Medicinal mushrooms are often overlooked when we talk about solubility and the best ways to preserve things. We talk a lot about mucilage, berberine and the like, but not so much about considering solubility to make the most effective mushroom medicine. I personally think that’s because
a. folks get intimidated by the complexity (and weirdness) or mushrooms, or
b. folks are scared to experiment with something that comes around so rarely through the year–which makes sense, as you might only get one shot with the precious precious fungi this year.
The basic concept is this: most mushrooms contain both alcohol- and water-soluble constituents, like other organisms we use for medicine. When they’re simply dried, we lose much of the water-soluble and all the alcohol-soluble medicinal compounds. When they’re tinctured, we lose the water-soluble compounds.
Dried turkey tail and powdered chaga are familiar formulations, but do they really pack the most medicinal punch? During the drying process, as the water evaporates, the lovely fruiting bodies that last week were shiny (or dull) and colorful (or not) as you cupped them lovingly in your hands in awe at the majesty of this creation are now hollow bits of corrugated cardboard just begging for a shallow grave in the compost pile. That’s hyperbole, but still–why make anything other than the strongest, most effective, most delicious and uplifting and inspiring medicine possible? Why settle for slightly medicinal cardboard when you can achieve an ambrosia of a panacea? (That was a fun sentence to write.)
Is it possible to dry mushrooms and extract some measure of medicine from them? Yes, obviously, or chaga chai would not be a thing. Mushrooms are incredibly complex, the hard-won fruiting bodies of a vast mycelial network, and some of the medicine will stick around in the dried form.
That being said, drying is not the best way to preserve medicine from these incredibly powerful, slow-growing, central investments on behalf of a gigantic microscopic system of synergy and mutualism. Wasting something that precious is downright…wasteful. And also, why bother traipsing all over the mountain searching for maitake and reishi if you’re just going to let 3/4 of the medicine evaporate off?
The best way to extract the strongest, most complex water-soluble mushroom medicine is to preserve them fresh. This is generally true of water-soluble medicinal herbs, too. The recipe below for Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes (or mushroom ice cubes, if you want to be specific about it) will get you there.
But wait! The true best, most complete, crazy amazing mushroom medicine is made by combining both water- and alcohol-soluble constituents, instead of choosing one or the other. You can taste the difference, too: dried mushroom tea is lovely, tincture is fabulous, but a fresh mushroom concoction makes my whole body sigh with relief as my T-cells sing on their way into battle, in time with the war drums of the macrophages and the storming of the lymph and the gentle humming of my very very calm nervous system. I like it, you could say. Combine tincture and decoction into a concoction (really: double, double, toil & trouble). The classic recipe is adapted below for maximum awesomeness, but there’s still just the three steps: tincture, decoct, then concoct. Instructions below.
Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes
You can tell this is popular around here by the name.
If you’re planning to concoct some of your mushroom decoction, consider tincturing some–maybe a half-pint or a pint–at something water-friendly, like 1:4 60% (info here if you’re like, what?) and putting it aside until it’s ready.
1. Combine equal parts by weight of the following fresh mushrooms in a slow cooker (best) or large stock pot (not as good):
- Turkey Tail
- Chaga (not technically a mushroom, as it’s not a fruiting body–it’s actually mycelium! So cool!!!)
- Or whatever you have, really. But these are what I use, and I usually do 10 oz of each, but I have an truly enormous slow cooker so do what works for you.
2. Add these herbs for extra oomph and tastiness; use half as much of each herb as you used of the mushrooms (I use 5 oz of each):
3. Fill the rest of the way with water.
4. Gently simmer (covered! Always!) for 2-3 days, the longer the better. I go the full 72 hours. It should be a terrible looking brownish blackish brackish color and quite fragrant, in an appealing swamp-creature kind of way.
5. Cool to room temperature, covered, a matter of up to 6 hours or so.
6. Strain through a wire mesh strainer into a large pitcher or batter bowl, something with a pour spout.
7. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze. When completely frozen, pack cubes into freezer bags or jars, label, and store in freezer. You will probably have to do numerous rounds of freezing ice cube trays to get all the liquid frozen.
Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes can be added to tea, soup (simply the greatest addition to miso since the discovery of wakame), or just thawed and drank throughout the year as needed, any time you would use dried mushrooms or mushroom tea. I use cubes as fresh decocted mushrooms in the concoction recipe below.
Perfection Mushroom Concoction
1. Tincture FRESH mushrooms at something water-friendly, like 1:4 60% (info here if you’re like, what?), as noted in the intro for the recipe above. When the tincture is ready, strain it into a clean jar, with at least twice the volume as the tincture (i.e. put a pint of tincture in a quart jar).
2. A. If you’re concocting on the same day you made the decoction:
Allow the decoction from the recipe above to cool to room temperature, then ladle through a fine strainer into a measuring cup until you have equal parts tincture and decoction.
2. B. If time has passed since you made the decoction:
Remove Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes from the freezer and thaw them at room temperature in a measuring cup, until you have equal parts tincture and decoction.
3. Combine equal parts tincture and decoction. Some people also choose to ad raw honey at this stage.
4. Label and store in a cool, dark place, and use instead of mushroom tea or tincture.
There you have it, delicious and effective. Not the easiest way of making mushroom medicine, but it sure works great. Enjoy.