The majority of modern medicines originate from nature, however researchers are still discovering new potential metabolites from natural sources in areas such as myco-forests. One such mushroom, Agarikon, not only holds the potent medicinal value of old growth forest fungi, but also symbolizes the current state of our planet. Because of anthropogenic global climate change and clear-cut logging interests, humans have indirectly reduced and endangered the Agarikon species, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, where, sadly, only 5% of old-growth forests still exist. When forests are clear cut or temperatures shift, it changes the entire biological function of an ecosystem, removing centuries of knowledge and displacing thousands of species. What corporate industries forget is that forest health directly translates to human health and one such case can be made through further research into Agarikon mushrooms.
What is Agarikon Mushroom?
Agarikon mushroom, also known as Laricifomes officinalis or Fomitopsis officinalis, has been touted as a cure-all medicine, helping with such diseases as cancer, tuberculosis and viral infections. Agarikon is a saprotrophic perennial polypore fungus that can be found growing in the temperate conifer old growth forests of Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, as well as, surviving, precariously, on old growth larch trees in the Slovenian Alps. This mushroom can become incredibly large, with beehive shaped conks and multiple stripes of white and brown colors on the outside.
Agarikon is most famously known as the mushroom of longevity, as it is one of, if not the oldest and longest living fungi species on the planet, living upwards of 70 to 100 years old. The mushroom also goes by many names such as larch bracket mushroom, ghost mushroom, brown trunk rot, eburiko, gharikon, and quinine conk. It is important to note that although the mushroom has the nickname of quinine conk for its bitter taste, it is not a true quinine. In Germany, Agarikon is known as apothekerschwamm, which literally translates to the agaric of pharmacy.
Interestingly, Agarikon’s life history mirrors its potent antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties. Because it lives so long, Agarikon encounters and must defend itself against legions of parasitizing bacteria and other fungi. In fact, the species must allocate much of the nutrients and sugars that it steals from trees to synthesize chemical defenses against invading pathogens. In addition, it must also maintain its hardy exterior, as it is exposed to hurricane force winds and hundreds of inches of rain per year, giving scientists insight into its longevity and potent medicinal properties (Stamets, 2009).
Just as it is being used today, Agarikon was revered in European historical texts as a panacea, particularly for tuberculosis and cancer. However, the medicinal properties of the mushroom are believed to have been originally discovered independently by North American tribes.
North American Ethnobotany
Referred to as the bread of ghosts or tree biscuits in local languages, Agarikon was traditionally used by the indigenous peoples of the Northwest coast of North America, including by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. The mushroom was culturally revered for its medicinal and spiritual properties. When used as a medicinal remedy, the mushroom was mashed and powdered for a variety of ailments, particularly for healing illnesses caused by supernatural agents. Oral traditions amongst certain tribes have passed on that Agarikon was also used to heal tribes from European diseases, including smallpox. According to Native American lore, the Haida people would incorporate Agarikon into their spiritual healing of sexuality and fertility. They would take Agarikon in tandem with other ritualistic actions when trying to strengthen connection to Raven, the female creator spirit.
Amongst various tribes, Agarikon’s large fruiting bodies also acted as sculpture material, often carved to represent various spiritual figures. These carvings were then hung from the ceiling of Shaman’s ritualistic dance houses for protection to the tribe. In addition, when a Shaman died, Agarikon carvings were placed at the head of their burial site to act as grave guardians and ward away people from the resting place occupied by spirits. Pictures of the carved masks can be found here. Agarikon was also carved as jewelry and acted as a canvas for painters.
European Historical Use
In 65 AD, in Materia Medica, the renowned Greek physician Dioscorides coined agarikon as elixirium ad longam vitam, translating to the elixir of long life. In fact, in ancient Greece, Agarikon was prescribed as a treatment for lung conditions, such as asthma, coughing and tuberculosis, as well for night sweats and rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition, medical anthropologists have recently found that Agarikon was recommended in old Polish folk medicine texts. The literature states that the mushroom was used to treat respiratory illnesses and musculoskeletal inflammation, as well as, infected and open wounds. Similar to the Greeks, Polish healers also considered it an elixir for long life.
