Medicinal fungi have vanished completely from mainstream UK Herbal Medicine during the past century or more. One can only guess at the reasons – they may not lend themselves to commercial cultivation, there are potentially hazardous consequences from misidentification, and the strong psychoactive effects of many common indigenous fungi may have associated them too strongly with witchcraft. The reasons for their return are simpler to identify – namely, the cross-influence of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where fungi are not uncommon, the availability of comprehensive modern photographic field guides, the current popularity of ‘fungus forays’, and the pioneering work of a handful of modern herbalists, notably the great Christopher Hedley.

Medicinal fungi are worthy of interest as they can clearly be very useful: most have powerful trophorestorative effects to the immune system, especially in the context of cancer; some are additionally anti-microbial, or have tonic nervine properties, or benefit the cardiovascular system, for instance.

Having said all this, we are covering only one species here, and it’s timely to review Herbarium policy again: a discipline is imposed that nothing will be detailed unless it is based on personal experience, and ideally the consequence of several seasons of observation and adaptation. However, this protocol does not assume that the practitioner concerned must be one of the Herbarium editors, so we hope this section can soon expand.

Artist’s Bracket, Ganoderma applanatum – 1:3 25%, 3 – 4 weeks           

The Artist’s Bracket is a tough and woody fungus, parasitic on the bark of mature deciduous trees, in particular beech, and occasionally on fallen hardwood trunks. Those found close to the ground in public places should be avoided as they are a favourite target for passing dogs. It’s large, (look for something the size of a dinner-plate!), and so firmly attached to the tree it’s best to take a club hammer and cold chisel out with you, (along with a field guide to fungi until you are confident with identification). It can be harvested most months of the year, but early Autumn is most likely to yield examples of good size that have not started to decay.

Ganoderma is one of the most difficult subjects to comminute – the easiest way is to chop it into strips with a hand axe or chisel and feed these into a garden shredder, passing it through two or three times. Otherwise settle down to a lot of painstaking work with a sharp cleaver or chisel, aiming at thin slivers. Give it a good long maceration. You may want to experiment with higher concentrations of alcohol (references can be found to tincturing other fungi with 45% or more), or you might like to try the ‘Combined Macerated & Decocted Extract’ described in the ‘Tinctures & Fluid Extracts’ section, as it should yield the broadest spectrum of active constituents this way.

Ganoderma applanatum is closely related to G. lucidum, the Reishi mushroom so highly prized in TCM and the subject of copious research. This is a relatively rarer find in the UK (where we call it the Lacquered Bracket), and is most likely to be found on exposed roots of deciduous trees. Although the Artist’s Bracket is not so well researched, it has almost identical uses, and given the poor quality of dried Reishi imported into the UK, can be considered superior for our purposes, particularly for support of the immune system. One may also find G.adspersum, (syn. australe), mostly near the base of deciduous trees and often identified by the copious ‘cocoa powder’ spore deposits on the trunk; or the rarer G. pfeifferi on Oak stumps. It seems that they are all very similar therapeutically, as is the Birch Polypor, Piptoporus betulinus.