Mushrooms have been valued throughout the world as both food and medicine for thousands of years. In virtually every culture people enjoy hunting for wild mushrooms. Europeans have always appreciated their gastronomic value. In Japan, pushcart vendors on the streets still sell medicinal mushrooms to the average citizen who uses them to maintain health and promote longevity. Some Japanese people have even been said to travel hundreds of miles in order to collect wild mushrooms that grow only on very old plum trees--such as the Reishi--renowned as a cure for cancer and degenerative diseases. Likewise, for over 3,000 years the Chinese have used and revered many fungi for their health-giving properties, especially tonics for the immune system.
Today, these health-promoting mushrooms are becoming an integral part of a healing diet. Further, they may also be an excellent food for staying trim and healthy. Because fats occur in mushrooms in minor amounts, especially compared with protein and carbohydrates, and the fatty fraction consists predominantly of unsaturated fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, they may be the perfect food for losing weight and maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.
Some Major Medicinal Mushrooms
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) is a prized mushroom with a delicious taste and texture. It is used medicinally for diseases involving depressed immune function-including cancer, AIDS, environmental allergies, Candida infections, and frequent flu and colds. Shiitake is also beneficial for soothing bronchial inflammation and regulating urine incontinence (Bo and Yun-sun, 1980), as well as for reducing chronic high cholesterol. Japanese products containing LEM, a polysaccharide-rich extract from the shiitake mushroom, and similar extracts from maitake are currently undergoing trials in Japan and the U.S. to test their effectiveness in treating various forms of cancer.
According to one prominent Japanese researcher, lentinan (a cell-wall constituent extracted from the fruiting bodies of shiitake) is an immunomodulating agent which may be useful both as a general rejuvenative for older persons, as well as prophylactically to protect healthy, physically active young people from overwork and exhaustion (Aoki, 1984).
According to manufacturers' recommendations and the few clinical trials performed with humans, in the early stages of AIDS or chronic hepatitis the best dose of LEM may be between 2-6 grams/day in 2 or 3 divided doses. Once the disease is more stable, the dosage may be decreased, perhaps to 1/2 -1 gram per day (Sharon, 1988).
Commercial preparations of shiitake are available in natural food markets. Standardized extracts are preferred because the amount of lentinan present is clearly stated on the bottle. Note that although fresh shiitake can be a valuable dietary supplement, the amount one would need to eat for medicinal doses is so high that it might cause digestive upset. That is why LEM, which is concentrated and easily absorbed, is preferred as medicine.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is, without doubt, one of the most famous medicinal mushrooms. It is known as ling-zhi in China and reishi in Japan. In the last 20 years, reishi has been tested in human clinical studies and is thought to be beneficial for a wide variety of disorders, including neurasthenia, insomnia, rhinitis, and duodenal ulcers (Ying et al, 1987). It has also been used for liver pain, symptoms associated with anorexia, retinal pigmentary degeneration, and progressive muscular dystrophy; (Chang & But, 1986; Chang et al, 1984; Huidi & Zhiyuan, 1982). Reishi has also shown favorable results in treating hepatitis (Chang & But, 1986), chronic bronchitis; coronary heart disease, allergies, and altitude sickness. Traditionally, reishi was very expensive, because it only grew in the wild, but it is currently both accessible and affordable due to cultivation techniques developed in the last 20 years (Willard, 1990). Today it is used primarily for aging-related conditions and cancer and as an immune stimulant.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) is a delectable mushroom that is extremely popular in Japan. In the U.S. it is currently being studied in medical clinics in the U.S. for patients with breast and colorectal cancers (Miller, 1994). In China a maitake extract was shown to have an anticancer effect in patients with lung, stomach, hepatocellular cancers, and leukemia. Reduced side effects from chemotherapy have also been reported (Nanba, 1994a,b). Dr. Joan Priestley, MD reports that her patients with Kaposi's sarcoma and other symptoms of AIDS show improvement when administered maitake extract, and Dr. David Hughes, MD has had positive results with Kaposi's sarcoma lesions (Nanba, 1994a). It potentially benefits diabetics (lowering blood glucose) and people with hypertension.
Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) is extremely delicious as well as conferring various health-giving properties. Traditionally, it has been used to strengthen veins and relax tendons. In China oyster mushroom is indicated for joint and muscle relaxation (Yang & Jong, 1989). A product containing oyster mushroom, called "Tendon-easing powder," is effective in the treatment of lumbago, numbed limbs, and tendon and blood vessel discomfort.
In the Czech Republic, extracts have been made from the fruiting bodies as the main ingredient in dietary preparations recommended for prevention of high cholesterol (Opletal, 1993). The dried oyster mushrooms are said to be high in iron, so they are potentially good blood builders.
F. velutipes is a popular edible mushroom in Japan where a tender cultivated form of the wild version is called "enokitake." It is commonly used in Japanese cooking and increasingly can be found in salads in gourmet restaurants. If taken on a regular basis, Flammulina velutipes may prevent, as well as cure, liver disease and gastroenteric ulcers (Ying et al, 1987; Yoshioka et al, 1973).
Enokitake contains several types of amino acids including valine, which inhibits the growth of Ehrlich ascities tumour and sarcoma 180 in mice; and lysine, reported to increase body height and weight (Ying et al, 1987). Enokitake contains a cardiotoxic protein (flammutoxin) that is rendered harmless when subjected to heat (100 degrees C) for 20 minutes. I would caution against the chronic use of enokitake raw in salads or other dishes.
Sources of Medicinal Fungi
Powdered concentrates (capsules, tablets, granules)
Liquid extract products (tinctures, ampules--extract in honey base)
Since the scientific literature seems to point to whole mushroom fruiting bodies as being especially active as antitumor agents and immune enhancers, I recommend taking dried and powdered mushrooms by the teaspoon, either in a cup of ginger tea, or even sprinkled into soup or on stir-frys and rice, etc. When placed in "00" capsules, the average amount of powdered mushroom/capsule is about 400 mg. For mild to moderate immune support I recommend 2 capsules morning and evening. For specific immune-suppressed conditions, take 2-3 capsules 3 times a day.
To make a mushroom extract that is stronger and more readily assimilated, try simmering the mushrooms (as many fruiting bodies or pieces as can be covered by the water in a pot) for about an hour. Strain off the dark tea and replace the liquid with fresh water to cover the mushrooms and simmer for another 30 minutes. Strain the new tea and add it to the first decoction; simmer several hours until it is reduced to a thick paste. Take this paste off the heat, scrape it out with a cake spatula, and knead it with an organic rice or wheat flour to a dough-like consistency. Pack small pieces of this dough into "00" capsules and take 1 of them morning and evening. The dough can also be dried in a food drier or oven with low heat. The dried extract pieces can then be powdered in a blender or coffee grinder. The powder can be packed into capsules or sprinkled on food.
Teas and Soups
Teas are a good way to use medicinal mushrooms, and they should be simmered until the tea is somewhat dark and strong-tasting--about 40 minutes to an hour.
For soups, add a variety of vegetables to the mushroom tea stock. Fish, chicken, or a little red meat can be added for certain deficiency conditions. Drink the broth (1-3 cups a day) and eat the vegetables.
Use Summary of Major Medicinal Mushrooms:
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