Commonly Reported Benefits & Effects
Treat respiratory illnesses
Coumarin, a natural volatile active compound found in Agarikon, is what many scientists believe helps treat lung conditions such as asthma, cough, and pneumonia, by helping to open the lungs and get rid of mucus and inflammation. Agarikon’s antimicrobial compounds have also been found to be potent towards two especially dangerous strains of tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Yersinia pseudotuberculosis (Girometta, 2018). In a 2012 study, researchers identified two novel coumarins that were particularly unique to Agarikon and showed highly anti-tubercular activity (Hwang et al, 2012).
Another one of Agarikon’s key active compounds is known as Agaricin, which can be administered both orally and topically. Agaricin is a particular molecule within the mushroom that promotes its anti-inflammatory and anhidrotic actions (Davis et al, 2020). It has been shown to mitigate inflammatory response to such conditions as arthritis, joint pain, lumbago, rheumatoid arthritis and sciatica,. In addition, research is being done into its effect on kidney and gastrointestinal inflammation. Agaricin itself has been found to be so potent, that it is now produced synthetically by many pharmaceutical companies (Jakopovich, 2011).
Agarikon is considered to be a natural bioshield against potential infection and disease transmission (Stamets, 2012). Chlorinated coumarins isolated from the mushroom have been shown to have particularly strong antiviral actions, but also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antiparasitic and anthelmintic actions (Muszyńska et al, 2020). Studies have also shown that Agarikon is incredible against herpes, influenza A and B, smallpox, cowpox, swine and bird flu and other viruses such as the Orthopox virus (Stamets, 2005). However, these antiviral molecules are quite new to science, and most recently, Russian researchers found Agarikon to be particularly potent against the H5N1 flu virus (Teplyakova et al, 2012). In fact, they also hypothesize that the older the fungus, the more potent its antiviral properties.
Anti-cancer and anti-tumor
The polysaccharides and antioxidants present in Agarikon contribute greatly to its immunostimulating properties, with particular benefit in preventing and treating tumors and cancer. Agarikon’s compounds have the ability to boost interferon, T cells, interleukins, and tumor necrosis factor for fighting off cancer (Jakopovic, 2020). In addition, by isolating cells, studies found that Agarikon supplements offer massive relief to cancer patients (Jakopovich, 2011)
Although non-toxic, large doses of Agarikon may cause gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea. It is not advisable to consume if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Common Uses of Agarikon Mushrooms
If harvested, Agarikon can be dried and ground into a powder or it can be purchased as such. It has a strong bitter taste and chalky texture, so it is recommended to only add small quantities to liquid-based dishes such as soups, stews and other bitter drinks such as coffee or hot cacao. Another common way to consume Agarikon powder is in a sealed in supplement form.
Many people equate the taste of this mushroom to american ginseng, in that it is quite earthy and bitter. When making Agarikon tea, it is recommended to decoct 1 to 3 grams in boiling water for 15 minutes and drink from up to 3 times a day. It is recommended to add a sweetener to tone the bitterness down.
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- Myko San - Health from Mushrooms. 2015. Medicinal Mushrooms in the Western Traditions. https://mykosan.com/medicinal-mushrooms-western-traditional-medicine/.
- Sasata, R., 2021. Agarikon (Laricifomes officinalis): Benefits, Identification and Info. Healing Mushrooms. https://healing-mushrooms.net/agarikon.
- Stamets, P., 2005. Mycelium Running. Berkley: Ten Speed Press.
- Stamets, P., 2012. Agarikon: Ancient Mushroom for Modern Medicine. Huffpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/agarikon-mushroom_b_1861947.