The sustainable harvesting of Ganoderma applanatum, as I mentioned in the previous part of this series, is in my opinion of utmost importance for not only the future of harvesting but for ecological balance as well. If you have read “Artist conk; The Ancient Reishi part 1” you will remember me presenting the question of “how do we harvest in a sustainable manner?” well, this begins by selecting the area we harvest from, and consider its general health. The presence of old or second growth forest is, from what I have noticed, of great importance. The health of the conk will be reflected in the health of the forest and the same goes the other way around.
An unhealthy conk with present one or more porous layers (if bisected) of white tissue. This will begin from the oldest porous tissue and slowly work its way down. For a time I tried to research what might cause this and have come up, thus far empty handed. I have had to develop my own perception of what this might be. I have come to the conclusion that this is a survival mechanism of the fungus, as food and various essential nutrients become scarce. It seems to me that the fungus begins to myceliate through this older porous tissue, digesting it and re-assimilating this tissue as a means of continuing its ability to produce a fresh new porous layer and thus releasing spores for another year. This is a brilliant survival tactic, allowing the fungus to continue reproducing for another several years, where as if this method of survival where not in action it would simply stop reproducing when the food supply became depleted.
Abundance would be the next consideration. I would encourage the prospective forager to think about. Like with many herbs, if it is scarce it is probably not wise to harvest, especially in any great quantity. The greater the abundance the greater the prospective harvest. I usually use a 1/3rd-1/2 rule (½ if there is a great abundance of healthy conks) when harvesting the conks, especially when in regards to several conks on a single tree. It is prudent to perceive a collection of conks on a single tree as one organism. As I mentioned in the previous part of this series, all organisms have their breaking point, and the more significant the damage to the organism the less likely it will be able to survive any amount of attack from other organisms. In these cases, as an example, if there are 5 conks on a single tree I might harvest 1 or 2 depending on their size, approximate age, and the prevalence of conks in the relative area. I generally will harvest one of the oldest (especially if it seems like it may be in the end of its life cycle, yet still active) and perhaps one of the mid sized growths. This ensures that the younger, more virulent fruit can continue to grow and reproduce, while leaving a more mature fruit do do the same, and also act as a refuge to forked fungus beetles.
I harvest the fruiting bodies by cutting about a half inch to an inch away from the host tree with a saw, chisel or hatchet. This leaves a portion of the fruiting body attached to the tree, will reduce trauma to the more fragile tissue within the host, and if harvested at the right time of year, will allow the fruiting body to regenerate a new fruit. The time of year may vary depending on the area that you live in. In my part of the world (the Northeastern US), August through September seems to be the prime time for harvesting. The things to look for when trying to pick out the best time for harvesting in your region might be, the formation of a fresh tender (relative to the density of the rest of the fruiting body) white outer lip as new porous tissue is formed, and that the fruit has begun releasing it’s spores. The release of spores can be denoted, not only by a brownish tinge to the surrounding area relative to the fruit (Ganodermas can release billions of spores at a time), but more notably of a fresh (and if the fruit is truly active an healthy) thick layer of spores coating the top of the fruiting body. This occurs due to an electrostatic charge within the spores that propels them upward to drift on the wind, settle nearer to the parent fungus, or perhaps to take advantage of its life long companion, the aforementioned forked fungus beetle, who will assist in the spreading of spores as they travel or are eaten by larger creatures.
If you find yourself in true need of this fungus, yet are hard pressed to find any reasonable quantity, it has been harvested by some by splitting the fruit in half, while still attached to the tree, and taking only half of the fruit. This preserves an active and living portion of the organism, you get the medicine you require, and the fruiting body is given a better than average chance to reproduce and regenerate if done at the right time of year.
The processing of the fruit should be done relatively quickly, before it has any time to really dry out. Generally no more than 2 days, is reasonable. If allowed to dry out too much the fruit becomes extremely dense and at that point will require the use of a power saw, or other more aggressive tools for processing. I use a cutting board and an 8” flat bladed knife to process my artist conk. The process has taken me some time to perfect my methodology, with a great deal of cut fingers and sores. I will encourage great care and caution in the processing, as I have found that when you reach a certain point in cutting, the tissue will suddenly give-way without warning. This can make it dangerous if not conscientious of where your fingers are at the time. That said, it is prudent to always think before cutting and to be on your guard for just these occasions. It is not uncommon for the necessity to be cutting at odd angles, and can require a bit of patients to get the job done.
I begin by placing the fruit upright on the cutting board and placing the blade (2” or so from the hilt) in the center of the outer thinnest portion of the fruit. Putting your palm on the other side of the flat end of the blade and applying minor amounts of pressure, gently seesaw back and forth (careful your fingers are not under the blade) until you have cut about half or better through the fruiting body. If you do not have an easy time cutting all the way through, once you have reached a bit beyond the half way point you can usually remove the blade, and gripping either side of the partly bisected fruit, rip it the rest of the way in half. When this is done the next step is to cut away any uneven portions of the butt end of the fruit. This can be easy… and it sometimes can not. Unfortunately I have no good advise on how to do this beyond being conscientious of each cut before and while you are making it. What you are looking to do with this step is to create a flat surface if there is not one already. This gives you a bit of stability when going through the remaining steps, allowing for rotation and more comfortable angles to cut from.
