Musings from Kyoto Japan, mostly on Mushrooms, Food, Travel and the like

Posts tagged “Japan

How to Make Simple Medicinal Mushroom Extracts (part one – the alcohol tincture)

Reishi in my garden (1)

Reishi, aka Ganoderma lucidum, undisputed heavyweight champion of medicinal mushrooms. I harvested these for my extracts last July from the grounds of a forest temple here in Kyoto.


To the left, a tincture (alcohol extraction) to the right a decoction (water extraction). To get the most out of your medicinal mushrooms, combine the two in a single concoction (blend).

Greetings! If you are reading this, I take it you are interested in making some medicinal mushrooms, so here we go, I’ll outline the basics. Before we start, I should point out that I won’t be delving into complex techniques or terminology such as extraction ratios, (if you want to know about those, and bags of good info, check here), or carefully measuring out each milligramme and milliliter of ingredients. Nor am I talking industrial scale production. I’ll just show how I make medicinal mushroom extracts, for me and my significant other, here in our small wood and paper house in Kyoto, Japan. I’ll keep it simple.

By the way, it’s a long post. You might like to pull up a chair.

From start to finish the process takes about 4 weeks, less if you are in a hurry. The most complex equipment you’ll need is a big pan, or pressure cooker, and some glass jars.

Double, Double, Boil & Bubble

The method I’ll describe is what is known as a double or dual extraction. Simply put, mushrooms contain health-giving components that need to be eked out using one of two methods: boiling in water, or steeping in alcohol. If you only do one part of the two-step process, fine, but you’ll miss out on half the good stuff. More on the good stuff later.

If you are going to use mushrooms you found in the forest, don’t forget the mushroom gatherer’s timeless advice: “All wild mushrooms are edible. Once”.

Firstly, you’ll need some mushrooms. I am fortunate, living in Japan, in that I can source fresh medicinal mushrooms – maitake, shiitake, enokidake, shimeji, etc – inexpensively at farmer’s markets and organic stores and supermarkets pretty much year-round. My Kyoto house is not far from the hills, so foraging is not difficult either. I’ll write more about that another time, but if you are going to use mushrooms you found in the forest, don’t forget the mushroom gatherer’s timeless advice: All wild mushrooms are edible. Once.

Drying Yanagimatsutake.jpg

Sun drying Yanagimatsutake. Get double quantity and make a risotto with the other half. Awesome!

I almost always use dried mushrooms when making my concoctions (that’s not a rude word in these circles, by the way). Using fresh mushrooms is fine, but sun drying ups the Vitamin D content exponentially (good for vegans and vegetarians), and of course it makes storing and handling that much easier.

While we are here, drying some species of mushroom – porcini, yanagimatsutake, cèpes, boletes – then reconstituting them by adding water, makes them even tastier than when fresh. There’s a chemical explanation for this, I’m sure. I just don’t know what it is. Flavonoids? This man likely knows the answer.

First, take some Mushrooms

So, here we go. First, take your mushrooms, make sure they are clean, chop them into small pieces, dry them, and you are ready to go. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is, unless of course one of the mushrooms you have chosen happens to be or good friend, the incomparable, Ganoderma lucidum or reishi. These are seriously tough mushrooms. Literally tough. Not so long ago my mushroom comrade in arms Irish Tom and I managed to splinter an electric saw blade trying to slice up a particularly feisty example.

Sliced reishi 2 (1)

Look for grain to cut across when slicing reishi. The first cuts across the cap are the toughest. Across the slice is easier.

A simple way to get around the problem is to buy ready-cut reishi chips, or commercially-produced dried mushrooms which are generally easy (easier, more accurately) to slice. For the latter a good heavy-handled knife is handy, as is a hefty chopping board on a stable surface. Experiment slicing across the cap until you find a ‘grain’ that is easier to follow. Even with store-bought reishi, expect to work up a sweat. You might like to play some relaxing music. Or thrash metal. For a super hard shroom from the forest you’ll need a saw.

Fortunately, many dried mushrooms are easy to make smaller, and often you can pull them apart by hand – a very satisfying feeling (or is that just me?) – or cut them with kitchen scissors. Some crumble to the touch.

The choice of mushrooms is pretty much up to you, and of course you can include different mushroom species in one concoction. If you are creating a medicinal mushroom extract to suit a particular health condition, or to protect in advance against a certain ailment, then you can tailor your mycological ‘mix and match’ to suit. I’ll write on which mushrooms are most suitable for which conditions here at a later date.

