by Denis Manzer
The Kinship of Mushrooms and Man
–Paul Stamets, Mycomedicinals
What is most fascinating in the exploration of the healing benefits of medicinal mushrooms is that they are in fact closely related to human beings. When human beings consume these mushrooms, they are ingesting highly absorbable medicinal constituents that are recognized by the human body. Human use of medicinal mushrooms has a long history, and the valuable medicines of mushrooms are a vital element in protecting our health. Fungi have developed incredible properties to ward off bacteria and mold that would compete with them. When humans consume these fungi, most of all they are bestowed with a strong immunity. This will be an important theme throughout the discussion, and of vital importance in our day and age. These benefits and many more can be yours when you embrace the mushroom medicine! Here we shall be delving deep into the medicinal qualities of these substances.
To begin, let us explore what is perhaps the most famous of all medicinal mushrooms: Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum). The history of the use of Reishi goes back many thousands of years in the orient, and Chinese herbal medicine has valued Reishi above all other herbal medicines! They called it the “Mushroom of Immortality”, “The Great Protector” and “The Herb of Good Fortune”2.
Modern Science is now validating these curious names given to what is truly an extraordinary substance. Reishi is one of the most researched herbal substances on the planet. Terry Willard’s book “Reishi: Mushroom of Spiritual Potency and Medical Marvel” sums up for us what numerous Modern Scientific Studies have revealed about Reishi3:
- Reishi has an Immune Enhancing Response (this is due to its high content of Polysaccharides, complex sugars, essential food for the immune system, that have been shown to increase RNA and DNA in Bone Marrow where Immune Cells are Born). (Reishi in fact has a “double-direction” effect on the immune system, regulating anti-body production in the body.)
- Is Beneficial in the Treatment of Cancer
- Disrupts Viral Disease
- Inhibits Bacteria
- Reishi provides Liver Protection and Regeneration, Improving Liver Function
- Reishi reduces Blood Fat Levels
- Reishi Lowers High Blood Pressure and Hypertension
- Reishi Inhibits Platelet Aggregation
- Reishi Oxygenates the Blood and Increases Absorption of Oxygen
- Reishi helps Alleviate Allergies, Inhibiting Histamine Release
- Reishi works as an Anti-Oxidant
- Reishi is Anti-Arthritic
- Reishi has an Adaptogenic (Stress Relieving) Effect
- Reishi relieves Chronic-Fatigue Syndrome
- Reishi Contributes to Pain Relief
- Reishi has Anti-Inflammatory effects
- Reishi relieves Insomnia, Stress Induced Tension and has a Calming Effect
The Mushroom of Immortality indeed! And what is neat is how the Ancient people knew so much of this long ago. As Terry Willard found out to be the case for Traditional Chinese Herbalism practices: “Traditionally Reishi was prescribed to patients with “a tight or “knotted chest”, it was said to positively affect the heart Qi, mend the chest, cure forgetfulness and strengthen the intellect.”4 This correlates precisely with what modern science is “discovering” about Reishi’s benefits to the cardiovascular system!
Most important of all its qualities, and perhaps the cause of all the rest of its illustrious qualities, is Reishi’s ability to help us cope with stress! Stress is without a doubt is at the root cause of most illness and disease. Ron Teeguarden, Master Herbalist and founder of Dragon Herbs, a man with a most intimate relationship with Reishi and its lore and legends also reports a correspondence with ancient beliefs and modern science: that the “Taoists continuously claimed that Reishi promotes calmness, centeredness, balance, inner awareness and inner strength. They have used it to improve meditative practices and to protect the Body, Mind and Spirit so the adept could attain both a long and healthy life and Spiritual Immortality…”5 By protecting the whole human being from stress is how Reishi is able to grant longevity.
By examining Traditional Chinese Herbalism, we learn of a very important aspect of the medicine of Reishi, especially in our modern lives. As Teeguarden continues; “Reishi was believed to help calm the mind, ease tension, strengthen the nerves, strengthen memory, sharpen concentration, improve focus, build will power and as a result, help build wisdom. That is why it is called the “Mushroom of Spiritual Potency.”6 Acting as a “Wisdom” or “Spirit Medicine” is a notion that is, I believe, far advanced compared to our science. Soon, through methods such as these, we shall realize how the quality of the Spirit does indeed effect our physical body!
Local Relatives of Reishi: Noble Tree Polypores
Reishi does grow in North-America, as well as many other fungi known as the Polypores. They are actually easy to find, identify and use as medicine with many of the same characteristics of Reishi.
