle by applying a poultice of crushed yarrow leaves.

Indigenous peoples, where ever they have access to this plant, developed surprisingly similar medicinal and therapeutic traditions for yarrow, many of which have been proven by modern science including it’s ability to increase perspiration and thin the blood. Folk medicinal proclaims yarrow to be almost something of a cure-all, and many of this proposed medicinal attributes I can personally vouch for either directly or indirectly including it’s effectiveness for soothing sore throats, relieving nasal congestion, easing headaches and discouraging/relieving symptoms of indigestion and nausea. Continue reading “Achilles’ Heal Gruit Ale”

Trametes discolor Double Extraction

I already touched upon some of the details regarding the process of double extraction in my first post on foraging for wild medicinal mushrooms which you can check out right here. I decided to write a piece exclusively outlining this process because I find it to be particularly deserving of one. My original post focused on the anatomical features and other interesting facts surrounding the turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) species but double extractions can be made using many medicinal mushrooms or plant species. Here I am strictly going to limit myself to discussing the process of double extraction and why this method works so well for extracting the medicinal compounds found in the mushrooms and making them available for your body to metabolize and utilize.

I also mentioned in my previous post that I was not going to go into the medicinal compounds found in Trametes versicolor (that are also likely found in other medicinal mushrooms) but feel that it may be beneficial to at least lightly graze the surface of this subject matter because I find it quite interesting and I am hoping that you will as well. It gives you more of an appreciation for the complexity of medicinal mushrooms and how much they have to offer. Regardless, I still encourage you to explore outside the confines of this website and check out the two links that I posted earlier in the year about various studies that have been conducted by different institutions around the world exploring the immense potential of medicinal mushrooms.

Turkey tail mushrooms are one of the most thoroughly studied medicinal mushroom species in modern medicine, especially in Asia where the raw, dried form of the mushroom has been used for generations as an immune system stimulator and preventative cancer remedy. The fruiting bodies and even more so the mycelium itself have powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, discouraging countless pathogens and abnormalities which may result in the development of hepatitis C, liver cancer and cervical cancer among others. Tramates versicolor was also found to produce a powerful immune response, a property that was verified by various subsequent studies, which has the potential to assist cancer patients recover from chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

The double extraction method involves steeping your medicinal mushrooms in alcohol for several weeks and then boiling those same mushrooms in an equal amount of water. Processing the mushrooms in alcohol and water allows for both the alcohol soluble and water soluble compounds to be extracted, for if you only boil the mushrooms in water or steep them in alcohol, you are only accessing the beneficial compounds that can be extracted from the mushrooms in that particular solvent. By soaking the mushrooms in alcohol for several weeks, then boiling those same mushroom pieces in equal parts water and mixing the two solutions together, you get an end product that contains the full range of accessible nutrients and medicinal compounds that also stores for very long periods of time. This allows you to have a ready made supply of medicine which can be taken on a daily basis for preventative measures or when ill.

The ratio of dried mushrooms to alcohol and water is not consistent with the resources that I have been able to access on the subject, so a great deal of experimentation is likely going to be required to determine how strong you would like the final product to be. I came across one mushroom tea recipe that suggested boiling 10 grams of dried mushrooms in 16 ounces of water. Deciding that 16 ounces didn’t appear to be enough water, I double that to 32 ounces. After bringing the water to a boil and gently simmering the mushrooms for 2 hours, I removed the tea from the heat and allowed it to cool before straining it. It had a caramel color and a damp, mossy aroma. I would describe the taste as something worth acquiring: mildly bitter and earthy. Tastes exactly like good medicine should.

Since the amount of mushrooms to solvents is quite variable, the yields of medicinal compounds in the resulting extraction will fluctuate a little bit between batches. As far as daily dosage goes, I have heard 2 tsp. 2 or 3 times a day as a tonic and immune system stimulant. I’m sure you could probably handle more, especially if you were sick and needed an extra boost, although drinking a wineglass full or more might be pushing it. Here is what I believe to be the most consistent and straight forward recipe.

Double Extraction Recipe Recipe

1. Fill an air-tight resealable container (preferably glass) with pieces of dried mushrooms. (crumbled into the smallest possible pieces)
2. Pour in high proof alcohol such as brandy or vodka (I prefer vodka because it doesn’t impart any flavor. 30-40% is recommended)
3. Put container in a cool, dark place where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate. Disturb and shake the container daily for 3-4 weeks.
4. After 3-4 weeks, strain out the mushrooms while pouring the alcohol extract into a separate container. The alcohol by then should have taken on a dark brown color.
4. Fill a saucepan with slightly more water than you have alcohol extract (to compensate for some evaporation)
5. Bring water to a boil and add mushrooms. Simmer for 2 hours.
6. Allow decoction to cool before mixing with the alcohol extract. Stir to combine and store in a dark colored bottle in a cool, dark place. This extract will last for years, but should be consumed within the first year to maximize on potency and quality.

Pro Tip: By facing the gills of the mushrooms upwards while they are drying, the concentrations of vitamin D in the mushroom tissue exponentially increases and remains high even after thorough drying. So if you want an extra vitamin boost from your mushroom extract, drying the mushrooms in bright but indirect sunlight with the gills of the caps facing upward is the way to go.