Red-belted polypores (fomitopsis pinicola) are a type of polypore that grow in conifer forests in the Northen Hemisphere. They are a perennial that is extremely durable, growing additional tubes every year. Prevalent in the NW, these mushrooms are often found on dead or dying Hemlock and Douglas fir, and look like shelves rather than umbrellas – their caps are fairly flat (though they do slope gently), with the pores on the underside of the mushroom, sloping downward more steeply.
The red-belted polypores are easy to distinguish from other polypores, as their reddish-brown color is surrounded by a cream edge (they are browner in youth, redder as they reach maturity, and can turn nearly black when they are very old). They are non-varnished on top, and the cream surface on the underside of the mushroom does not bruise easily (unlike the polypore known as the artist’s conk).
Polypores are fairly recognizable in their shape (shelf-like), durability (durable and woody), and location on dead/dying coniferous trees, (though they are not the only mushrooms that grow on such tree), but once you have identified a mushroom as a polypore, almost always safe to ingest. There is only one polypore that is poisonous, Hapalopilus nidulans, which is identifiable by its orangish color and more fleshy texture. Hapalopilus grows mostly east of the Rockies, though it can sometimes be found in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest.
As always, it is recommended that you identify a mushroom with a person who knows what he or she is doing, before identifying and consuming a mushroom that you are not personally familiar with. My first experience harvested a red-belted polypore was with my dear friend Emily, who had taken a mushroom class in Seattle, in a clinic offered by Bastyr. Your local mycological society is a great way to learn more about fungi, and to meet other people interested in the mushroom world. Check out the Puget Sound Mycological society if you are in the NW.
When you see these beauties in the woods, take a moment to observe the ridges on top. They are slightly bumpy – not entirely smooth and varnished, like some other polypores. Look underneath, to look at the condensation that gathers here. You may even want to taste these slightly fruity-tasting water droplets, as this moisture is actually secreted from the pores of the mushroom.
To remove, grasp with a firm hand, and yank to dislodge the polypore from its host. If it is growing out of a log on the ground, you can apply pressure easily to the top, knocking it with your hand or a boot to remove. Just be sure to give gratitude for this incredible fungi while harvesting – it’s an incredible organism that deserves respect.
Just remember, as tough as polypores are, it takes work to process these mushrooms for a decoction, tincture, soup broth, or fantastic honey extraction. Be prepared to spend a good deal of time and patience in the kitchen chopping up these mushrooms, as the leathery texture and durable cap make a superteam of sorts. My partner and I have divided the task to work better with the conk – he strips the polypore layer by layer (which is also beautifully year by year), to reveal thin, more manageable slices of polypore, like a dense foam mat, which I can then patiently slice.
Your time and energy will be worth the reward though. No matter the method you use to ingest this polypore’s nutrients, you’ll feel good knowing that the red-belted polypores have been used for a wide-range of homeopathy; they are anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-histamine, detoxify the liver and intestines, and contain natural steroids which aid in reducing inflammation and auto-immune diseases.
Our most recent red-belted polypore harvest was in Mt. Rainier National Park in the fall, though they are present in our yard and the forest surrounding our house, and are harvestable year-round.
Kuo, M. “Fomitopsis pinicola. ” Mushroom Expert. February 2010. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. <http://www.mushroomexpert.com/fomitopsis_pinicola.html>
Kuo, M. “Hapalopilus nidulans. ” Mushroom Expert. August 2003. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. <http://www.mushroomexpert.com/hapalopilus_nidulans.html>
Manis, Denis. “Medicinal Mushroom Preparations.” The Light Cellar. Web 2 Nov. 2015. <http://thelightcellar.ca/the-healing-power-of-medicinal-mushrooms/>
Sitkoff, Anna. “Fomitopsis Pinicola: Red Belted Polypore.” Reishi and Roses. 5 April 2015. Web. 3 Nov. 2015<https://reishiandrosesbotanicals.wordpress.com/>