Local Noble Tree Polypores of Note:
- Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma Applanatum)
- West Coast Reishi ( Ganoderma Tsugae and Oregonenses)
- Tinder Conk, or Amadou, (Fomes Fomentarius)
- Red Belted polypore (Fomitopsis Pinicola)
- Birch Polypore (Piptoporus Betulinus)
- Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor, Coriolus Versicolor)
These fungi are noted to have similar benefits as Reishi, and more. For Identification of these species, as well as detailed information on their benefits, the best book hands down for our area is Robert Roger’s The Fungal Pharmacy: The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms of North America.
The above mentioned Polypores are known to be:
- “Claimed to Reduce Fatigue and Soothe the Mind” 7
Evidence of consumption of these Medicinal Mushrooms by our ancestors is shown in the amazing discovery of a frozen “ice-man” in the Alps not long ago. This man, 5, 300 years old, was carrying the Tinder Conk and the Birch Polypore in his medicine bag! 8These polypores are used by indigenous peoples across the globe as tinder for starting fires, dried and powdered and applied as a poultice to stop bleeding and prevent infection and for ritual smoke, “smudge” for purification and ceremonies. Good Medicine!
Medicinal Mushrooms and Vitamin D
Now we must attend to a very important matter of discussion! This is the recent research that has come to light about the effectiveness of Medicinal Mushrooms as Vitamin D supplements! Vitamin D is still quite a mystery to modern science, but we are finding it also as essential to immune-health and happiness. The recommended dose varies from as low as 400iu a day to doses as large as 4,000-10,000ui Daily for severe immune system illnesses. Now, Paul Stamets, through his own research efforts, has uncovered amazing amounts of Vitamin D in mushrooms.
The essential trick is to expose the Mushrooms to sunlight and they have the potential to generate amazing amounts of Vitamin D.
Paul took 100g of Shiitake Mushrooms, and exposed them to Sunshine for a two-day period. Vitamin D content soared from next to nothing, to 46,000iu in 100g! The Vitamin D content started declining on the third day of sun-exposure, due to UV damage. He was amazed to find, that not only did the Vitamin D levels remain high after long periods of storage, but mushrooms that had been already dried for a long time exponentially increased in Vitamin D content when exposed to Two Days of Sunshine.
Mr. Stamets recommends consuming 10g of these Solar Infused Mushrooms a day, a dose equivalent to 4,600iu of Vitamin D.9 All polypores and mushrooms can be enhanced in this way! Consuming them is equivalent to taking Vitamin D supplements in terms of Blood Serum level of Vitamin D, and superior when you realize all the other benefits to consuming these fungi!
This brings our discussion to another of the noble tree fungi, Chaga! Prized as a medicine by all peoples of the Northern regions, Chaga grows for the most part on Birch trees, feeding on their sap and concentrating incredible amounts of medicinal qualities in its body.
Chaga is known to be, according to David Wolfe’s Book “Chaga: King of the Medicinal Mushrooms”;
- Adaptogenic (Combats Stress)
- A Blood Purifier,
- The most potent Anti-Oxidant source ever discovered on the Face of the Planet, with a remarkable potential for scavenging free-radicals.
- One of the most Alkalizing Substances known to Man 10.
- It is shown to be Immune Enhancing and Balancing, Anti-Cancer, Anti-Viral & Anti-Inflammatory! These are thanks once again to Polysaccharides. These essential nutrients for the immune-system enhance the body’s ability to produce NK (Natural Killer) cells and activates White Blood Cell (Macrophage) Activity.
- Rich source of the Anti-Oxidant pigment Melanin, which is needed throughout the body. It is known to be geno-protective, protecting our DNA from damage due to oxidative-stress.
- Rich Source of the yellow polyphenol pigments, which give Chaga its deep orange colour inside. These are known to be anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-platelet aggregation, anti-diabetic and anti-dementia!
- Rich source of Selenium, Iron, Zinc, Chromium, Manganese, Copper and Magnesium. (Zinc being essential to the production of the body’s own anti-oxidant, Super Oxide Dismutase (SOD) as well as required for cell growth, differentiation and survival, not to mention male reproductive health!)
All of the above mentioned qualities make Chaga a veritable powerhouse of healing. It is one of the foremost medicines available to us to benefit health and longevity. In our times of such prevalent environmental pollution it has the potential to protect us by to building a deep immunity. The beauty of our situation is that Chaga grows plentifully in the local environs! Head into the Boreal Forest, where Birch grows plentifully, and you are sure to find some of your own medicine!
Medicinal Mushroom Preparations
The simplest method of consuming these polypores is as a strong tea, or decoction. Hot water extraction being necessary to break down the tough, woody material of these tree mushrooms and make the medicinal constituents absorbable to human beings. Use approximately two handfuls of mushroom in one liter of water. Bring to a boil, turn it low and simmer this concoction for at least 20-30 minutes, up to several hours. The mushrooms can be rebrewed up to 2-3 times! Large quantities can be made and stored in the fridge to be used as needed. Feel free to combine other herbs, ginger is a favorite one to simmer with your Reishi!
