Mushrooms aren’t plants or animals. In fact, mushrooms are within their very own kingdom known as Fungi. They appear to grow like plants, yet lack the many key components of plants such as roots, seeds, chlorophyll, and the ability to produce their own food. Like animals, they consume their food, but not by grazing or hunting. They break down organic matter, similar to bacteria. This action helps to recycle nutrients in the natural system. Being such a unique lifeform and occupying their very own kingdom, mushrooms have many exceptional characteristics. Among these characteristics are the medicinal and nutritional properties mushrooms offer.
As Old as Time
Using mushrooms as medicine and food is nothing new. The gathering of wild mushrooms has occurred since ancient times and was known to many civilizations including the Egyptians and Vikings. Later cultivation practices began in various places including Asia and Europe. As we do today, these civilizations used mushrooms for food, health, and hallucinogenic agents. We incorporate mushrooms into our diet by adding thing to meals, drinking them as teas, mixing them into smoothies or coffee, or as encapsulated supplements.
Mushrooms as a Whole
There’re many varieties of mushrooms, over 100,000 in fact. Even with all the different species, mushrooms have some commonalties. Mushrooms have a special type of polysaccharide called beta-glucan, that’s thought to improve our immune function. Beta-glucans can’t cure disease on their own, but have the ability to stimulate our immune response and make us more capable of fighting illness. Mushrooms have other antioxidant and adaptogenic properties. These capabilities help us to combat certain cancers and deal with everyday stress.
Mushrooms offer a wealth of nutrition. They are excellent sources of Vitamin D-2 if exposed to UV light during the drying process. Vitamin D is important to our bone and mental health. Mushrooms offer some level of all B Vitamins, expect for B-12, as this only comes from animal sources. B-vitamins are vital in all aspects of our health and deficiencies can create problems with mineral absorption and metabolism, sleep, and mood disruption. Serious illnesses that can result from deficiencies of B Vitamins can cause heart failure and neurological problems.
Depending on the variety, you can glean a wealth of micronutrients (minerals) from consuming mushrooms. They offer almost the full gamete of minerals including calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, phosphorus, iron, and selenium. These micronutrients are critical to all areas of our health.
Mushrooms also offer protein. In a 100-gram serving of chopped mushrooms you will receive 1-3 grams (variety dependent) of protein at 15-20 calories. You will receive <1 gram of fat and 3 grams of carbohydrates (with 1 gram as dietary fiber). Therefore, you can increase your protein consumption while keeping calories low. The high protein content makes mushrooms valuable to those following a meatless diet.
To Each Their Own
As mentioned before, there is vast variety in mushroom species. I’ve highlighted a few varieties that you may come across in the everyday medicinal mushroom world. I didn’t individually note their antioxidant, anti-cancer, or adaptogenic properties, as most all mushrooms have these benefits.
Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi): Sometimes called the “Mushroom of Immortality”, Reishi can improve sleep and decrease the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Lentinula Edodes (Shitake): This mushroom has anti-viral capabilities and is also touted as an aphrodisiac.
Inonotus obliquus: This polypore mushroom grows on birch trees. One of the lifecycles of this fungus produces a black crusty fungal body called Chaga. The Chaga precedes the actual spore-forming reproductive cycle. Chaga is taken both in supplement and tea form, and can be found in coffee blends.
Trametes Versicolor (Turkey Tail): This little guy grows all around the world and comes in a variety of earth tone colors. It’s used to reduce the negative impacts of chemotherapy and to help treat hepatitis B and malaria.
Cordyceps Sinensis and Cordyceps Militaris: These species of mushrooms are often just referred to as Cordyceps. They are both Cordyceps and both offer health benefits, but the big difference in the 2 species is that Cordyceps Sinesis is a quirky little fungus that actually grows on caterpillars! You can imagine this is a pretty rare and expensive fungus. If you see it being sold for anything less than thousands of dollars, you are being sold an imitation called O. sinensis mycelium, which doesn’t provide the same benefits as Cordyceps Sinensis. However, there is an affordable species of Cordyceps that’s grown called Cordyceps Militaris and is the beneficial fruiting bodies of the Cordyceps mushroom.
