Though completely different species– The Artist’s Conk and Red Belted Conk do have some similarities. These polypore, wood-eating, fungi contain medicinal healing properties that have been used traditionally for centuries. Spanning across North America’s woodlands, these medicinal mushrooms have been a highly revered source of health for many native cultures.
WHAT IS ARTIST’S CONK?
With medicinal mushrooms like Reishi becoming a popular polypore in the west, Ganoderma applanatum, otherwise known as Artist’s Conk, is yet another earth medicine waiting to be explored. It grows out of fallen logs or wounds in trees and belongs to the genus Ganoderma. Ganoderma is derived from the Greek word ganos meaning shiny, and derma meaning skin, which is no surprise considering their shiny outer surface. Being that they live on decaying wood, they play an important role in breaking down the hard materials wood is made of and returning those vital nutrients to the soil.
Growing quite large, the top of the cap is pale brown with a white brim that leads into its white underside. Becoming nature’s canvas, the pore surface is a bright white color. Though, if touched, the surface can bruise easily and turn dark brown very quickly. Artists often use this mushroom as a canvas to etch illustrations which is where it gets its clever name. With this fungus being a perennial mushroom, an illustration left on this mushroom could potentially last a long time.
UNVEILING NATURE’S POWERFUL COMPOUNDS
Like all polypores, Artist’s Conk contains a range of beneficial compounds. One being beta glucans which are powerful immunomodulators. Another group of compounds present are triterpenes. Triterpenes have been known to improve digestion, aid in the assimilation of nutrients, and the elimination of waste products in the body. In addition to beta glucans and triterpenes, Artist’s Conk has a variety of other polysaccharides, sterols, and polyphenolic compounds that contribute to its medicinal properties.
With extended use in ancient China and in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Artist’s Conk has been said to treat indigestion, alleviate pain and reduce heat. However, it is not considered edible due to its quite literal tough exterior. Artist’s Conk must be chopped into small pieces and used as a tea or in the form of an extract. Alternatively, once chopped it can be dried, then ground into a powder that can be added into juices and smoothies. It’s also been used as a flavor enhancer in Asian cuisine, however, its flavor can change depending on its host tree.
A PROMISING SUPERFOOD
Containing lectin, a well-researched polysaccharide that may aid in fighting cancer. Researchers found that as small a dose as 40mg/kg was optimal in inhabiting 39.7% of tumor growth. Furthering its immunomodulatory activity, in a 2016 study researchers concluded Artist’s Conk has the potential to activate immunologic parameters.
Furthermore, when extracted or used as a tea, Artist’s Conk has been found to have significant antioxidant activity. This antioxidant activity strongly correlated to the levels of alpha-glucans, an anticancer and immunomodulatory polysaccharide, and phenolic compounds. Another study researching Artist’s Conk in combination with black tea leaf extracts found that the combination had a strong positive effect on the level of phenolic-type antioxidants. Equally, in 2015, a novel mero-triterpenoid, Applanatum A was discovered in Artist’s Conk. Applanatum A has been observed to demonstrate strong anti-fibrotic effects. Anti-fibrotic agents are said to block or prevent tissue scarring, causing regression of fibrosis. With all of its medicinal properties, it’s not surprising that Artist’s Conk is becoming “superfood status”.
RED BELTED DOPPELGANGER
Often confused for Artist’s conk– Red Belted Conk or Fomitopsis Pinicola is distinguished by a red stripe near its growing tip. Just like the Artist Conk, Red Belted Conk is a perennial meaning that it can persist for decades. Like other polypores, it carries innumerable tubules on its underside which emit spores in the early fall for reproduction. It’s also vital in providing habitat for small insects and creatures. It can be identified fruiting on most western conifers like douglas fir, western red cedar, pines, western larch, spruce, and large redwood. This fungi reaches around 100 different host tree species and even will occasionally fruit in living trees.
THERE’S MORE TO THIS POLYPORE
This fungus has quite a lengthy history when it comes to classification. In 1810, Swedish botanist Olof Swartz first depicted this mushroom and named it Boletus Pinicola. Then, the Finnish mycologist Petter Adolf Karsten exchanged this species to the new genus Fomitopsis, establishing the Red-belted Conk’s current scientific name Fomitopsis Pinicola. It’s been known to hold powerful medicinal benefits including: styptic, immunomodulatory, anti-tumoral, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, antihistamine, circulatory stimulant, and emetic properties in high doses. Red Belted Conk has also shown to regulate blood sugar, support absorption and elimination, reduce menstrual cramping and pain, reduces headaches, and is a traditional treatment option for fevers, headaches, and chills.
Known as “tinderwood fungus” native peoples would often carry this mushroom as a fire starter. Internally, it’s dry and remains abundant while other potential fire-starting materials may be too wet or damaged from rain or snow. Coincidentally, its latin name Fomitopsis comes from Fomes, meaning root or “tinder” and Opsis, meaning similar to. Tinder wasn’t all this mushroom was good for. Many native cultures found further use of this mushroom in natural remedies and treatments. The Cree used it to stop bleeding and as a powerful emetic. The Blackfoots used it to move fire and as a purgative. The Northern Dene smoked it with tobacco to keep it burning and to relieve headaches and the Iroquois used it to flavor their soups, for nutrition and natural preservatives.
While these Conk’s are different species– their resemblance remains uncanny and equally does their varying health benefits. Native cultures have guided the way in showing the west the alchemy, and holistic uses of fungi. The ancient and traditional uses of these nutrient-rich polypores date back thousands of years and have unearthed the health and vitality of many cultures worldwide. As research grows and we continue to learn more about these ancient fungi, their healing potential is considered incredibly promising.
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