The majority of modern medicines originate in nature. Although some mushrooms have been used in therapies for thousands of years, we are still discovering new potential medicines hidden within them. For many years, I have sought and studied Agarikon, an unusual mushroom native to the old growth conifer forests of North America and Europe. A big wood conk -- a perennial polypore -- Agarikon survives for many years and emits spores through whitish pores from its underside each summer (see photo below). This beehive-shaped mushroom may be the longest living mushroom in the world, growing in the temperate conifer forests of Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. This species also survives, precariously, on old growth larch trees in the Slovenian Alps, near the borders of Italy and Austria. Agarikon has two commonly used scientific names: Laricifomes officinalis, preferred for those specimens found on larch trees (Larix species), and Fomitopsis officinalis, which applies to those hosted by Douglas fir, spruce, and hemlock.
Mycologists at Fungi Perfecti maintain a culture library of 44 strains of this rare mushroom that have been collected around the world over the past 20 years. Eleven of these strains were genetically sequenced and contributed the "genetic fingerprint" of Fomitopsis officinalis to GenBank at the National Center for Biotechnology Information in Maryland.
The Greek physician Dioscorides described Agarikon as "elixirium ad longam vitam" ("the elixir of long life") in 65 A.D. in Materia Medica -- essentially the first known herbal medical manual that listed remedies for fighting diseases. Historically, Agarikon has also been known as the "quinine conk" for its strong bitter taste but should not be confused with true quinine, which is chemically different. In ancient Greece, Agarikon was recommended for treating respiratory illnesses, night sweats, and consumption -- later termed tuberculosis.