A Ray of Light: Bio-Available Medicinal Mushroom Cocoa
Imagine, for a moment, that you are in the deep wet woods of the Pacific Northwest Rainforest. It’s a little misty out below the cloud cover and the trees are dripping with mosses and lichen. It’s an emerald world. Picture your feet standing on the spongy ground below, thick with humus. As you stand there staring out at the damp forest, a perfect sunbeam breaks through the clouds. It highlights one little area, showcasing in perfect detail all of the little plants and animals it illuminates. Perhaps you see the mushrooms growing on the tree trunks, the spores on the bottom of the ferns, the tiny glowing eyes of a salamander peeking out from under a leaf. You stand there, rooted gently to the ground, and watch that sun ray travel. As the sun moves across the sky, the sunbeam illuminates different areas and by focusing on each area it passes across you are able to notice subtleties that you never would otherwise. You leave with a much deeper understanding of the life around you and how it’s all connected.
Now, picture the same thing happening in your body: a ray of beautiful light, slowly scanning down your body, shining into the dark recesses and tiniest cells. Perhaps sometimes it illuminates a little dark spot, which your body then is able to break down and flush away. This ray of light feels warm and comfortable and as it travels through more of you, you feel calm and grounded and at peace. You know it is healing you - not in a “kill all the bad things” kind of way, but rather in an illuminating way - showing your body where the problems are lurking so that it can gently take care of them itself. This is the kind of magic that medicinal tree mushrooms share with us. Gentle, ancient, wise, earthy.
Reishi was called ‘The Mushroom of Immortality’ in ancient China, as it was believed to be a cure for many age-related ailments. It represented a sort of spiritual potency, including well-being, connectedness, and longevity. It’s showed up in artistic images since at least 1400AD, and has been cited for thousands of years in scripts and texts as being a special tonic for emperors. It was (and still is) often used as a daily tonic in Asia, where it is thought to benefit vital energy, or “Qi.” It is joined by another mushroom that has shared the same claims - the chaga fungus that grows on birches in northern forests and tastes faintly of rootbeer and vanilla. Added to these are a number of other medicinal mushrooms: tumor-fighting turkey tails gathered by hand in Oregon, immune-boosting anise shelf mushrooms from my home in Idaho, and nerve-strengthening lion’s mane mushrooms from a dear friend in British Columbia. (Thank you Bill!)
But what to do with this magnificent blend of medicinal mushrooms? Make hot chocolate, of course! A a warm drink is one of the best ways to get all the benefits from these mushrooms. Raw, the medicinal tree mushrooms included in this blend are tough and woody, very different from the gourmet varieties you might add to your soups or pasta. The most helpful medicinal components of these tree mushrooms — the polysaccharides and triglycerides — need a little time to break down. Ideally, you should cook them over low heat for a long period of time to extract all the good stuff. (Like my friend Devon does with her delicious-sounding recipe for Red Belted Polypore hot cocoa )
Many modern herbalists also encourage a dual extraction using both water and alcohol. Mushrooms contain some constituents that are water soluble (beta-glucans/polysaccharides), and some that are alcohol soluble (triterpenes.) A double extraction pulls out all of these constituents to give the most benefit.
But when you don’t have the time or energy to watch over a barely-bubbling pot on the stove for the good part of the day, you might wish instead for something more instant. That’s why companies like Four Sigmatic are becoming more and more popular. They offer easy-to-use mixes that you can dump in hot water since they’ve already done all the hard work for you. Four Sigmatic processes their medicinal mushrooms by first drying the fungi, then boiling them for 12-24 hours in a water and alcohol mixture, then putting that in a “spray-drier that uses pressurized hot air” to remove the liquids (according to this article by Time )
I don’t have a magical spray dryer, but I do have some creativity and some time.
Making your own custom blend of medicinal mushroom hot cocoa is easier than you might think, as long as you have a little patience. This powder should retain all of the healing properties of your foraged or purchased medicinal mushrooms, with the ease-of-use of the fancy commercial products. And all you need to do it is a crock pot (or even just a pot on the stove), a cookie sheet, and a coffee grinder. I tripled my batch to make some extra to share, but it all sold out of my etsy shop in one day! Luckily for you, I’m happy to share my technique so those who missed out can make their own. (And those who snagged some, I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!)
