Today we’re looking at conch (in North America, usually “conk”) fungi. Often shelf- or hoof-shaped, hard/woody, smooth and sometimes cracking, they’re typically polyporous, not usually edible, but generally health-promoting. These perennial mushrooms stand out for sticking around even when the weather is unfavorable to the formation of more sensitive fruiting bodies.
Some of the most famous mushrooms used for medicine, like reishi, belong to this group. Folks in North America might be surprised to learn the common Red-Belted Polypore (fomitopsis pinicola) is also a potent traditional treatment for several conditions.
– Powdered and mixed with water, the resulting paste has been used to slow bleeding from wounds
– When boiled for at least an hour, this decoction can be taken as a daily tonic to aid against digestive-system inflammation. There is some reason to believe it may also act as a preventative against cancer/tumours.
While certainly beneficial to humans in these specific ways, conks play much wider-reaching and important roles in the health of our entire ecosystem. Like many other wood-rotting fungi, the mycelia of f. pinicola are destructive to their hosts; by bringing down large conifers, they open the forest canopy and allow smaller trees to flourish. Amazingly, they are also claimed to degrade pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in the surrounding environment.
Promising recent research shows a very significant connection between the presence of these mushrooms and the extension of life for worker bees, promoting colony survival through viral payload reduction.
That’s right: the same mushrooms that boost humans’ immune systems also benefit the immune systems of other animals, including bees – with the entire food web relying on the presence of pollinating insects, there can be no doubt as to the interconnectivity of all life, including these mysterious, glistening, red-belted conches.
Just for fun, here are some photos of other conk fungi observed over the last few weeks in the Acadian forest.