Next I remove the outer lip. This is relatively easy, placing the fruit on one of the freshly cut flat sides and carefully easing the blade around the arch of the lip. From here you will want to remove the upper crust cutting from the base of the felted layer. The reason for these last two steps is because as I have previously mentioned, the forked fungus beetle bases the majority of its life cycle around the Ganoderma family. This includes digging out tiny holes and laying their eggs within the upper portion of the fruit. I’ve noted that they prefer the creases of the crust and will mud over (with looks like crusted spores) to cap and protect the eggs and eventually larvae within. In a healthy fruiting body the larvae will not be found blow the felted upper tissue. If cut at the junction just between the upper felted layer and the first top porous layer, wedging in the mid section of the blade and carefully prying. Sometimes nearly the entire top will come of at once and other times you will have to work at this a bit. Piece by piece however it will get done. I save the removed crust and typically bring it to the forest edge, tossing it into the woods, allowing the spores to disperse, and giving the forked fungus larvae a change to survive (keep in mind, they are as important to of the life cycle of the Ganoderma as much as the Ganoderma is important to them).
You are now at the point where you can begin to cut the fruiting body into strips, and if needed remove any sort of white porous tissue. I prefer to cut the strips no more than ¼” thick, as the thinner the strips the quicker and more completely they will dry. Once the strips are cut it is relatively easy to break off any sort of white porous tissue by hand. Placing the strips on a nylon or non-aluminum screen drying rack try to get decent direct sun exposure to enhance the Vitamin D content of the mushroom.
Mushrooms like all organisms produce their own sterols, these are chemical components that act as communications, defenses, and to encourage healing of various sorts. We like all animals produce cholesterol (chole-sterol) for instance, an essential sterol. Some sterols have “steroidal” components to them, reducing pain or inflammation, among other functions. With mushrooms, there is a predominating (yet variable among different species) sterol known as Ergosterol, this component is very intriguing. When the organisms porous layer is exposed to direct UV light the Ergosterol changes into Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2). Depending on the time of year and your position on the globe, the amount of time needed for exposure to a decent conversion may vary. Here in the Northeastern US in the summer I generally “sun soak” my mushrooms for 4-6 hours.
This part fascinates me (and I am veering off topic for a moment). I am often asked if Vitamin D2 is just as effective as D3. There is one major difference between Vitamin D2 and D3, that difference being a single water soluble branch. This branch effects the way the body metabolizes and stores Vitamin D2 making it slightly less effective, yet still notable, in the realm of vitamin D. One of the major aspects to consider is the staying time. With vitamins such as vitamin C which have several water soluble branches there is a higher likelihood that the body will dispel it in a rapid manner, as there are several nodes to bond with a water molecule within a short period of time. Where as D2 only has one water soluble branch, making the likelihood of dispulsion smaller, thus slowing the elimination rate by the body. Vitamin C may be dispelled within a few hours to a day, where as Vitamin D2 can potentially remain active in the body for up to two weeks. Vitamin D3 however has a stronger staying time since it is completely fat soluble (no water bonding branches) and thus can remain in the body for months, stored in the liver till activation is needed, when it is sent to the kidneys to be activated and then used.
Yup, and thus concludes my rant (more on the significance of this in my next post).
Back to the conks you where drying… After sun soaking I have two racks that I built re-purposing an old card table and an old stand up green house. For the card table rack I simply removed the table top portion, and built a snug wooden frame, using scrap strapping in our garage, that could be placed over the the standing table frame. I stretched nylon screen over the top of the wooden frame stapling the screen on the underside once tight. With this rack I use a small radiant heat space heater on the underside and placing the sliced fruiting body, already sun soaked, on the top of the rack to continue drying. The reason for the space heater is it more rapidly dries the still active fruiting body, preventing areal mycelium from forming or other molds and fungus from being able to take dominance (especially if I have to stack the slices in layers, which need rotating throughout the day).
I have learned a trick to knowing when the mushroom material is done drying, as I have, in the past, had significant loss due to mold several weeks after drying. What I learned is that if I give the mushroom material 1-2 days past when I believe it to be done trying, is when it is actually dry. I determine when I feel it is dry by snapping several strips in different places.. the more crisp the snap the closer it is to completely dry. I wait the extra day or two to make this an absolute certainty. When done I mark the date, material, and weight of the beginning and end of the drying process. By marking the the fresh weight versus the dry weight, you can get a better idea of roughly how much water weight is on average, found within the material you are drying. This can be a helpful tool to confirm or present reconsideration of material and whether it is truly dry or not. With artist conk the dry weight is roughly about half.
To be continued in “Artist conk: The Ancient Reishi part 3”