Category Archives: Wild Medicine

New Moon Challenge: Mushroom Moon

Photo of Birch Polypore

As yesterday was the New Moon, today I invite you to begin a Moon-long Challenge. Perhaps you'll commit to keeping a gratitude journal, taking 5 minutes each day and night to  check in with the sky, or eating at least one Common Dandelion leaf (or a wild food of your choice) each day. I've begun a Mushroom Moon, where each day I'll seek out a wild mushroom to appreciate and (at least attempt) to identify. I invite you to share your challenge in the comments for today's post.

Photo caption: Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) growing on Gray Birch.

Medicinal Mushrooms: Artist’s Conk

Photo of Artist's Conk

Becoming familiar with wild fungi has been a slow, deliberate process for me. With few exceptions (like Black Trumpets), I've focused my efforts on species who grow on or at the base of living or dead trees. One such wood eater is Artist's Conk (Ganoderma applanatum), a species who can grow quite large (more than 2' across) and lives throughout the United States.

Photo of Artist's Conk

Last week, I drove by this newly broken Artist's Conk shelf attached to an Ash-leaved Maple (Acer negundo). I stopped to take a closer look and noticed two distinct layers of pore tubes revealed by the break. Artist's Conk shelves are perennial and add a layer of pore tubes annually, which allows them to be aged.

Photo of Artist's Conk

The common name of this polypore refers to the mushroom's pore surface, which darkens when etched and can be used by artists as a natural medium (an image search for Artist's Conk art will lead you to some fine examples). This species is also used medicinally (as a tea or tincture), though its close relatives Red Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Hemlock Reishi (G. tsugae) are more well-known in this regard. To see many more photos and learn more about Artist's Conk, check out the webpages of David Spahr and Michael Kuo.

Announcing Ancestral Plants, Vol. 2

Photo of Ancestral Plants (Vol. 2) by Arthur Haines

Ancestral Plants: A primitive skills guide to important edible, medicinal, and useful plants of the northeast (Volume 2) is now available for purchase. Written by my friend and fellow Maine forager Arthur Haines, the book has a forward by Daniel Vitalis, and covers more than 100 plant species. Click here to learn more or purchase a copy from SurThrival. And, if you don't own a copy of Volume 1 of the Ancestral Plants series, it's currently available as an eBook.

Foraging Wild Flowers: Black Elderberry

Photo of Black Elderberry flower cluster

Here in southern Maine, Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is blooming, which makes now a great time to notice this widespread shrub. Black Elderberry typically grows in moist soils, so look for the bright white flower clusters lighting roadside gullies and the edges of small streams. Many of these clusters will produce forage-able purple/black fruits by September, but the flowers themselves can also be tinctured or dried for tea.

In Holistic Herbal (1990), David Hoffman writes that preparations of Black Elderberry flowers are "ideal for the treatment of colds and influenza" (p. 197). Consult his book or another trusted herbal reference for more details on making medicine with this plant.

Field marks for Black Elderberry include large, flat-topped flower clusters with hundreds of tiny 5-petaled flowers*, pinnately-compound leaves arranged oppositely along stems, toothed leaflets, and young stems and older bark with obvious freckles (technically lenticels). These features are shown in the following images. (To view them in full-size, click here.)

*Warning: Do not confuse Black Elderberry flowers with those of Spotted Water-hemlock.

Note: See the comments section for a discussion on Elderberry toxicity and the edibility of Red Elderberry flowers and fruits.

Medicinal Weeds: Rayless Chamomile

Photo of Rayless Chamomile flowers

Rayless Chamomile (Matricaria discoidea) is a short plant of roadsides, unpaved driveways, and similarly disturbed habitats. The button-like flower heads are comprised of tiny yellow disc flowers, surrounded by the slightest suggestion of white ray flower petals (effectively rayless). In the top photo, notice how hundreds of flowers are open, while others have yet to bloom. This plant is also called Pineapple Weed, and indeed the leaves and flowers smell decidedly like the sweet, familiar Pineapple fruit.

The fresh or dried plant tops can be brewed as tea and used for various medicinal purposes. In his book Ancenstral Plants (2010), Arthur Haines says infusions of Rayless Chamomile can help with stress, anxiety, inflammation and various skin conditions. He also notes that, "Drinking the tea or making a stronger infusion and using it as a gargle is beneficial for oral hygiene." Read his full species account (p. 145-146) for more details.

Due to this plant's habit of growing close to roads*, I've not yet consumed Rayless Chamomile, though the fragrance of a crushed leaf or flower never fails to improve my mood. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*If you know of a patch growing in a safer location (preferably near Kennebunkport, ME), do tell.