Medicinal Mushroom Hot Cocoa with Red Belted Polypore
There are certain times of year when I began to crave deep comfort and softness. I crave deeply earthy flavors – dark, bitter and faintly sweet. I crave subtle flavor dimension and nuance…
These quieter textural and flavor experiences are not terribly common in society where food buzz words include “bold” and “shocking”. “Bigger is better” and maybe that is just the way of things today. But when the weather grows colder and the days shorter, I find myself spending more time developing a greater experience with the food and drinks that I consume. And such is the case with this medicinal mushroom hot cocoa
The Pacific Northwest is a mycological wonderland. Our damp climate, dense forest and diverse elevations give rise to fascinating forest ecology. Four seasons of fungal fun for those so inspired. Earlier this year my husband and I spent an extended weekend exploring the Cascades. I set out with camera and field guide in hand, but to be honest I was hoping to find some Oregon reishi (Ganoderma oregonense). Alas, no reishi. What we did find, in awe inspiring abundance, was the glorious red belted polypore and I knew at once that I would be making medicinal mushroom hot cocoa.
Red Belted Polypore Identification
The red belted polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola) is a shelf fungus common to dead and dying Douglas fir and hemlocks in the Pacific Northwest. The top of this perennial fungus often has black/brown, orange/red, and cream colored bands (though size, margin and intensity of color may change with maturity) that may appear somewhat shiny, although not “varnished” like we observe with reishi. The underbelly of this polypore (which you may also see referred to as a “conk”) is a creamy white, not terribly susceptible to bruising, and sometimes “sweats” fruity tasting exudate in a process called guttation associated with periods of rapid growth. Red belted polypores can often be gently pried away from its deacying host, usually coming away intact – if not stippled with firmly embedded conifer needles.
This fungus is inedible in its natural state, for all practical purposes. With a texture and fibrous quality not unlike press board, this polypore does not lend itself to easy preparation. After cleaning my polypore harvest, I meet my husband at the intersection of foraging and carpentry, and we use a dedicated band saw blade to carefully break the fungus into strips. I then cut these woody strips into small cubes which I reduce to a fluffy sponge-like powder in a coffee grinder.
Red Belted Polypore Energetics and Medicinal Benefits
Red belted polypores are slightly “sweet” and tonic in action. Keep in mind, flavor energetics do not necessarily equate “sweetness” to standard sugary sweetness. It’s far more bitter than sweet, not unlike extremely dark chocolate. The profound polysaccharide content deserves the credit for subtle perception of sweetness. Red belted polypore have a rich medicinal tradition with Native peoples. Ground polypore has stypic action to attenuate wound bleeding, and was as a purgative (in large amounts) for ritual cleansing and purification. Considered a digestive tonic, this mushroom is thought to relieve inflammation of gastrointestinal tissues. Red belted polypore is also indicated for immune system stimulation and antihistamine qualities. Some animal model studies have even indicated that this polypore may have some anti-cancer potential.
Upon learning about the digestive tonic aspects of the red belted polypore and observing its uniquely bittersweet flavor, it seemed the ideal choice for a medicinal mushroom hot cocoa. This polypore combined with raw cacao powder, soothing marshmallow, comforting cinnamon, and nourishing slippery elm serve as nutritive, chocolaty elixir perfect for sipping on cold days. Simmered low and slow, for approximately 30 minutes, healing polysaccharides are extracted from the red belted polypore. If red belted polypores are not available in your area, chaga, reishi, cordyceps, artist’s conk and turkey tail are all suitable substitutions, bringing their own unique favor and medicinal qualities to the resulting cocoa.
This medicinal mushroom hot cocoa is as distinctive as it is subtle and comforting. It is velvety and rich, without overpowering the senses with any particular flavor. The cacao and polypore read especially earthy and dark on the palate. The lasting sensation after consumption is one of thoughtful satisfaction and visceral calm.
NOTE: The stunning bark inspired cup, saucer and spoon featured here are by my friend and forest maven, Betsy Hinze. Wondersmith and artist, Betsy creates unique, nature inspired ceramic and glass artifacts available for purchase during select times of year. Betsy created this collection as homage to the forest after fire. Before human interventions, fire itself was a vital part of the health of a forest, restoring balance to the ecosystem. To view Betsy’s current collection and learn more about her truly magical sensory events, please visit her website.
Medicinal Mushroom Hot Cocoa with Red Belted Polypore Recipe
- 8oz raw cacao powder
- 1oz red belted polypore, ground (or substitute medicinal mushroom of your choice)
- 1oz ground cinnamon
- ½oz slippery elm
- ½oz marshmallow root
- Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight jar. Store in a cool, dark and dry spot.
- To prepare, simmer a heaping tablespoon of the mix in 8-10oz of a milk of your choice on low heat for approximately 30 minutes. Due to the “spongy” nature of the polypore once rehyrated, I find that the hot cocoa is best pressed through a “French press” before serving. Alternatively, it can be passed through a fine mesh sieve. Sweeten to taste and serve.