Good news when a conk sweats

My husband and I spent a morning preparing four artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum) I collected for medicine.

My husband and I spent a morning preparing four artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum) I collected for medicine.

I found them growing on a venerable rotting poplar balsam stub while forest bathing in the brilliant autumn colours. There were small beads of sweat on the conks’ fleshy white outermost ring.

This is a good sign for a medicine maker.

When a conk sweats, it is alive, breathing oxygen, and making medicine.

I offered up a pinch of tobacco to the old stump, told the conk what medicine I wanted to make, and carefully separated them from their roost with my Swiss army knife.

I did not have a bag, so my friend who had come along for the walk, carried one for me.

She does not like mushrooms. She does not like the way they smell. Stopping for a bite to eat after the walk, she washed her hands immediately.

“I can’t get the smell off,” she complained. She is a good friend.

This morning, my husband used the band saw to slice the conks like bread.

With the sharpest knife in the house, I cut them into pieces the size of a fingernail. A kilo of conk is now simmering on the stove.

My husband, his last Monday off of the summer, is a bit distressed. He suggested I simmer the conk tomorrow.

“It smells,” he complained. “you are going to go to work, and leave me in a house that smells like a mushroom farm.” I suggested he spend the day outside, it is beautiful after all.

Being an herbalist can be a smelly job. In some ways, it is the many scents of herbal medicine that drew me to the art of making medicine.

I remember living deep in the Yukon wilderness, an hour and half hike from the Alaskan Highway somewhere between Whitehorse and Haines Junction, and hitch hiking into town on a frozen January morning.

I loved our bimonthly trips into Whitehorse, real food, real people and the loveliest herb shop in Western Canada, Aroma Borealis.

In the tiny shop, I was bathed in the scents of the many green forests that are deeply rooted in this beautiful blue planet.

I heard the hooting and hollering of monkeys in ancient Asian forests when I caught a scent of the sandalwood tree’s perfume.

I swear I could hear waves crashing on the rocky pacific shore when I first inhaled the pungent, musky scent of bear root (Ligusticum porteria). Bev, she owns the shop and is now one of my herbal pals, stocks bags of lavender.

Dipping my hands in the soft, blue flowers my mind travelled to the France: red wine, the sweet sounds of jazz on the west bank and tripping along cobblestone streets in high heels at dawn. The many scents of Aroma Borealis carried me away from the frozen, silent north.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Yukon, there are many days when I long to return to the bush. But the colourful scents in that little shop, on that dark January morning were like a Matisse painting hanging next to a dark, moody scene by Evard Munch.

But I was not going to write about the Yukon and Bev’s inspiring herb shop, I was going to write about why I would fill my house with the scent of mushrooms so tough they had to be sliced with a band saw. The artist’s conk is an effective immune tonic.

I am going to use it to ward off any colds and flus this winter and offer it up to my clients who need an extra immune boost.

Like its cousin the reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), the artist’s conk is used to scavenge free radicals, kill many types of bacteria including e-coli and streptococcus pyogenes, limit the activity of the Epstein-Barr virus which is has been associate with many types of health challenges from herpes to auto-immune disease to cancer and enhance the spleen’s production of white blood cells.

But Traditional Chinese Medicine says it best: artist’s conk improves a person’s chi. Chi is a person life force.

The life force is what brings vigour, creativity and liveliness. It is a healthy glow. So in mid-February, after taking a tablespoon of artist conk every day, I will feel more like a bright Matisse painting, then a mournful character portrayed by Evard Munch.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit Arneson can be reached at