As explained to me by Cavan Patterson of Wild Purveyors, the varnish top (aka Lingzhi, aka Reishi) mushroom grows in shingles on hemlocks and other softwood trees. The source of its American name is pretty easy to determine: the top of the fungus is shiny, like varnished mahogany.
Cavan recommends drying it, grating it, and adding a tablespoon or two to tea or soup as a remedy for gastrointestinal concerns.
I asked Cavan how he learned enough about mushrooms to be confident foraging for them. “The mushrooms taught me!” he joked.
In actuality, he’s done ten years of research and has hands on experience and assistance from his brother and partner in Wild Purveyors, Tom Cavan, who holds degrees in plant pathology and mycology from Penn State University.