It’s official. I’ve caught the head cold my husband had a few days ago. I had thought that I had dodged it, but no. To make matters worse, I could have been more proactive in preventing this. One of the worst parts of being an herbalist is knowing what plants I could have used to bolster my immune system effectively. There are dosages of tinctures and teas that I should have been downing the moment I knew that Josh my husband was sick.
So, instead, dear reader, learn from my mistakes. Colds are going around. Winter is a time for close quarters and the inevitable sharing of bugs the kids picked up from school. Make friends with a few immune boosting herbs at the first sign of a spreading cough. It could save a few sick days.
Ganoderma lucidum (or tsugae)
Reishi is a mushroom with a long history of medicinal use. Chinese medicine has used it for millenia. It boasts a long list of medicinal qualities such as helping with asthma, reducing stress, and improved cognitive function. The main ability that is specific to this blog entry is its immune boosting properties.
Around my parts, we have a relative of the Chinese Reishi. Its common name is rather plain: Hemlock Varnish Shelf Mushroom. Anyone who knows the scientific name (Ganoderma tsugae) would recognize that it shares the Ganoderma genus with Reishi. Once one sees it, the relation is undeniable. They are amazingly similar in their unique look. They are also used interchangeably medicinally.
I remember the excitement I had when I found my first Reishi. I was wandering around the property lines of the forest below my house. As I followed where the growing forest of my property met the clear cut forest of the neighboring property, I felt a pull to head a little farther into my woods. Soon, I came upon an old hemlock stump about five feet tall. There, red waxy shelf mushrooms caught my eye. The strange way that they grew out was unmistakable.
I was so excited. I took photos and shared with fellow herb nerds. I had found what has been called the “king of the mushrooms.” The mushrooms were passed, but I knew I had to mark this spot to revisit it later in the year to see if new ones grew. I did my best to mark my return path with fallen birch. Unfortunately, not well enough. I never found that stump again.
It would take me awhile to find a new Reishi patch, but this year was certainly my year. Not only was I pointed to a spot with heavy Reishi production 15 minutes away, I also found a spot a few hundred feet from my house.
The downside to Reishi? The taste! I would imagine this is what dusty feet would taste like (its smell is pretty similar). Once you get past the taste (and, in my experience, one usually does), it’s an amazing immune support herb.
This mushroom is an easy one to identify. To start with, it doesn’t really look like a mushroom. When you come across this mushroom in the woods, it looks like a strange burnt growth off the side of a birch. Should you break into this blackened lump, the woody flesh will be surprisingly bright and golden.
This is another one with a litany of medicinal uses, amongst them being immune support. This parasitic fungi that prefers birches and the brutal cold is a slow grower found in northern places like Russia… and northern Vermont. I have a few spots that I am slowly harvesting from in my woods. The taste is far more pleasant than Reishi. We used to make a morning Chaga decoction. We would take smashed Chaga, put it in a saucepan full of water, and let it sit on the stove at a heat below a simmer. There would be steam and water evaporation, but no bubbling. After leaving that for a bit (a half an hour to an hour), we would strain some and drink. Its dark earthy flavor would be a great way to start the morning. With the busy months that we’ve had, though, we haven’t had the time to break up the most recent Chaga harvest for use.
Hence us getting sick.
You didn’t think that I would forget about Echinacea, did you?
This North American native has been the darling of modern herbalists for a while. With research showing Echinacea root leading to an increase in white blood cell activity, it’s no wonder it’s often suggested as a way to prevent getting sick. Rosemary Gladstar has a fantastic recipe in her book “Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide” for a whole plant tincture of the plant that involves making different medicinal extracts from different parts of the plant at different parts of the year, and its formulation strikes me as magical as it is medicinal. It is an interesting process of really working with the cycle of the plant and it is on my list of projects for 2019. Due to the way that it boosts your immune system, it is suggested that this is not an herb to use daily extensively. Use it up to 8 weeks before giving it a break. Let your immune system stand on its own for a bit.
Another fantastic way to fight off the bugs going around is Fire Cider. You can read all about that in a past blog entry linked here.
And now it’s time for me to tango with one of the best remedies for colds: Sleep! I wish you a good night, and a fantastic New Year.
Until next time
The Green Mountain Mage