Mushrooms: Medicinal Uses and So Much More!
Mushrooms are our obsession here at Mushroom Revival! We cannot stop talking about the healing qualities of our fungal friends, but there are other aspects of mushrooms that excite us, as well. We thought it was about time to share some information about these curious creatures in addition to mushroom medicinal uses.
Beyond Mushroom Medicinal Uses: Mushrooms as Bioremediators
Similar to human immune systems, natural habitats also operate with a delicate balance of components that can be weakened if one or two are thrown off balance. Fungi can help repair internal landscapes, and likewise, they can reset the balance of an ecosystem that has incurred damage due to human activity, disease, or natural disaster. Mycelial generations breakdown forest material leading to development of topsoil, increases in moisture levels, and allowing for the increased diversity of the environment.
To learn more about this topic, download Mushroom Revival founder Alex Dorr’s free ebook: the Mycoremediation Handbook!
Using mushrooms to remove toxins or lessen toxic potency in the environment is what is meant by mycoremediation. Like none other, mushroom mycelium act as molecular disassemblers through use of digestive enzymes secreted by the fungus, breaking up long chain molecular toxins into smaller, less polluting molecules (1). To achieve this level of environmental clean-up, mycelium is mixed into polluted soils, or an already established mycelial mat can be directly placed on top of a contamination site.
Fruiting bodies of mushrooms will accumulate toxins and heavy metals that are pulled from these dangerous sites, so it is always essential to know the history of the land when wild foraging for mushrooms. For example, the delicious Matsutake are a prized find for any mushroom hunter, however, Mastu’s are also some of the best accumulators of arsenic (1). If mushrooms are used for bioremediation, the fruiting bodies from these sites must then be collected and disposed of, ensuring no humans or animals will ingest them.
Mushroom Medicinal Uses, Nutrition Facts, and Gourmet Palates
There is a long history of mushroom medicinal uses supported by traditional herbal and natural healing practices; the earliest recorded use being from Dioscorides in his magnum opus De Materia Medica written in 55AD. However, eastern traditional use of mushrooms seem to be the strongest, being comprehensively outlined in the Shen Nong Ben Cao, a classic herbal manifesto written around 200 AD (2). Above all other ailments, cancer is the most frequent case scenario for mushroom medicinal uses around the world. So much so, that Japanese researchers specifically turned their attention to studying Turkey Tail mushrooms’ anti-cancer and tumor spreading properties. It is for this reason that at Mushroom Revival, Turkey Tail is an indispensable component to our Mush 10 Tincture.
A common trait of both medicinal and gourmet mushrooms is the need for sunlight exposure, with the exception of button mushrooms. It is this exposure to UV light that produces a high level provitamin D2, an acting antioxidant in the human body. Sunlight converts ergosterol in mushrooms’ fruiting body to this vitamin, resulting in a novel way to increase vitamin D levels: by eating more gourmet mushrooms! Shiitake and maitake, when placed in the sun to dehydrate, showed astonishing levels, nearly a 13-fold difference, of vitamin D (1). This is true even if the mushrooms were cultivated indoors—sunlight exposure even post-harvest affected the ergosterol conversion just the same.
One of the kings of gourmet mushrooms, the much coveted morel, is in season right now and is popping up everywhere on the East Coast. Like all gourmet mushrooms full of a variety of nutritional and medicinal properties, remember to always cook your fungi, because their cell walls are otherwise indigestible when consumed raw. When eaten raw, most of the mushroom will pass intact through the gut, sacrificing any nutritional benefit mentioned above. Heat, however, will dissolve their chitinous membranes and allow your body’s digestive enzymes to penetrate them more easily, whichever mushroom your culinary palate desires! This will give you access to the mushroom medicinal uses available from gourmet mushrooms.
Here’s to a bountiful morel season, and a beautiful, nutritionally-dense, home-cooked meal afterwards!
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Sources for “Mushroom Medicinal Uses”
- Stamets, P. (2005). Mycelium Running. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA.
- Powell, M. (2010). Medicinal Mushrooms: a clinical guide. Mycology Press: East Sussex, UK.