Survival Mushroom Tinctures
AllOutdoor Staff 02.26.19
In the course of your prepper path it eventually becomes necessary to recognize that we all have limits. Specifically limits to what you can have in your pantry and long term storage. Whether this is due to available storage space or available money, we can’t have everything we need for a long-term survival event.
The good news is that skills are generally more important than stuff and generally cheaper to acquire. With a little knowledge, practice, and confidence you can extend your prepping abilities and therefore distance your stored goods will take you. As the saying goes “The more you have in your head the less you need in your pack.”
Even still, at every chance we get, we stack food, guns, ammo, and first aid supplies high and deep. For the most part these supplies will last a lifetime. The exception is medicines. While most dry meds (pills and capsules) have an extended shelf life most liquids are limited to their printed expiration date and will have to be periodically replaced. Specifically, we can extend our medical stores with knowledge of wild foraged medicines.
First the necessary disclaimers. Mushrooms come in three flavors: delicious, medicinal (which may overlap with the first group), or make you dead (or at best make you wish you were). The takeaway is mushrooms can be deadly. Never eat a mushroom that an expert has not 100% positively identified as safe. When taking any extract of a mushroom you must also practice safe dosing. Study the available literature and consult your physician before taking any mushroom (or other naturally foraged) extract. Please proceed at your own risk.
A tincture is an alcohol extraction of a plant material. In comparison, a tea is a water extraction of a plant material. For this tincture we will be using a high proof alcohol. The reason I prefer tinctures over teas (also called decoctions) is the shelf life. Most decoctions either have a limited storage life or they require preservatives, like honey or glycerin, to achieve a minimal shelf life.
Additionally, regardless of the preservative used decoctions often require refrigeration. Tinctures, with a minimal set of precautions, can have shelf life of several years and require no refrigeration. This allows the tincture to last primarily through the winter season or several seasons with little to no chance of spoilage. Likewise tinctures concentrate the natural compounds and allow you to provide the same healing effect with a much smaller dose.
Specifically we will talk about two mushrooms and their preparation in tinctures.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga is not your typical mushroom. Chaga grows strictly on birch trees and looks more like a lump of creosote than a mushroom. One of its more descriptive common names is “Bear Poop on A Log”. The harvested component is a hard, woody, burl-like growth. The outside is charcoal black and the inside (the mycelium or roots) is colored orange to brown. There is nothing in the forest that looks like it. In most forests of the US there is one Chaga mushroom per acre of birch forest. In the extreme north the density can be as many as 10 per acre. If in doubt you can purchase Chaga online (at a premium cost of course).
Chaga has both anecdotal and hard scientific evidence that it benefits the immune system, acts to lower blood sugar, reduces cholesterol, and reduces inflammation. It is also packed full of antioxidants. Most of the scientific research has focused on anti-tumor and anti-cancer effects of Chaga.
Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae)
Reishi is a leathery brown mushroom with a white border and underside that grows primarily on dead hemlock trunks and stumps. Fairly plentiful in hemlock forests it can be gathered in quantity in the late spring and early summer. In a good year they are very, very plentiful. Reishi are stiff and woody and will require a stout knife to harvest and process. Like Chaga, Reishi boost the immune system and has been shown promise in fighting cancer. Research has begun to investigate Reishi for fighting fatigue, depression, high blood sugar, as well as aiding heart health and boosting mood.
Tincture Making Process
Because there are three types of medicinal compounds in Chaga and Reishi I prefer to use both alcohol and water extractions. Further I prefer two use two water extraction methods. The total process will take up to three months but no one said something this good was easy.
Preparing Your Mushrooms
To ensure that you are getting the most out of your mushrooms you must first process them to increase the surface area exposed to the alcohol and water.
For Chaga first clean off any exterior bark, twigs, dirt. There is some discussion of the next step. Some recommend leaving the black exterior arguing that the bitter compounds provide extra benefits. Others remove it completely. I remove about half of it and tolerate the mildly bitter taste. Let the Chaga chunks dry for a few weeks or give it a day in the dehydrator.
Next wrap the Chaga in a towel and give it a few whacks with a hammer or a 2×4. Break it up until the largest piece is the size of a marble. Then process a few tablespoons at a time in a spice or coffee grinder.
