By James Wood
The Northwest is a place that sees small bits of sunlight in the winter months, which means a lack of vitamin D! What are we to do about this precious vitamin when our most abundant source, the sun, is absent for a chunk of the year?
“the potential consequences of this deficiency are likely to go far beyond inadequate bone development and excessive bone loss that can result in falls and fractures. Every tissue in the body, including the brain, heart, muscles and immune system, has receptors for vitamin D, meaning that this nutrient is needed at proper levels for these tissues to function well.” - NY TIMES
The lack of sunshine in rainy climates stimulates health foodies to run to the store for a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is also known as the ‘happy chemical’, and is necessary for a healthy functioning immune system
. A supplement is one way to get vitamin D into our bodies, but many foods contain high levels of vitamin D that can also be counted on. Foods that are abundant in vitamin D include the flesh of fatty fish (salmon, sardines), high quality dairy products, and eggs (especially duck eggs).
Paul Stamets, the go-to mushroom elder in my opinion, discusses an amazing property of mushrooms that can be our ally in this time of need. In his book Mycelium Running, Paul notes that there is a component in specific mushrooms called ‘ergosterol’ that is converted to vitamin D2 when exposed to UV rays from sunlight. This is great news for those in rainy climates with mushrooms abound! Certain mushrooms will convert more ergosterol to sunlight, of which the prime examples are shiitake, reishi and maitake.
I decided to look to wild nature for my vitamin D, and found this beauty on my backyard!
Pictured above is the red-belted polypore, or Fomitopsis pinicola. This polypore (many pores) mushroom is abundant in many climates and grows on dead or dying trees over the course of years. Unlike most mushrooms that grow during their peak season and then die, the red-belted polypore is a perennial fungus and takes years to mature.
I went ahead and picked a mature mushroom from an old tree, and thanked it for letting me use it as medicine. I then let the whole mushroom dry in the sun for a few hours, with the underside exposed to the most rays as this is where the sun gets soaked in the most!
My next step was to chop it up as best I could in order for more surface area to be exposed to the nutritious UV rays. Polypores are notorious for being very dense and woody, and are quite a chore to chop into small bits. With the help of my trusty hatchet, a series of carefully placed blows transformed this mushroom into bite sized chunks.
After sunbathing for two days, I was confident that these slices had absorbed all that they could. I made sure to take them in at night so they did not absorb moisture from the misty forest of my North West home. After all is well and done, I made sure to let them sit in the dehydrator over night to suck out any more lingering moisture. I now had some forest medicine to use in the darker days of the winter.
If you are interested in this amazing fungus, be sure to check out Darcy from the Forest’s red-belted polypore hydrosol on Poppy Swap!