Hericium Erinaceus (Lion’s Mane): This ferocious little fungus has been popular in Asian cultures since 2,000 BC. Lion’s Mane improves cognition and protects against cognitive decline. It also reduces anxiety and depression.
Agaricus: This genus has species of both poisonous and safe-to-eat mushrooms, including the common button mushroom. The species often used for medicinal purposes, traditionally grown in Brazil and Japan, is known as Agaricus blazei and is used to help treat arteriosclerosis, hepatitis, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and dermatitis. It’s even been used to treat some diseases in our feline friends.
Phellinus linteus (Meshima): Known to many as, Woman’s Island, this odd little fungus is shaped like a hoof and grows on mulberry trees. It has a bitter taste and is often consumed in tea form. The many benefits it offers include helping with ailments of the GI tract and working specifically as an anti-breast cancer agent. It’s also used to help treat excessive bleeding, such as during menses or intestinally.
Proceed with Caution
The benefits listed above aren’t statements approved by the FDA or other regulatory organizations. They’re what people have observed from their own use, with some tested in independent studies. If you suffer from any autoimmune diseases, chronic conditions, cancer, allergies, or take certain medications, make sure mushrooms won’t have any adverse effects. Also, with anything you put in your body, NEVER consume something you aren’t sure of the species or if it’s possibly poisonous.
Cultivating mushrooms isn’t like sowing other produce. To grow them, you will need a cool damp location, a starting spore/spawn, and substrate such as straw, wood, or some other organic matter that they can breakdown for nutrition and grow the fruiting bodies of the mushroom. The one thing you don’t want to grow your mushrooms on is grain. As mentioned before, mushrooms contain beta-glucans. Beta-glucans are something you want a lot of in your mushrooms, for both your health and theirs. When mushrooms are grown on grain, which is usually listed on products as “mycelium on grain”, the mushrooms lose beta-glucans and increase starch content. This makes them less useful for nutritional and medicinal purposes.
If you have grown your own mushrooms, foraged them from the forest, or purchased them from your local market, you are ready to incorporate them into your diet. If you have gathered fresh mushrooms and want to dry them, do so in the sun, to increase Vitamin D content. Once dry, grind them up to use as a tea, or to blend into your coffee or smoothies. To eat them fresh, simply toss into a garden salad or your next stir-fry. You can also create delicious soups using mushrooms including the following one.
Hot Sour Soup
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 chicken breasts (cooked and chopped)
1 cup shredded carrots
28oz artichoke hearts (quartered)
2 bunches green onions (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
2 cups Portobello mushrooms (chopped)
1 cup Shitake mushrooms (chopped)
1 cup Oyster mushrooms (chopped)
Hot sauce – a little or a lot depending on your preference
Large handful of fresh spinach
16oz bamboo shoots
16oz water chestnuts (sliced)
Fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp oregano
In a large pot, add in all ingredients, except for eggs
Bring to a boil for 3 minutes
Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes
In a separate bowl, whip eggs until just starting to froth
Bring pot back to a boil
Add whipped eggs to pot, continuously stirring
Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes
I’m not a fan of soy sauce, but if this is something you include in your diet, add 1-2 tsp for additional flavor. Feel free to add other vegetables or spices to create your own unique taste.
(Mush)Room for Happiness
There you go my friends. Hopefully you’re now wiser in the way of the mushroom and look forward to using mushrooms to enhance your diet and boost your wellbeing. Whether dried or fresh, enjoy these unique little creatures and ‘shroom on.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. December 22, 2016. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Agaricus. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/agaricus
Permaculturenews.org. 2017. https://www.permaculturenews.org/
Wikipedia.org. 2017. Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. https://www.wikipedia.org/