Most of us, hopefully all of us, have been cautioned about picking and eating wild mushrooms when we’re out on a hike or just appreciating nature. The care and attention our guardians warned us of the dangers of some mushrooms, should be applauded and taken seriously because it may have save our lives. The only thing they left out when they lovingly told us about ‘bad’ wild mushrooms is that there are a great deal of ‘good’ mushrooms out there that taste great and enhance meals but that also have a multitude of health benefits.
There are over 10,000 mushroom species and what most people aren’t aware of is that only about 100 of those are toxic and should be avoided at all costs because of their virulent effects. That leaves over 9,900 or so species of mushrooms that are quite consumable and that possess a number of wonderful qualities for our bodies and taste buds. The most common mushroom consumed by Americans is the button mushroom. Steve Farrar, who is one of the country’s top mushroom experts, says that we devour around 900 million pounds of mushrooms each year. That’s a lot of mushrooms! And about 95% of those tasty little fungi are the button mushrooms, along with two of its cousins, the Portobello and the Crimini.
The button mushroom is a low-calorie food that contains protein, B vitamins, vitamin D2 and enzymes, while the Portobello has plenty of fiber, pantothenic acid, riboflavin and niacin, (B vitamins) potassium, iron, copper, phosphorus, and selenium. The Crimini mushrooms are a good source of vitamin B-12, which is hard to get in a vegetarian diet, and it also provides calcium, iron selenium and is a great source of protein and fiber.
Some other mushrooms, among many others, that are used in foods and ingestible not only for their unique taste but for medicinal qualities are Shitake, Reishi, Turkey Tail and Himematsutake mushroom. They can be eaten raw or cooked and these and other beneficial mushrooms are being used in concentrates and extracts for their pharmacological effects.
Shitake mushrooms can be found in gourmet kitchens and also in an herbologist’s medicine cabinet. Shitake contains lentinan, which is used to treat stomach and other cancers with its anti-tumor properties. It also fights anemia, ulcers, gallstones and has been discovered to protect the liver. Shitake is an antibacterial and antiviral, and can stabilize blood sugar and it contains eritadenine, which tends to lower cholesterol.
Reishi mushrooms have been around as a medicinal for thousands of years in Asia. In China, it is known as lingzhi, the ‘spirit plant.’ It can reduce prostate symptoms and regulate immune systems. The Reishi mushroom is an antiviral that has shown positive results with Herpes and Epstein-Barr viruses – along with being an antifungal, which works on Candida. Reishi has been used as an anti-inflammatory and has been shown to reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. This great mushroom also helps regulate and normalize blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
The Turkey Tail mushroom is also known as the “cloud mushroom” or Coriolis. This magnificent fungus is one of the most studied of all medicinal mushrooms and has been in many clinical trials. The NIH the National Institute of Health, an official United States government agency, poured several million dollars into clinical research of the Turkey tail in 2011 and found that the mushroom, when given daily to women with stage I-III breast cancer, actually improved their immune function. One of the polysaccharides in Turkey Tail, PSP, was shown to improve the immune system in 70 to 97 percent of cancer patients. This fantastic mushroom is being used to treat a host of other maladies, including, Herpes, E. coli, HIV, Candida and Pneumonia.
Himematsutake mushrooms are very popular in Japan and are used medicinally by hundreds of thousands of residents in that island nation. Scientists are just finding out how powerful this fungus is especially for its anti-cancer effects, along with protecting the body from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. It is also being studied for the potential medicinal benefits of treating polio, improving skin and hair, regulating cholesterol and helping diabetics become less insulin resistant.
So, next time you walk through the produce department in your favorite health food store (they usually have a wider selection of mushrooms than supermarkets) reach out and take a risk – try a new mushroom once a week and see what happens. You might not only find that your taste buds will thank you, but maybe your immune system will be smiling too.