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Hot Chocolate with Red Belted Conk (vegan)

Receive the incredible medicinal benefits of the Red Belted Conk while enjoying this soothing and rich hot chocolate drink!


Red Belted Conk

RED BELTED CONK


Growing abundantly in many parts Europe, Asia, and Turtle Island (North America)*, Red Belted Conk (Fomitopsis pinicola) is a fungus that truly stands out. A reddish band almost always separates the older dark layers of the conk and the new outer white layer, making the polypore easily recognizable. You can find these beautiful conks growing on dead and decaying conifer trees like spruce, hemlock, fir, and pine (Pinicola means 'inhabiting pine'). Occasionally they also appear on deciduous trees like birch or poplar.


The Red Belted Conk is an important decomposer in different types of forests and performs essential nutrient cycling functions there. Breaking down dead trees, they create substrate for other fungi to grow, and eventually help bring nutrients back into the forest floor which will feed a new cycle of life.  Their fruit bodies also serve as a host to many insects and other small creatures.


Red Belted Conk has a long history of supporting us humans with different aspects of our lives. The tradition of using them in Europe dates back thousands of years, where they were used for various applications, ranging from food and tinder material to medicinal and spiritual uses. To this day, the conks are still in use as ornaments on farmhouses and barns in Tyrol, Austria.


On Turtle Island (North America), the Blackfoot people used Red Belted Conk to carry fire over distances. They would let the dried conk smolder in a buffalo horn, along with some coal from a fire. The Cree of what is now known as Eastern Canada, called the conk mech quah too, or 'red touchwood'. They dried and powdered the conks, to be used on woulds to stop bleeding. The Northern Dene people would smoke small pieces of the conk with tobacco to treat headaches.


Red Belted Conk

Other uses of the Red Belted Conk by humans include as a natural dye for fabrics, an ingredient in cosmetics, and perhaps most importantly: their incredible medicinal benefits.


Indigenous people already knew what science is now also showing us: the Red Belted Conk is a medicinal powerhouse. Some of their many healing benefits come from the polysaccharides they contain, which have tumor-inhibiting and immune-stimulating properties. When you drink them as daily tonic, Red Belted Conk can reduce inflammation in your digestive tract. Other benefits include that they help lower your blood sugar, improve circulation and liver function, and remove toxins from the body. They can also help relieve persistent, intermittent fevers, chronic diarrhea, periodic neuralgia, nervous headaches, excessive urination, jaundice, and more.


Red Belted Conk

FINDING RED BELTED CONK


The Red Belted Conk can be found in many places in the Northern Hemisphere, mostly growing on coniferous trees. While they can sometimes grow on living trees, the best way to find them is to look for trees or fallen logs and stumps that are dead, but are not in a later stage of decomposition. Luckily the red band on the conk makes them stand out from their surroundings, and therefore relatively easy to spot!


The Red Belted Conk is perennial (growing for multiple years without dying back), and because of this sometimes you can be lucky to encounter a fruit body that is decades old! Newly emerging conks resemble little white buttons on a tree. As they grow throughout their first year, their shape changes to a shelf, and a reddish band will begin to show itself. During the second year, the first year's growth will start to turn dark and hard, and a new layer of white that will later turn red will appear. In a way, the conks age like humans, a new wrinkle emerges with each year of life, showing a record of lived experience throughout time. Young conks are about 5-15 cm (2-6 inches) in diameter, while old one grow up to 60 cm (2 feet)!


The Red Belted Conk is a polypore, and can therefore another feature you can recognize it by are the many tiny pores that are present on the cream-colored surface underneath their cap. These pores emit spores for reproduction in early fall. Other distinguishing characteristics are a yellow spore print and a somewhat sweet scent.


Some lookalikes that have some similarities to the Red Belted Conk include Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Tinder Conk (Fomes fomentarius). These however don't share all the characteristics described earlier. When foraging for the Red Belted Conk, it's best to consult quality guidebooks or an expert to make sure you have indeed found this natural treasure.


Red Belted Conk

HARVESTING & PROCESSING RED BELTED CONK


Whether when working with fungi or anything else in nature, it’s important to walk softly on the Earth and to forage with care. We are guests and receivers of gifts from wild lands and forests, so please consider how you can do this respectfully and only take as much as you need. It's best to leave most of the Red Belted Conks you see, and only harvest 5-10%. You could also consider to, in your own way, offer a small gesture of gratitude to this fungus that so generously gives you a part of themselves.


When you have found a Red Belted Conk, harvesting usually doesn't require much effort. No knife or other tool is necessary, because they will generally pop off quite easily when you push down on the top. With age, the conks grow increasingly dense, making it almost impossible to process them with regular kitchen tools. For usage in recipes like this one, it is therefore important that you only harvest young conks. When you touch them, you will notice the young conks are still somewhat flexible. You can test a few different ones to notice the difference.


Red Belted Conk

After you have harvested the conks and returned home, it is important to process them right away. If you allow them to dry out, they will become even more dense and very challenging to work with. A first step is to remove all debris from the conks. You will often see that little sticks or leaves are stuck on them, and that there are wood particles or pieces of moss stuck on the back of the conk.


Red Belted Conk

The next step after cleaning the conks, is to cut them into thin slices. Be sure to use a sharp knife, because this is harder than you might think! Some people alternatively use a small hand saw to get the job done. Don't forget to enjoy the sweet, earthy smell the conks release when cutting them!


Red Belted Conk

If you had a hard time cutting the conks into slices, you could stop here and use them in this way. To increase the surface area exposed when boiling the pieces (thus allowing the beneficial compounds to be released more easily), you can cut the slices into smaller cubes. The pieces that you don't use right away can be dried and used at a later time to make a new serving of Red Belted Conk hot chocolate or to brew tea with.


Red Belted Conk

VISUAL GUIDE FOR RECIPE


After learning a lot about the Red Belted Conk and working hard to process it, it's now time to enjoy some rich and velvety hot chocolate! You can follow along with the simple steps below. At the bottom of this page you will find the full recipe.




RECIPE HOT CHOCOLATE WITH RED BELTED CONK





*Some sources distinguish the ones growing on Turtle Island as a separate species, Fomitopsis mounceae.


Disclaimer: Red-Belted Conk could have side effects and interactions with certain medications. Therefore, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before you use this natural medicine. It is advised to not use Red-Belted Conk for pregnant or breastfeeding women, and people on blood-thinning medication.


Every year there are some people that are poisoned or experience other negative health effects from eating inedible wild plants or mushrooms that resemble edible species. For this reason it's essential to ensure proper species identification and to consult multiple quality sources for doing this. It's also important to always check and follow all local foraging regulations before you harvest anything in nature.

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