Click here for Part 1 of the Mushroom Mysteries and Medicine series.
The use of Mushrooms as medicine and superfood can be found in almost every traditional culture, and has a rich history throughout the world.
Their ability to assist in healing the body of chronic diseases, tumour systems and weakened immune function has intrigued practitioners and healers for thousands of years. In the last 50 years, this aspect has gained much attention by the health and science community, especially in the west where there has been a dramatic influx of these types of diseases; brought on by the shift from traditional diet to that of a modern one.
As such, much time and money has been spent studying mushrooms and attempting to figure out how they work, what potential species may be of benefit, and what the best ways to use them are.
There are several constituents of interest that have been found in the medicinally active mushrooms that show great healing potential. The most significant are the polysaccharides and triterpenoids, but benefits have also been attributed to the nucleosides, ergosterol, fatty acids, protein/peptides, trace elements and other compounds unique to each mushroom.
Polysaccharides, in particular beta-glucans and polysaccharide-protein-complexes, have immunomodulating effects on the body. These giant sugar like compounds have been shown to stimulate non-specific immune system function as well as exert antitumor activity through stimulating the body’s defence mechanism. Beta-glucans have been termed “biological response modifiers”, due to the large array of functions attributed to them. Both clinical and animal studies have shown that beta-glucans can activate certain aspects of the immune system, stimulating macrophages, NK cells, T cells, and the production of immune system cytokines. There is evidence that they function by binding to membrane receptors and it is believed that the shape, size, and degree of branching is what affects biological activity.
Triterpenoids contain a steroidal-like shape and have shown biological activity such as: antitumor, immunomodulating, hepatoprotective, antiviral and antioxidant effects. Triterpenes are much smaller the polysaccharides and many varieties are found in mushrooms such as Reishi, which has over 120 different types.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum and G. applanatum, G. tsugae): Used as a superfood and medicine in China for over two thousand years, Reishi has been considered a major symbol of health and longevity in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Reishi contains hundreds of bioactive beta-glucans and triterpenes, and has a wide range of uses. Research shows that it can be used therapeutically for cancer, immune system issues, cardiovascular system and respiratory problems, as well as urinary tract symptoms.
It is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, an ACE inhibitor, inhibits blood platelets aggregation, protective to the liver and protective for the body from radiation. Reishi lowers blood cholesterol and other blood lipids, reduces allergies and asthma, while reducing autoimmune issues. It is antioxidant, hypoglycemic, antifibrotic and increases the body’s vitality. Reishi calms the mind, reduces circular arguments and aids in insomnia.
To use Reishi it must be prepared in a way that makes its compounds available for absorption in the body. This means the whole or sliced mushroom must be lightly simmered as a broth or a decoction style tea, prepared in a dual extract tincture, or in a pre-extracted edible powder form. The tea is slightly bitter, though can be used as a base for smoothies, hot drinks or soups. The tincture or powdered extract can be consumed on their own or added to food and drinks.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): This mushroom shows up as a sclerotia (growth) that is found mostly on birch trees in the northern regions of our planet. It has been used for at least several hundred years in Russia. Siberia, Eastern Europe and Northern Canada. As a superfood and medicine, Chaga has gained much popularity over the last decade mostly due to its heavily researched anti-tumor and immunomodulating properties. Chaga is also employed as a potent antioxidant for which it is starting to get quite a reputation.
Some studies suggest Chaga can be used as an anti-inflammatory, reducing pain sensations and has blood sugar regulating properties.
Like other superfood mushrooms Chaga must be prepared in a way that makes its compounds available for absorption in the body. This means cut pieces of the mushroom must be lightly simmered as a broth or a decoction style tea, prepared as a dual extract tincture, or pre-extracted edible powder form.
The tea has a nice flavour with hints of vanilla, it can be used as a base for smoothies, hot drinks or soups, the tincture or powdered extract can be consumed on their own or added to food and drinks.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis): This mushrooms is a parasitic fungus, which grows out of insects. It has a long history of use in China and Tibet, but has also been used by indigenous peoples around the world. Cordyceps is specific for the respiratory tract, working as a bronchodilator. Heavily used by athletes, Cordyceps aids in both getting more oxygen into the cells and increasing endurance. Cordyceps is used mostly for relief from bronchial inflammation and as an expectorant.
It is well known to relieve exhaustion, night sweats, sexual impotency and acts as a sedative. It benefits the kidneys, liver, lungs and gonadal function. It is specific for uterine fibroids.
Cordyceps will stimulate immune function and has been shown to increase white blood cell production in the bone marrow. It has been used: against cancer, as an antidepressant, to promote cellular health, to regulate blood lipids, for the inhibition of HIV; to increase both male and female fertility and as an aphrodisiac.
Most of the Cordyceps on the market is now grown on a culture rather than insects and is therefore vegetarian. It is ideally consumed as a pre-extracted powder or dual extract tincture and can be added to food, drink or taken on its own.
Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor, Trametes versicolor): This mushroom is found all around the world growing on dead trees where it grows in clubs and has a fan like shape that is multi coloured, hence the latin name versicolor. Turkey tail and its extracts are some of the most studied of all the superfood and medicinal mushrooms.
In particular, a glucan-protein complex of Polysaccharide-K (Kresin, PSK, PSP) that is used in cancer therapy to counteract the immune depressing action of common chemotherapy.
Approved in 1980 in Japan for use with chemotherapy, it is covered by all Japanese health care plans. Both the isolate and the whole mushroom have been shown to increase survival time of cancer patients.
The sales for these unique all natural compounds have reached several hundred million dollars per year in Japan and China, making them the most widely used products in those countries by people facing serious immune challenges. There has been great interest in Coriolus’ ability to work as an antiviral including HIV, HPV hepatitis and many other virus.
Turkey tail can be made into a decoction style tea like other tree mushrooms, and makes a nice addition to a multi-mushroom immune supporting broth or tea. It is also ideally consumed as a pre-extracted powder or dual extract tincture and can be added to food, drink or taken on its own.
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus): This Mushroom is a white shaggy beard like looking fungi that grows on select trees. It is tasty fresh and some producers are selling it this way, though most commonly it is consumed dried and in extracted forms.
Lion’s maine is renowned for its ability to work on and support the nervous system. It has been used to combat dementia and to stimulate nerve cellular growth, while stimulating myelination and improve cognitive ability.
Many Lion’s maine consumers use it with the hopes of enhancing memory function and combating neurological illnesses, more research needs to be done to support these claims scientifically. A pre-extracted powder is often taken in a capsule form, though has a pleasant flavour and can be added to food, drink or taken on it’s own.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) This edible mushroom has been extensively researched as an adaptogen and for its effect against cancer. The primary polysaccharide, beta-D-glucan, is well absorbed when taken orally and is currently under review for the prevention and treatment of cancer and as a supportive tool for HIV infection. It has been shown to stimulate the immune system. Animal studies suggest Maitake may lower fat levels in the blood and lower blood pressure. Maitake is shown to inhibit angiogenesis. The blood sugar lowering effect of Maitake is well researched, with a naturally occurring alpha glucosidase inhibitor found. Maitake’s antioxidant effect may be due to it partially inhibiting cyclooxygenase.
Agaricus blazei (Agaricus subrufescens) This very popular mushroom is used extensively in the Orient, although it was initially discovered in South America. Agaricus is used to stimulate the immune system and against a large range of cancers. With over 500,000 people using this mushroom it is considered one of the more popular alternative remedies in the Orient. It has been shown to inhibit angiogenesis, as well as having a wide ranging effect against viruses and other pathogenic factors. There is ongoing research on its effect on lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) has been shown to lower cholesterol, with a naturally occurring statin drug Lovastatin in it. Both in vivo and in vitro studies show effects against breast and colon cancers due to beta-glucans.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) an edible mushroom that has been used extensively as a folk remedy in the Orient. It has been shown to stimulate the immune system, and possess antibacterial and antiviral properties. Shiitake has been shown to reduce platelet aggregation, and lower cholesterol. The mushroom, and more importantly the mycelium extract lentinan, has shown activity against many strains of cancer, especially gastric cancer.
When it comes to using mushrooms as a superfood or medicine, much of the research and clinical experience shows that they are more effective when taken as a multi-mushroom combination. As many of the superfood mushrooms contain similar chemistry, the combination gives a more full spectrum of the polysaccharides, triglycerides and other phytonutrients they contain.
Synergistically they work together to enhance the overall immunomodulating potential and antipathogenic qualities that this group of healing mushrooms are most known for. If there is one mushroom in particular that has the beneficial properties that can assist a specific imbalance,
then it can be recommended to take a combination of half that mushroom and half a multi mushroom formula to help support it. This can be done by adding additional mushrooms to a tea blend or using a dual extract powder or tincture combination. All of these forms, in a variety of Mushrooms are available from Harmonic Arts Botanicals at www.harmonicarts.ca or can be found at select healthfood stores.
If you missed part 1 of this series, read it HERE.
You can find Yarrow Willard speaking about these and many other medicinal mushrooms HERE on YouTube.
By Yarrow Willard Cl.H – www.harmonicarts.ca
Yarrow Willard is a Clinical/Master Herbalist and co-visionary/formulator of the Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary on Vancouver Island. Raised by two herbalist parents, he has been immersed in the world of plant medicine since birth. Yarrow is a passionate and entertaining promoter of plant based nutrition and medicine. He is continually updating his knowledge and understanding with the growing edge science of re-claiming wellness and vibrant living. Yarrow’s path and purpose is in cultivating a deeper connection with the natural world through a seasonally tuned holistic approach to life. With hopes in assisting our collective evolution towards high vitality, he shares health empowering practices with herbs, mushrooms, superfoods, advanced nutrition and more.