Steep, then Boil (or, if you are weird, boil, then steep) 

To recap, we are looking at a duel extraction process here, with two steps, using alcohol and water. That is to say, steeping the mushrooms in alcohol (making a tincture) and boiling the mushrooms in water (making a decoction). You can do this with the same batch of mushrooms. Indeed, this is the least wasteful approach, and the most cost effective. You get more out of your mushrooms this way.

However, if you decide to make a tincture with one batch of mushrooms, and a decoction with another set of mushrooms – the other half of your harvest, perhaps – and keep them separate, that’s fine too.

eggsThere is some debate in which order you should do the dual extraction. I’m a steep first, boil later guy. Some dudes go for the boil, then steep. Huh? It’s a bit like Jonathan Swift’s debate over which end you should eat your boiled egg from. I guess I’m a Big Endian, Steep Firster. There is evidence that both processes, whichever you choose, may slightly reduce the effectiveness of the second step, but for our purposes, the difference is negligible. My reason for steeping in alcohol first is that it is easy, and I’m putting off the (only slightly) less easy bit till later.


Mushrooms and vodka

First step: steep your mushrooms in alcohol. 40% – 50% proof vodka is just the job.

Making the tincture (at last, I hear you say)

Clean a large glass jar, and fill to the half way point with your mushrooms. Then fill to the brim with 40~50% proof vodka. Try to not let any air remain. As you’ll see from the above, there’s no point in splashing cash with fine quality alcohol, as your final concoction will taste of, well, mushrooms. With reishi in there, bitter mushrooms.

A jar with a handle on top is, well, handy, as you can easily agitate it, that is to say, shake it up and down like someone possessed. To get the most from your mushrooms it is recommended you do this daily, but it’s not a catastrophe if you forget. Whilst agitating I suggest you put on a Pointer Sisters record and pretend to yourself you are doing a 1980s aerobics workout. Just don’t let anyone see you do this. If you are reading this in Japan, Seria has perfect jars at ¥100 a pop.

Leave your medicinal mushrooms in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks, agitating daily. That can include making ‘F#c% Trump!’ placards and encouraging youth to vote. Over time the mixture may cloud, but worry not, that’s normal. A water extraction clouds even more so.

I recommend you label your jars with the date laid down, the type of mushrooms within, and whether the contents are a tincture (alcohol) or an extraction (water). It’s easy to forget, if you don’t. You can scrawl on them with a marker pen, or print dainty labels. I like to label mine in, er, Latin. Yes, I know the ‘Pretentious, moi?’-ometer just broke off the top of the scale, but I like it. There’s also another reason for using scientific names, which I’ll get to in another post sometime. Et voilà, your tincture.

Come back here in four weeks for the next exciting installment, aka, How to Make Simple Medicinal Mushroom Extracts (part two – the water decoction).

Man holding mushroom jar

Store your tincture in a cool, dark place for about four weeks, agitating daily. Yeah!





On Tsukiji Fish Market, for Qantas’ In-flight Magazine’s Website

Hope you enjoy this piece I wrote recently for ‘The Australian Way’.

Includes Dennis Hopper’s favourite sushi shop. Bloomin’ good it is too. The sushi shop, I mean. Photos are by me too.

My Wall Street Journal pieces on Osaka

Here’s a link to the columns that I wrote for the March 19th, 2012 issue. 3 pages in all. Please enjoy. (You’ll need to click on the hyperlink rather than the image).


Anti-Nuclear Demonstration in Yokohama, January 14th, 2012 脱原発世界会議

Coinciding with the Global Conference for A Nuclear Power Free World, held at Yokohama Pacifico, January 14th and 15th, 2012.

Please contact me if you would like to use any of the pictures. I am sure something can be arranged.

“Quintessential Kyoto”: A Story I Wrote on Kyoto’s Michelin-starred Restaurants and the Like for Destinasian Magazine

I was very happy with this one which appears in the current (October/November) print issue, as I took all the photos (bar the Kyoto graphic) as well as doing the text.

Click here to see the full story in PDF format: Kyoto (1) including pics.

The story introduces celebrity chefs Kunio Tokuoka of Kitcho and Yoshihiro Murata of Kikunoi and I also recommend some favourite restaurants chosen by the ‘restaurant reviewer of the Louis Vuitton Kyoto Nara City Guide’. That’s me, btw. If you can’t be bothered with all those troublesome photos (my art!) here is a link to the Destinasian web version. Hope you like it.