Once you have your custom blend of medicinal mushroom cocoa, consider using it as a daily reflection tool instead of an on-the-go-drink. Practice mindfulness while you sip your cup. First, focus on your senses. How does it smell? How does it taste? What sensations do you feel? What do you hear right now? What can you see? Then, picture that same healing light entering your body, beginning at your toes. Focus your attention on that ray of light, noticing any sensation in your body. Allow the light to move slowly up your feet and legs, pausing at any areas that feel tense and allowing them to relax. Make note of any areas of your body that are holding tension or feel painful. You could even jot your notes down in a journal to revisit later, an especially helpful tool for anyone dealing with chronic pain or illness. If you become aware of a problem that is easily solved like “my feet are cold,” or “this hat is uncomfortable,” take the time to take care of the discomfort. Show your body that you are listening and you are taking care of it, and you might be surprised at just how relaxed you feel after this practice combined with the relaxing effect of the mushrooms.
So, without further ado, here are the directions for making your own bio-available medicinal mushroom cocoa blend. This mix is easily customizable; if you’d like to exclude the sugar or use regular granulated sugar, go for it. You can stir it into any kind of hot milk to drink, though I often prefer it as more of a cocoa-tea just mixed into plain old water. (You can also add powdered milk or coconut milk to the mixture itself!) I’ve added some other warming spices such as anti-inflammatory turmeric, black pepper to make the turmeric more bio-available, stomach-warming ginger, and circulation-supporting cinnamon. Oh, and cardamom, because it’s delicious. Feel free to add or subtract as you see fit!
This makes 2-3 cups of mix, depending on the ingredients that you add.
1/3 c. brandy
1 Tbs. powdered lion’s mane mushrooms
2 Tbs. powdered chaga mushrooms
2 Tbs. powdered reishi mushrooms
1 Tbs. powdered turkey tail mushrooms
1 Tbs. anise shelf mushroom (or red-belted polypore)
2 vanilla beans
1/2 Tbs. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cardamom pods
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 c. cocoa powder
1 c. sweetener of choice (I used granulated honey)
1/2 c. coconut milk powder, optional
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
crock pot or thick-bottomed saucepan
dehydrator with non-stick sheets for liquids OR
cookie sheet with non-stick finish or a silicone mat
bottles or bags, to package it in
In a small bowl, mix together all of the various mushroom powders. Place half of the mixture in a small jar and add the vanilla beans, chopped into small sections. Top with the brandy. Leave overnight. This extracts the alcohol-soluble constituents of the mushrooms.
Pour the infused mixture into a crock pot, along with the rest of the mushroom mixture and the turmeric, black pepper, salt, and cardamom. Add 3/4 c. water. Turn the crock pot on “low” and leave for at least 12 (and up to 24) hours. Check on it every 3 hours or so to make sure there’s still enough liquid and nothing is sticking to the bottom.
If not using a crock pot, place the ingredients into a thick-bottomed saucepan. Turn the burner on as low as possible and put the lid on. (The mixture should never boil or bubble.) Let it cook for at least 12 hours, checking on it occasionally to make sure it hasn’t boiled dry or started to stick. If you need to leave, just turn the burner off and leave the pan covered, then resume heating when you return.
After your mushroom mixture has infused for at least 12 hours on low heat, turn off the heat and let it cool to a tepid temperature. Pour it through a strainer to remove vanilla bean pieces and cardamom pods. Add the ginger and cocoa powder and stir well to form a thin paste. Spread the paste onto the dehydrator sheet or cookie sheet. If you’re using a dehydrator, set it to the lowest heat setting and run until the brown mixture has dried completely. If you’re using a cookie sheet, set it somewhere warm and well-ventilated and let it air dry, which could take a few days. (Make sure to keep it covered by a screen or upside-down box to keep out dust or insects.)
Crumble up the brown paste, then grind it back into a powder using the coffee grinder. You may have to work in small batches.
Add the re-ground cocoa mixture to a large bowl, then mix in the coconut sugar, optional milk powder, and the cinnamon. Your mixture is now ready to consume!
To drink, add a heaping tsp-full to a mug of hot milk or water and stir. Package your homemade medicinal mushroom hot chocolate in pretty containers for sharing with your family and friends!
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