Mushrooms are accepted as culinary delights that are mixed in certain dishes or used as toppings on pizzas. But their tonic and healing qualities are unknown to most in the West. For centuries, Asian, especially Chinese, and Eastern European cultures have used various mushrooms as tonics for improving health and medicinally for curing a wide variety of diseases.
The traditional use of mushrooms for health involves boiling them in water. However, extracts and powders are available from various sources, usually online, but some locations may have Chinese specialty or herbal stores that feature mushroom extracts and powders, sometimes encapsulated, as well. Sometimes you may even find whole medicinal mushrooms in specialty shops.
The comprehensive guide by Robert Rogers, The Fungal Pharmacy, lists over 270 species of fungi with known medicinal properties, including antioxidant, blood pressure lowering, cholesterol reducing, liver protection, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune modulating properties.
Some have anti-cancer properties sufficient for healing with other natural modalities or ameliorating the adverse effects of harsh orthodox oncology treatments.
Although some medicinal mushrooms can be eaten fresh, their medicinal qualities are unleashed fully by hot water (teas) or alcohol (food grade) tincture extractions.
Mushrooms tend to be adaptogenic, meaning they adjust the necessary immune responses according to what is needed. They are intelligent and work with the body’s innate intelligence. It doesn’t get any more natural than that.
The essence of mushroom nutrition is mycelium, a filamentous cobweb-like cellular intelligent biological network of enzymes that created the cellular foundation of all food some 2 billion years ago.
This article will list five well known medicinal herbs as examples of their healing power, leaving it to the reader to research for others as well as more in depth of those mentioned here.
Reishi Mushrooms (Lingzhi or Ganoderma)
Reishi has a long history of use going back at least 2000 years in China. It is probably the most researched and popular medicinal mushroom in the West. It is a tree mushroom that grows on hardwood trees in warm and temperate climates. It’s appearance is easily spotted because of its usually intense red cap.
It has the usual adaptogenic immune characteristics of most mushrooms, but also directly affects the endocrine system’s glandular hormonal production, stability, and balance. Reishi alcohol extracts contain compounds that reverse depression, reduce stress, and promote relaxing deep sleep.
Reishi’s antioxidant capacity helps minimize the threat of cancer, and it also helps create more “killer cells” when needed to help fight cancer cells and even shrink tumours.
Chaga Mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus)
This dark mushroom, which externally resembles a cancerous tumour, grows on the usually white barks of birch trees in colder climates. It does not look like a mushroom, and whether it is symbiotic or parasitic with the birch tree is sometimes argued.
But once removed, it is a powerful immune adaptogenic with anti-tumour power. It can even induce apoptosis in cancer cells. Apoptosis is a natural cell death of healthy cells to make way for new ones. Cancer cells don’t do apoptosis on their own. Thus they continue to survive. So apoptosis has to be created within them.
Though common in extreme northern regions of Finland and Russia, it is also wild harvested in Canada, the major source of American chaga chunks that can be used for teas powdered for capsules.
The chaga mushroom’s healing abilities were popularised in literature by the 1968 Russian novel The Cancer Ward by literature Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, an outspoken Soviet dissident during the oppressive Soviet Union’s time. In that novel, the protagonist, Kostoglokof cures himself of cancer and tells others in the Siberian cancer ward about it.
Here’s an excerpt from his novel;
“He could not imagine any greater joy than to go away into the woods for months on end, to break off this chaga, crumble it, boil it up on a campfire, drink it and get well like an animal. To walk through the forest for months, to know no other care than to get better! Just as a dog goes to search for some mysterious grass that will save him . . .”
Solzhenitsyn confided that his highly praised novel was based on his own experience of surviving cancer using chaga mushroom teas in a Siberian prison ward where he had been sentenced for his dissident literature during the harsh Soviet Communist regime.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)
This mushroom is used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) to nourish the lungs and kidneys. It also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, rejuvenating the sexual organs in both men and women. Cordyceps promotes recovery from adrenal depletion caused by physical, dietary and environmental stress factors. It works with the endocrine system to balance hormone levels.
It has its own anti-cancer compound called CO-1. Cordyceps also contains a unique compound among mushroom varieties called cordycepin. Its anti-inflammatory characteristics are especially helpful for liver infections and inflammation, including hepatitis. It also supports lung health and delivers greater energy to whomever consumes it.
Wild harvested cordyceps is actually often a product of cordyceps spore infected insects that die off, usually caterpillars or ants, in the soil. It has become so rare that it is cost prohibitive. But Chinese scientists took spores from the wild variety to cultivate cordyceps in a natural way, allowing more of us to take advantage of their qualities.
Cordyceps is an energy enhancing mushroom. It made news during the 1993 Track and Field Games in Beijing China when women athletes broke consecutive world track records. After being negatively tested for anabolic steroid use, the team coach revealed the women athletes had been consuming cordyceps potions daily.
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus)
Just when you thought cordyceps mushrooms were odd looking with their worm like appearance, here is one that often looks more like the rear end of a shaggy dog than a normal mushroom. Lion’s mane mushrooms are used to restore optimum neurological functioning. It’s nicknamed the memory mushroom.
It has been used therapeutically for brain dysfunction from brain fog to memory lapsing to Alzheimer’s. Lion’s mane compounds penetrate the blood-brain barrier and have been known to lessen the brain’s burden of amyloid plaque, a growth that contributes to Alzheimer’s disease.
Its unique combination of hericenones and erinacines compounds have been scientifically proven to stimulate the synthesis of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the brain and throughout the body’s nervous system. NGF is a protein that plays a major role in the maintenance, survival and regeneration of neurons.
Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)
This is a popular edible “gourmet” mushroom because of its rich flavour and soft meaty texture. And it has the classic mushroom look of a stem and cap or toadstool appearance. Most do not realise that shiitake is also incredibly medicinal in nature.
Compounds like AHCC, eritadenine and lentinan are active ingredients that have been proven beneficial for boosting immunity and inhibiting certain types of cancer like gastric or stomach cancer. The lentinan found in shiitake has been used as an intravenous anticancer drug.
Clinical studies have associated lentinan with a higher survival rate, higher quality of life, and lower recurrence of cancer. The lentinan derived from shiitake has been known to aid in the treatment of a variety of immune disorders including chronic fatigue syndrome and AIDS.