Treasure hunting for reishi and making medicine

Ganoderma Oregonese, Photo taken by Kileen Swenson

The Hunt

In my hunt for the highly sought after oregon reishi a.k.a western varnished conk, I had spent several years asking locals and researching books on how to and where to find this mysterious and beautiful creature. Its formal name, Ganoderma Oregonense, is a form of reishi that fruits on conifers, typically hemlocks and firs in the PNW. One day as I was hiking somewhere near the Oregon coast, my dogs ran into the forest after a sound. Their rushed excitement ended up startling a heard of elk that inevitably came stampeding toward me. In an effort to save myself I ran off trail and hid behind a tree. As I calmed my breathing I looked to my left and to my surprise, spotted the rare beauty, Oregon reishi, growing on a dead fir tree. 

Upon carefully harvesting and bringing it home I decided I wanted to make the most potent form of extraction I could. I researched how to do a double extraction and got to work. Below I have included my recipe for double extraction. 

Having trouble finding reishi in the woods? Don’t fret, our local herbal store Mountain Rose Herbs mercantile or online store has organic reishi in stock, cut up, dried and ready to decoct.  

First a little bit about Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum)

It has been shown that reishi mushrooms contain the only known source of a particular group of triterpines, also known as ganoderic acids, which have been found to have direct cancer cell cytotoxity on a wide variety of cancer cell lines. Many of them have been suggested to counter angiogenesis and metastasis. 

The beneficial polysaccharide constituents provide immune cell proliferation. When double extraction method is used the two methods combine to provide a powerful concoction.  Reishi possesses analgesic and adaptagenic  effects along with well studied immune potentiation. It is also known to relax the muscles and central nervous system. It exhibits cardiotonic activity and liver and bronchial protection, as well as radiation protection and is anti-tumor.

Double Extraction method

The process of “double extraction” or “dual extraction,” is a method commonly used for immune-modulating herbs, including many of the well-known mushrooms such as reishi (Ganoderma spp.), maitake (Grifola frondosa), shiitake (Lentinula edodes), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), and cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris and Ophiocordyceps sinensis).  During the hot water extraction phase beneficial polysaccarides are extracted. Conversely, during the alcohol extraction phase, beneficial triterpines are set free. Together a potent medicine is produced.

How to make a double extraction tincture

Source, Chop and dry

If you purchase the already dried and chopped fruit bodies, make sure to either chop them down or put them in a blender to expose the most surface area for extraction. If you are lucky enough to wild harvest or grow your own, the next step is to wash and chop them into small pieces, and dry them on a screen or in a dehydrator.

Alcohol extraction phase

I prefer to make the tincture first as it takes anywhere from 2-8 weeks to extract properly. Begin by filling a glass  jar with the dried and/or chopped mushroom, covering the material and then some with high proof (70-95%) clear grain alcohol ( you can use Vodka or Everclear for example). Then allow it to sit for 2-6 weeks away from sunlight. Be sure to shake the jar every few days as this will provide maximum extraction of the medicinal molecules. Pro Tip: if you are using a metal lid, cover the top of the jar just under the lid with wax paper to avoid corrosion of the metal. 

Hot water extraction a.k.a making the decoction

The goal here is to reduce your original water content to half. I do this by filling a large crock pot about ¼ full with finely chopped dried reishi, then I add double or triple the amount of water and slow cook it for 6-16 hours until the water is half of what it was. You can also keep adding water to prolong the decoction process to ensure the brew is full strength. If you have any left over you can drink it as a tea, it keeps in the fridge for about a week. 

Strain, press, cool

Once the water decoction is done be sure to strain it well with a fine sieve. Continue to press and strain until all of the water has been squeezed out of the marc. Allow the decoction to cool. 

Next, you will add the alcohol extraction that has been brewing for weeks. 

The combined ethanol-water extraction should be 25% alcohol. The volume of the water extract should be adjusted according to the percent alcohol of the spirits used for the tincture.

Final Measure

Again, The final water content of the extract, should be at least 25% alcohol for preservation purposes. As a guide, Buhner (2012) suggests using 16 ounces of powdered (you can used chopped) reishi mushroom, 64 ounces of water( from your hot water extract) for decoction, and 16 ounces of 95% alcohol extraction for a 1:5 mushroom:menstruum extract resulting in 20% alcohol. If you cannot powder your mushroom, putting it in a blender initially with the alcohol works well. 

How long does it stay good for?

Make sure to store in a labeled, sanitized amber colored glass jar with a tight-fitting lid in a cool, dark place. Shake the tincture frequently as the polysaccharides can precipitate out of solution while on the shelf. If the proper amount of alcohol is added and stored correctly your tincture can last for about a year. 

Written by Kileen Swenson LAc and MAOM a practitioner at WellBalanced Center For Integrative Care