Native peoples on the west coast would simmer Reishi to obtain a healing and nutritious broth for soups. You can use any medicinal mushroom in this way. This medicinal mushroom broth provides an incredible immune system boost!
Alcohol tinctures of these mushrooms are also highly effective at extracting the medicinal principles out of the tough mushrooms and making them bio-available to humans. The basic recipe is as follows:
- Fill a suitable Jar 2/3rds of the way full of Mushroom Material
- Fill it to the top with an alcohol (40% at least)
- Let this stand for two weeks, shaking occasionally. (The best time to begin this is at the New Moon. The power of the waxing moon will draw the medicine out of the herbs more effectively. The tincture is ready at the time of the Full-Moon!)
- Strain the Mushrooms out of the Alcohol and Decoct them as per the above directions. Combine 1 part of this tea with 1 part of the alcohol to have a minimum 20% alcohol content. Bottle them up and Voila! Taste them on their own or mix in any recipe!
Modern technology of mushroom cultivation is making it possible to consume high-quality extracts of medicinal mushrooms that are of the highest quality and purity. This is making it possible for more and more people to consume medicines that were once quite rare. Add them to smoothies, to chocolate, to savoury dishes, you name it! Convenient and highly-effective.
Speaking of finding ways to incorporate these into your diet, here is a favorite recipe that delivers medicine to you in the form of Chocolate!
Medicinal Mushroom Chocolate!
- 2 parts Cacao Paste
- 1 part Cacao Butter
- 1 part Maple Syrup or sweetener of your choice (to your taste)
- 1-3 Tablespoons of Mushroom Extract per serving!
- 1 Tablespoon of Ginger Powder (synergistic flavor that increases circulation, thereby enhancing the delivery of the medicines throughout the body)
- Anything your heart desires!
Gently Melt the Cacao, preferably using a double-boiler, until it has liquefied, then incorporate all the other ingredients. Pour this mixture as thick or as thin as you would like in a shallow glass dish. Place in your freezer for 20-30 minutes, until the chocolate has set! Break into pieces and store in the fridge. Enjoy!
Medicinal Properties of Edible Mushrooms
Delicious edible mushrooms also provide healing benefits. A large amount of the world’s population live on a mostly vegetarian diet. Especially in Asia, they consume Mushrooms as a staple food. This could well be the secret to their success, as well as a hope for feeding the future of mankind! Cultivation of Edible Mushrooms, such as these, as well as the medicinal mushrooms, are quite simple to attempt yourself!
Mushroom spawn can also be inoculated into your garden, causing seasonal fruiting bodies to appear but also generating a rich mycelia network in the soil of your garden, benefiting to the health of the soil and the quality and quantity of garden produce obtained! Paul Stamets’ books Mycelium Running, as well as Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, contain more detailed information on this process.
Edible Mushroom are an inexpensive and mouth-watering way to take advantage of Mushroom Medicine. Here are some of their properties above and beyond their taste:
- Immuno-modulating: increases activity of white blood cells
- Anti-viral, anti bacterial, anti-cancer
- Liver fortifying
- Cholesterol reducing: lowers blood pressure
- Anti-diabetic- regulates blood sugar levels
- Improvement in elimination
Medicinal Mushroom Miso Soup!
Here is a traditional Japanese recipe for you to enjoy your mushrooms!
- Soak 1 handful of dried Shiitake and 1 handful of Maiitake and one handful of Seaweed (Kombu, Wakame, Dulse etc) in one Litre of water, 6-8 hours for best results. Slice and remove stems of shiitake before cooking.
- Bring all the contents to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes- 1 hour, until the mushrooms and seaweed are tender
- At this point add any and all veggies you desire, traditionally they would use Daikon Radish, Turnip Greens, fresh Burdock Root, cabbage and onions
- At the last moment, add 1 tablespoon of Miso for each cup of soup. (The Miso is sensitive to heat*)
- Enjoy! Feel free to add 1-3 tablespoons of any Medicinal Mushroom Extract Powders!
Other Medicinal Mushrooms of Special Interest:
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
- Nerve-tonic: Induces synthesis of Nerve growth factors, essential for the development and maintenance of sensory neurons. Shown to be useful in amelioration of alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s and other chronic brain related diseases.
- This mushroom was prized by the Shaolin for enhancing their Mind-Power, showing correlation with the modern science. According to their belief, the stronger your mind power, the greater your ability to direct the flow of your Qi energy throughout the body. And thus they are able to perform feats of great physical strength and endurance!
