Therapeutic Mushrooms 101
Everything that you’ve heard and read is probably true!
The Mystery of Mushrooms…The Good, the Bad and the Human Comedy
Poison, love potion, hallucinogenic, truth serum, demon seed, destroying angel, jack o’ lantern, puffballs and miracle cure for everything from sagging libido to fading heartbeat – mushrooms in all their numerous identities and marquee nicknames have become the stuff of mythology. And the fact that these prolifically growing fungi have species that number in the thousands has provided us with the opportunity to gain an even clearer perspective on them – specifically which ones are worth considering for use as both food and healthy systemic supplements rich in fiber, protein, and vitamins C and E.
In fact there are approximately 3300 species of mushrooms in 38,000 varieties to be exact-more than two-dozen kinds of Red Mushroom alone-so it is little wonder that they have been both praised and vilified throughout recorded history.
Historically, the ride for mushrooms has become a series of slides and ladders that makes for a fascinating chronicle all its own. Although the Greek pharmacologist, Dioscordes, the Roman physician Pliny and an infinite number of Asian herbalists have always found varieties of mushrooms useful as therapeutic foods and herbal compounds, common people in the middle ages thought their very sudden and prolific appearance very often acted as warning signs for the presence of demons.
Since mushrooms, being naturally occurring crops that are born of their own spores, tend to spring up everywhere in moist climates, the denizens of the European countryside lived in a constant state of terror. And, in certain countries, anyone caught cooking with them or using them were suspected of being involved in the practice of black magic and were often persecuted and occasionally executed for witchcraft and demonism. (Of course, this would tend to discourage one’s inclination to indulge in further culinary exploration or additional medicinal formulations that included mention of these tiny little flavor buds.)
In the last fifty years or so, much due to the passionate imagination of world famous French and Italian chefs and the rapid rise in popularity of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, mushrooms have become the darling of the beau mond and the rage of the international gourmet kitchen.
Today incarnations such as Portobello, porcini, oyster, button and (even) shiitake mushrooms roll trippingly off the tongue of even the average seeker of designer entrees, soups, sauces and salads at local bistros and in trendy restaurants. Among these, only Shiitake mushrooms enjoy a reputation for providing at least some therapeutic benefit. And they are usually too expensive to be embraced as a part of the average daily diet. And though few of the others offer any notable therapeutic reputation, several varieties of commonly consumed mushrooms do offer a reasonable spectrum of nutrients that have helped validate them as an acceptable part of the modern supplement world.
No doubt about it, all good things set aside, mushrooms – though they grow like plants and are often harvested in the same ways – are still a fungus. Some varieties can be factories forCandia albicans in the human system, or what is commonly referred to as “yeast infections,” which are quickly identified with genitourinary and reproductive complications among modern women.
Since almost all processed foods are virtual “yeast factories,” the bombardment the average American undergoes on any given day in this industrialized society is mind-boggling. And mushrooms of any kind only account for a minuscule portion of it. Nevertheless, although there are other presentations of high Candida foods, many varieties of mushroom should not be eaten in great quantities if you’re experiencing respiratory problems such as colds or an outbreak of flu.
On the other hand, some varieties of mushrooms are found to be rich in selenium, antioxidants and synergistic blends of other trace minerals. And a particular family of Asian mushroomshas come to qualify as crossover foods that are actually proving to be good for you in a number of surprising ways. Not surprisingly, many of them are simply too expensive to use as a part of the daily diet and are either purchased as pricey food supplements, over-the-counter herbal formulas or (in some countries) concentrates that are sold by prescription.
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes) are the best known among the so-called therapeutic mushrooms and are renown for their purported ability to fight free-radical formation in the human system. Easy to cultivate and harvest in local atmospheres in North America, they are – though expensive – the one “Muscle mushroom” that is both edible and affordable in massive quantities.
Maitake mushrooms. Related to Shiitake mushrooms, the Maitake is slightly less flavorful and contains slightly greater concentrations of antioxidants and synergistic blends of nutrients. It is also smaller, more delicate and more perishable when grown. For that reason, Maitake mushrooms are seldom used as a food outside the Pacific Rim and are more often than not used in herbal compounds, powders and capsules.
Hiratake (Pearl) Oyster Mushrooms. Hiratake mushrooms, commonly (and occasionally incorrectly) referred to as “Oyster” Mushrooms are best known medically for their reputed cardiovascular and cholesterol-controlling benefits. Recent studies have found that dried oyster mushrooms lowered cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as serum very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) in blood plasma. Of course, there are 20 plus different varieties of “oyster” mushroom, and these Hiratake are more than likely not to be found in your grocery produce shelf. Even if they were, eating them in a cooked form would tend to “soup” the nutrients out of them. It seems, as well, that the Hiratake is at its most potent in a freeze-dried or dehydrated presentation – which, it turns out, is the case with most of the “therapeutic” mushrooms.
Cordyceps. (Cordyceps sinensis) When it comes to assessing healthful qualities and therapeutic value of certain mushrooms the Cordycepsmushroom has recently become the muscle mushroom flavor of the day. A very small club-shaped mushroom that grows apparently as a result of subterranean hibernations of native caterpillars in certain kinds of soil, the Cordyceps is now prized for its purported ability to restore vitality, increase sexual potency, clear the lungs and enhance endurance. To date, no conclusive clinical data has been established to validate these claims, but it has served to give this apparently magical fungus a new surge in both popularity and product development that show great promise for future benefit. And in terms of its broad spectrum of therapeutic and nutritional potential, Cordyceps an be ranked as a reasonably close second only to the venerable Red.
That brings us to the now legendary Red Mushroom – scientific name: Ganoderma Lucidum.Ganoderma Lucidum has been used in soups, broths and in healthy “herbal” brews virtually for thousands of years where it has come to be held in high regard as a kind of “longevity tonic.” Known in China as Ling zhi (or “herb of spiritual potency”), the red mushroom has become a regular part of the normal Chinese regimen for such things as longevity, systemic balancing, and high level maintenance of the respiratory system as well as the ultimate tonic for prevention of just about everything that ails the human body.
However, even in various parts of China, Indonesia and Malaysia where they grow so prolifically in the wild, red mushrooms are highly delicate, infamously perishable, and fall easy prey to insects wherever they do grow. Red mushrooms are much better developed if carefully cultivated onenvironmentally controlled farms and allowed to flourish in ideal circumstances free of insect infestation and the vagaries of rough weather.
Although we’ve only covered the “A-List” of muscle mushrooms, there are several other varieties that have shown modern to dramatic nutritional and therapeutic potential. And if you’d like to examine them in chart form along with their alluded to beneficial properties, click here.
Peace and Blessings
John F. Sapp