The Magic of Medicinal Mushrooms
I’ve been involved in the study of mushrooms for a few years now. Reading studies and listening extensively to contemporary zealots and leaders in the industry, notably Jeff & Skye Chilton, Paul Stamets, Myco-James, Lee Carroll, Mathew Hall to name a few. I’m on a weekly Club House forum to discuss all things Mycology and am always learning more about how the world of fungi can transform our health and improve vitality.
What I’ve learned is, like any complementary medicine product, not all therapeutic mushroom products are created equal. It’s critical to know your sources, and have a clear understanding of what you’re looking for on a label, and which fungi is specific for your needs.
First: there are 2 major components of mushrooms commonly used: the fruiting body (the mushroom itself), and mycelium (the root system or growing stem cells of the mushroom). There are opinions on both sides that products made of either the fruiting body or mycelium are superior in immunological action. Here is my evaluation: The fruiting body generally speaking has more advanced levels of active immune polysaccharides called beta-glucans and triterpenoids (among others) and so are more beneficial for treating conditions specific to the immune system. The mycelium and the grain it’s grown on (usually brown rice) are active in different ways, each conferring unique and complementary immune benefits for daily immune support and healthy function. So in short, both have benefits, either for specific immunological conditions (fruiting body), or, to encourage healthy immune response daily (mycelium). Either way, it should be clearly outlined on the label!
Here’s what needs to be on the label
– which part of the plant? Mycelium or fruiting body determines which part of the fungi is used, this needs to be
noted on the label
– the scientific name – for each fungi, there is a genus and species, these need to be clearly outlined on label
– laboratory tested for active ingredients (polysaccharides, beta-glucans, triterpenoids)
– organic, wildcrafted and/or sustainably grown
Do all mushrooms work the same?
Not even close. Firstly, not all fungi are mushrooms! Chaga Inonotus obliquus, for example, isn’t a mushroom at all. Chaga is the common name for a perennial canker that commonly forms on a birch tree (Betula papyrifera, paper birch) after it has been infected and colonized by the mycelia of the pathogenic fungus Inonotus obliquus. The part of this fungus that one harvests is the outward expression of the fungal disease. Chaga can be referred to as a sclerotium, which is a dense mass of mycelium, but this is technically incorrect as Chaga is not pure mycelium (root system). The fruiting body lives inside the tree under the bark. Chaga is profoundly beneficial for digestive complaints and has been used in this way since the 16th century! Chaga also has a wonderful flavor and is used extensively as a therapeutic digestive tonic replacement for coffee. It has a similar slightly bitter and earthy flavor as coffee and opposes the stimulating and inflammatory effects of coffee.
Another fungi, and classified mushroom with deep historical medicinal use is Reishi Ganoderma lucidum. (top article image). Commonly referred to as the elixir of longevity, and touted by ancient Chinese practitioners as the “mushroom of immortality” Reishi has shown in research to provide substantial benefits to chronic immune conditions such as cancer and autoimmune disease. Taken daily, Reishi can promote a healthy immune response and can balance if the immune system is a) working too much, or b) under-functioning.
One mushroom that has shown significant value as an immune tonic is Shiitake Lentinula edodes. This edible mushroom is delicious and found growing on decaying wood of deciduous trees, particularly chinquapin, chestnut, oak, maple, beech, sweetgum, poplar, hornbeam, ironwood, and mulberry in warm climates mostly in Southeast Asia. For daily immune health and wound healing, experts suggest eating up to a pound of mushrooms a week either dried or cooked or, 7 grams of dried extract a week. Eating a pound of mushrooms a week can be difficult and expensive, so ingesting powders in smoothies, beverages, adding to cooking to flavor foods, and adding to soups is a great way to boost immunity daily while being less expensive.
Mushrooms have the propensity to work therapeutically across different body systems and have shown immense antioxidant capabilities. One mushroom with historical therapeutic and culinary use and intensely beneficial activity is Lion’s mane Hericium erinaceus. Unique to Lion’s mane, is the ability to decrease inflammation and promote nerve cell growth in the brain. Its anti-inflammatory properties may help with mood and cognitive conditions, such as poor memory, injury, low mood, and anxiousness. As the name suggests, Lion’s mane has long tendril-like hairs and can be found growing on decaying hardwood trees throughout the northern hemisphere.
A wonderful mushroom that works as a Tonic to the endocrine system is Cordyceps Cordyceps militaris. What is fascinating with this medicine is how it grows! It is endoparasitoids, which means it is parasitic mainly on insects and other anthropods – (they grow on dead bugs). While this might be horrifying to some, it shows the true adaptogenic nature of this mushroom and thus gives us an indication of its therapeutic properties. Cordyceps have antioxidant antiageing properties and have been shown to promote endurance and stamina. For this action, it is a profound supporter of the immune system, as it’s usually when you are run down physically, you are more prone to getting ill. Taking Cordyceps daily can support the endocrine response to stress and promote physical energy and vitality.
Foraging and buying edible mushrooms
In the Pacific Northwest, edible mushrooms grow prolifically. Throughout The United States, you can find Oyster, Chicken of the woods, Morel, Chanterelle, Meadow mushroom, and many more. Due to the fact that there are several toxic varieties of mushrooms, also, there are specific ways to harvest mushrooms that leave the spores to re-cultivate, so you should go with an experienced forager if you are looking to harvest yourself. It should be noted that eaten raw, mushrooms have varying degrees of toxic chemicals that can cause nausea, vomiting or worse. Cooking or drying mushrooms break down those chemical components making them more digestible. A great resource for mushrooms is at your local farmer’s market. They know ALOT about mushrooms and if you’re unsure about which mushrooms to buy or how to cook them, they are incredibly knowledgeable and will talk to you at length or how to get started.
1) mushrooms are generally safe to consume for dogs, in fact, dogs can experience great benefits from consuming medicinal mushrooms particularly for immune conditions.
2) Mushrooms absorb and convert UV light to vitamin D2 – they use the gills (underbelly) for this conversion. You can find mushrooms climbing tree trunks and ‘sunning themselves’ – the higher or more sun-exposed mushrooms will contain higher amounts of immune-supporting D2.
3) You can grow medicinal and edible mushrooms at home! Many companies sell ‘mushroom growing kits’ with detailed instructions on how to get started.
4) as food mushrooms offer HUGE amounts of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino acids, antioxidants, and more
Mushrooms do not work immediately and take time to assert their therapeutic effects. While it’s unlikely you will feel drastic shifts in health, you will notice the slow simmer of wellness, or more importantly, the absence of ill health. Mushrooms are undoubtedly the medicine of the past and future, they offer incredible nutrient value and can support multiple body systems for wellness and health. So what are you waiting for?
You can find a great recipe for Mushroom & Tarragon soup HERE, and find many others on our FOOD page –