- As well as providing an enhanced immune system, inhibitory effect on cancers, and anti-fungal, anti-microbial properties! 12
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)
This one is truly bizarre! Cordyceps is a fungus that grows on a caterpillar high in the plateaus of the Himalayan Mountains. Exposed to drastic changes in temperature and climate, this high-elevation medicine is one of the greatest of all of them for adaptation to stress! It is much sought after by athletic individuals for this reason, but it translates from physical stress also to mental and emotional. As Paul Stamets explains: “Cordyceps relaxes bronchial passages, enhancing respiration, increasing blood-flow which then benefits muscles pushed to their maximum and greatly add to their endurance.”13 Teeguarden shares that Cordyceps is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine to “strengthen the primal kidney functions, sexual functions, brain power, structural integrity (bones, joints and connective tissues) and healing ability”14
Modern Medicine has so far discovered that Cordyceps:
- Increases production of red blood cells
- Stimulates peripheral blood flow
- Increases sperm production dramatically (quantity and quality)
- Increased respiration
- Relieves fatigue and calms the nervous system “restores the deep energy depleted by excessive stress”
- Adrenal Restorative
- Immune stimulant: anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-tumor
- Reduces blood cholesterol15
In Conclusion , as we have seen, mushrooms have a magnificent potential for healing the ills of modern man. The most healing benefits I personally have experienced came from actually collecting these mushrooms myself. For me it is an experience of communion with nature, being nourished by the land and truly feeling like a part of it. The greatest medicine for me when I have my mushroom tea is to remember the magnificent days spent in the calm and peace of the wild forest. Magnificent! Another important aspect to consider is that these noble medicines in fact love wild ancient old-growth forests. We must do all we can to preserve these environments, for our health and for our future generations!
I would like to leave you with a story that Dr. Terry Willard has shared with me: “One fine day while in the Amazon studying the herbal medicines of the People there, Terry Willard found a Reishi! Knowing very well what it was good for, he asked the healer he was with what this herb was good for! The Healer responded; “That is not a plant at all, that is a being older and wiser than the entire Jungle. That is only a part of it which you see, but it lives below the whole jungle and knows every plant within it. We use it as medicine when we are in the city feeling lost and lonely for our jungle. Then we chew upon it and it fills us with the spirit of the whole jungle!”
David Wolfe, Chaga, King of the Medicinal Mushrooms, North Atlantic Books, 2012
Paul Stamets, Mushrooms, the Hwarang & the Martial Arts, 2001 http://www.fungi.com/blog/items/mushrooms-the-hwarang-the-martial-arts.html
Paul Stamets, Mycomedicinals: An informational Treatise on Mushrooms, Mycomedia, 1999
Paul Stamets, Place Mushrooms in Sunlight to Get Your Vitamin D, 2012 http://www.fungi.com/blog/items/place-mushrooms-in-sunlight-to-get-your-vitamin-d.html
Robert Rogers, The Fungal Pharmacy The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms and Lichens of North America, North Atlantic Books, 2011
Ron Teeguarden, Siberian Chaga – A Truly Superior Protective Herb, 2012 http://www.ronsblogworld.com/?p=1850
Ron Teeguarden, Duanwood Reishi : http://www.dragonherbs.com/prodinfo.asp?number=005
Ron Teeguarden, Wild Bhutanese Cordyceps Drops: http://www.dragonherbs.com/prodinfo.asp?number=034
Terry Willard, Reishi: Mushroom of Spiritual Potency and Medical Marvel, Sylvan Press, 1990
1 Paul Stamets: MycoMedicinals, Mycomedia 1999,
2 Ron Teeguarden, Duanwood Reishi, www.dragonherbs.com
3 Terry Willard, Reishi: Mushroom of Spiritual Potency and Medical Marvel, p17
5 Ron Teeguarden, Duanwood Reishi, www.dragonherbs.com
6 Ron Teeguarden, Duanwood Reishi, www.dragonherbs.com
7 Robert Rogers: The Fungal Pharmacy: The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms of North America
8 Paul Stamets, Mushrooms, the Hwarang & the Martial Arts, 2001, www.fungi.com
9 Paul Stamets, Place Mushrooms in Sunlight to Get Your Vitamin D, 2012 www.fungi.com
10 David Wolfe: Chaga King of the Medicinal Mushrooms
11 Robert Rogers, The Fungal Pharmacy
12 Robert Rogers, The Fungal Pharmacy
13 Paul Stamets, Mushrooms, the Hwarang & the Martial Arts, 2001, www.fungi.com
14 Ron Teeguarden, Wild Bhutanese Cordyceps Drops: http://www.dragonherbs.com/prodinfo.asp?number=034
15 Robert Rogers, The Fungal Pharmacy