渋い、そしてスティーブあんちゃん On Shibui, Steve, and Such Things.

Years ago it was that my dear brother Steve attempted to explain to me, a Japan neophyte, the concept of ‘shibui’. Imagine, he said, reaching for his antiquated dictionary of such Japanese things, ‘the just-so curve of a pagoda’. I said I thought I could imagine that. We both nodded sagely. But secretly I think neither of us were convinced. I suspect ‘shibui’ is something you can only understand with time. I was in Kurodani Temple today, photographing Buddhas. You can’t move for them there. It is near my house, but, by chance, I drove up in my car. And so, finally, I came to understand ‘shibui’. In just-so curves, a bit of chance, and a surfeit of Buddhas.

The Travelling Gourmet: Story on Kyoto’s Foodie Hotspots

Recognise this fellow? I had to smile at the ‘talent’ reference, given the Japanese image of a ‘tarento’: young, shallow, fame-seeking, disposable, often (but not exclusively) female media fodder. A Yorkshire version sounds particularly scary. Hopefully I don’t fit those categories. I certainly don’t fit the first one.

This is my profile in the current issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller. You can find my article on page 190 of the print magazine, should you care for a read or, if you prefer, you can check it out on the Web here. Sasha gets in on the act too, as the editors chose her pic, wolfing down Kyohei Ramen, to accompany the Web version. You can see that at her Foodelica blogsite here. The other photos there, from the magazine version, are also by me, FYI.


The Doomed Rooster Diaries: PKNK2

This was my presentation for the Pecha Kucha Night Kyoto Vol 2, held at Urban Guild here in Kyoto on the evening of January 16th, 2011. It was pretty well received I think. The PKN format is to speak about 20 images for 20 seconds each. Here are the 20 ‘slides’ of my Power Point presentation. Sans my pithy commentary (fortunately?). Please feel free to comment. Please note there is a Pecha Kucha Night INSPIRE JAPAN benefit for the Earthquake and Tsunami victims, in Kyoto, Saturday April 16th, details are here, and elsewhere globally, details here

The Finest Tofu いいお豆腐、さすが京都

松籟庵の外観 Shoraian is a beautiful old tofu restaurant set in woodland in Arashiyama, Kyoto, overlooking the Oigawa River.

There’s tofu, then there’s tofu. Once you’ve sampled the good stuff, all else pales. Kyoto is bean curd central. In particular Sagano-Arashiyama in the West of the city, and the Nanzenji temple district in the East are famed. I live a short walk from Nanzenji, but the tofu here I sampled at Shoraian, one of my favourite Kyoto restaurants.


あわび豆腐@松籟庵 This is tofu with abalone or awabidofu. Of late abalone is becoming one of my preferred tastes. Not sure why. Perhaps it is thanks to this dish, which was superb.


Pickles and Shellfish in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market 錦市場の漬け物、貝類

秋なす Eggplants aka Nasu were probably the first blue-purple things I ever ate. They are best in the autumn in Japan. A famed Japanese adage says you should never give the best ones to your wife in case she becomes too accustomed to the finer things in life. Personally I would be more than happy to give Sasha the best eggplants.

帆立 Scallops or Hotategai, a favourite of mine. Ate them once up in Aomori Prefecture in a very rough and rustic bowl of Ramen. Looked ropey, tasted fantastic. The place was called Shirakaba Ramen, the Silver Birch noodle shop, if you ever find yourself hungry on the windswept Western coast of the Shimokita Hanto peninsula.

黄瓜のつけもの Pickled cucumbers. With a little togarashi pepper to add some bite to the crunch.

カキ Oysters, first eaten in Japan aboard boats on the river that runs through Hiroshima, so they say. Hiroshima is still famed for them, as is Kumihama in Northern Kyoto prefecture. Best in winter. An old friend of mine, Yoshito, runs a Sake brewery in Kumihama, and I remember a great outdoor party he threw many years ago when he ordered a huge consignment of fresh oysters from his fisherman friend, which he steamed in sake sakamushi-style in a giant cauldron.

たくあんずけ Pickled daikon radish, or Takuanzuke. This is home-pickled, and that colour is natural. Not many japanese people know it, but Takuan isnamed after a monk of the same name who lived in the Takagamine district of North-west Kyoto.