You want the final product to be about the same size as coffee grounds. As a note you can clean out the coffee grinder by grinding a few handfuls of rice then blowing it out with an air compressor (your spouse will never know).
To process Reishi first wipe the surface off removing any spores, dirt, and twigs. Then allow the mushrooms to dry for a week or two on the counter or place in a dehydrator for a few hours. Finally, cut into strips and then into the smallest cubes you can. The smaller the better. A big knife will help but due to their texture it is mostly a muscle and blister job. I have never had any luck using a coffee grinder, Cuisinart, or blender. This mushroom is just too tough.
First Alcohol Extraction
Once you have two cups of processed mushroom add them to a clean quart jar. You should now have a half a jar of mushroom. Next, get decent quality vodka that is minimally 100 proof. I would not skimp on the proof. You need your final tincture to be at least 25% alcohol so it will have a lengthy shelf life. If you wish you can run the vodka through a water filter like a Brita. I usually run it through four or five times. Fill your quart jar with the vodka. The jar will now be 1/2 mushroom and 1/2 alcohol. Leave this in a cool dark place and shake daily. Continue to shake daily for six to eight weeks.
When the mixture has steeped strain out the mushroom and set aside. Keep the alcohol in the quart jar (after a quick rinse). To break down the cellular structure of the mushrooms I recommend freezing and thawing the soaked mushrooms several times. The individual cells will rupture and free up more medicinal compounds. I usually freeze for two days then thaw for a day. Keep this up for a week or two.
The next step is the first water decoction.
First Water Extraction
There are two forms of water soluble compounds that you want to extract. The first is extracted with warm water but damaged with boiling water. The second is only extracted with boiling water. So we first simmer (do not boil) the mushrooms. Find a good source of clean water.
I do not recommend city tap water as it is usually chemically treated. Find a clean source of spring water if you can. Your goal is to finish with one cup of liquid so I recommend starting with one quart of water. Simmer between six eight hours.
Keep adding water during the process to make sure it doesn’t go dry. Once you have simmered strain out the mushrooms again and set aside. Then slowly reduce the liquid to 1 cup. Again do not boil. Cool the mushroom tea and add to the alcohol extraction.
Second Water Extraction
The next step is to repeat the process except using a solid boil rather than a simmer. If you need time between the two steps you can always do a few more freeze thaw cycles. This time add the mushroom to the water and boil for four to six hours. Be very watchful and add water as necessary. Do not let it boil dry. After your boiling time is over strain and reduce the liquid to one cup. Let the liquid cool and add it to the alcohol and water mix. You should now have 1 quart of liquid.
Second Alcohol Extraction
At this point I like to do one more alcohol extraction. I take the left over mushroom that has been alcohol soaked, frozen, simmered, frozen, and boiled and soak it again in vodka. Since the first alcohol soak the mushrooms have been really beaten up at a cellular level. The individual cells have ruptured and have now freed up additional surface area for another alcohol extraction. I put the mushrooms in a pint jar and top off with fresh vodka. Shake daily for another month, strain, and add the liquid to the original batch. At the end of this long process you will have a little more than a quart of Chaga or Reishi tincture. You can leave it in the quart jar or divide it among several smaller jars.
Using Your Tincture
I find Chaga tincture to taste like a slightly bitter vanilla while Reishi tastes like mushrooms and forest floor (I know… way to sell it).
From this point do your own research on dosing of your tincture. Start slow with only a drop or two and slowly work up the dose. Likewise research the maximum duration for taking your tincture.
I tend to take a mix of both Reishi and Chaga (as I usually have both on hand) as soon as cold or flu symptoms arise or before I go out to crowded spaces (the mall or air travel). I will often add the dose to tea, coffee, oatmeal or seltzer water.
Tinctures are a great way to prepare beneficial compounds. They extract multiple healing chemicals from mushrooms and have a relatively long shelf life. Creating a tincture from mushrooms that you have personally foraged and then taking it and feeling the healing effect is an experience beyond words. I hope this article has set you with the goal of bolstering your survival medicine chest with wild foraged mushroom tinctures.