Artist's conk is well-known in Asia, where it has been used as a traditional medical mushroom for a very long time. It is named as shu-she-ling-zhi in China, while the Japanese name is kofuki-saru-no-koshikake, which means "powder-covered monkey's bench" in a direct translation. Modern scientists have accepted the medical benefits of the mushroom, after studies have revealed powerful anti-tumour, anti-fibrotic and anti-bacterial effects. While the species is mostly used by artists, it has become increasingly popular as a natural treatment. Artist's conk shares medical benefits with all of its Ganoderma relatives. G. lucidum and other Ganoderma species are considered to be a general panacea in Chinese medicine, where they are used against any condition, including infections and severe chronic diseases. The mushroom must be administered as a tea or tincture, after it is dried and cut in small pieces. This is due to the hard woody texture that makes it inedible. All Ganoderma mushrooms are extremely rich in bioactive compounds and around 400 different phytochemicals have been identified in artist's conk. Some of the most exciting are the triterpenes and polysaccharides with proven bioactive effects. These are thought to be effective hypoglycemic, anti-fibrotic, antioxidant hepatoprotective, anti-cancer and immune-modulating compounds, so several research projects focus on them. Using state of the art sequencing technologies, scientists have managed to map the whole genetic code of artist's conk in 2015. A content of guanine and cytosine of 26.66% was found in the circular genome of the species. The genetic code of G. lucidum has been mapped as well, which allowed a direct comparison with the one of G. applanatum. The main difference is the amount of transfer RNA, which is needed in order to send genetic information from the cell. Scientists will be able to better understand the medicinal effects of the mushroom from now on, since the mitochondrial genome of Ganoderma applanatum has been fully deciphered. Several systems of traditional medicine use the species and its benefits have been known since ancient times. It is very popular in Chinese medicine, where it plays many roles. Artist's conk is especially employed to reduce heat and excess phlegm, as a treatment for indigestion and as a painkiller. The taste of artist's conk depends on the host tree type. It is said to provide an immediate energy boost and is mainly consumed as a liquid, either in the form of tea or as a water extract. Artist's conk can be prepared as a tincture or tea but it is otherwise inedible, due to the woody structure. It is a good idea to start with a small amount, in order to prevent possible allergies. It can also have side effects if you take medication or suffer from certain diseases. It is rich in polysaccharides and triterpenoids with bioactive effects, so it is wise to ask your doctor before consuming it. The species can also be used as a colorant or dye for fabric, wool or paper. If ammonia is used as a mordant, the mushroom can give wool an attractive rusty color. The artist's conk is special due to its use as a material by artists. The surface is normally covered by pores with a fresh white color. Rubbing or scratching it will immediately reveal the brown tissue under the pores, so it is very easy to create lines or shades. After the mushroom dries, these marks become permanent.
Artist's conk is mainly used in medicine and artistic creations. However, it can improve the flavour of a number of Asian recipes. It can give food a very pleasant mushroom taste but it is inedible itself and can't be digested. However, ganoderma drinks can be produced by cold pressing with water or blending and filtering the juice. Ganoderma applanatum is a prized flavour enhancer in Asian fermented foods when added in small slices and can also be fermented with lemons and onions or included in hot herbal soups.
Artist's conk is not cultivated but they are very easy to find in the wild. They grow on either dead or old hardwood and the best place to look is near forest streams, where the air is moist and there are usually dead trees. The highest chance to find them is on maple trees that are decaying. The woody smell of these mushrooms is very strong.
Artist's conk has a long history of use in traditional medical systems, with no attested side effects. But it is a good idea to ask for medical advice before using artist's conk. This is because it is possible that some compounds in its composition might interact with commercial medication or supplements.
You must be very careful when you harvest these mushrooms for art purposes. You can typically remove them through force, by pushing downwards from their top. However, old artist's conks can become very hard and you'll need a hatchet or another similar tool. The best tactic is to push from several directions and slowly loosen the mushroom. You don't want it to drop to the ground, which results in immediate bruising. The pore surface that will be used as a canvas is very sensitive, so avoid touching it or it will change color immediately. The pores should not touch anything at all during transport. Fresh artist's conk can be used to produce designs with sepia colors; the technique is the same as normal dry point etching. After it dries up, the pore surface becomes very hard and it can be used as a canvas for painting. This is also true if the mushrooms are harvested during the winter, when it is impossible to etch them. The very strong smell of the artist's conk is also considered pleasant.