DO NOT PICK your own mushrooms.
Not alone, anyway, and I bother to say this because you probably want to. Tromping through the fecund woods, you would see little trumpets and toadstools winking at you from under every dripping leaf and at the base of every moss-covered tree, and you’d want to pick them and take them home because mushrooms are kind of a big deal right now.
But without the help of a knowledgeable member of, say, the Puget Sound Mycological Society, trying to harvest your own mushrooms is a dangerous activity — as in, you could die. Still, thanks to the tireless efforts of people like mycologist/entrepreneur Paul Stamets, the world is awakening, wide-eyed, to the vast network of mycelium beneath our feet and all around us. And like all things sacred, this naturally makes modern humans want to turn it into something they can stick in a travel mug.
Luckily, this is an ideal way to consume fungi.
The most readily available medicinal mushroom tea is reishi tea, from the reishi mushroom, aka lingzhi in China, aka Ganoderma lucidum for academics. Reishi mushrooms are fanlike in shape and look like giant land clams growing on the sides of trees. Harvested practically since time immemorial in the mountains of northern China, reishi mushrooms have been graced with many flowery monikers, like the “soul mushroom,” the “king of mushrooms,” “queen healer” and the “mushroom of immortality,” among others.
Reishi mushrooms are revered in Chinese medicine as a veritable panacea, prescribed for everything from boosting the immune system to curing cancer and alleviating depression. There is not much hard evidence for any of those effects, but there are dribblings of research into using it as an antiviral and anti-inflammatory, and in support of fighting prostate cancer. Wild reishi is rare, as befits something with such a poetic reputation, but it can be grown commercially on wood chips and in sawdust, and because mushroom tea has achieved mainstream superfood status, these days you can buy it in a regular grocery store in tea bags.
Frequently found in teas are somewhat less-princessy mushrooms like chaga, which appears as a giant, warty, charred-looking lump on the side of a birch tree. If you cut into it, the flesh is spongy and orange, more like a horror-movie villain than something you want to harvest. Also frequently found in tea are cordyceps mushrooms, some of which parasitize the brains of insects, turning them into zombies. But they are said to revitalize human adrenal glands, among other benefits — so, you know, more for us.
In its purest form, mushroom tea is easy to prepare: Just add the mushrooms to boiling water, strain and sip. Most mushrooms are rather bitter by themselves, so they’re often packaged with other ingredients, like the reishi tea/hot cocoa mixture by Republic of Tea. Finnish company Four Sigmatic makes a whole suite of powdered mushroom drinks mixed with coffee for the morning and cacao for the evening. MUD\WTR bills its mixture as an invigorating alternative to morning joe, and Seattle-based Choice Organic Teas makes a series of mushroom blends now as well, including a reishi matcha blend that will wake you up as readily as any coffee.
While the quintessential Seattle drink is coffee, this is a seriously moist climate, and there is something very Pacific Northwest-y about sipping on a hot mug of brewed fungus.