Mother Earth Living

Heal with Medicinal Mushrooms

By Christopher Hobbs
January/February 1997
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Mushroom Sidebars:

Maitake Mushrooms
Reishi Mushrooms
Shiitake Mushrooms 

Recipe: Stuffed Shiitake

Mushrooms have been valued as both food and medicine for thousands of years. Throughout the world, many people enjoy hunting for wild mushrooms, delighting in the variety of shapes, sizes, and colors exhibited by these “flowers of the fall”. Europeans have ­always appreciated the gastronomic values of wild mushrooms, exulting in their delicious and varied tastes, and in Japan, pushcart vendors 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 and are renowned cures for cancer and degenerative diseases. Likewise, for more than 3,000 years the Chinese have used and revered many fungi for their health-giving properties, especially as tonics for the immune system. To the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria, many fungi are an important part of their mythology and medical practice.

Reishi, maitake and shiitake are medicinal mushrooms that recently have become popular in the United States. Should you have an inclination to incorporate these or other mushrooms into your diet, preparation suggestions are included. If you choose to gather your mushrooms from the wild, maintaining a healthy respect for the possibility of eating a poisonous one. Be an informed gatherer. It is best for beginners to learn how to identify edible mushrooms from local experts; community colleges often offer good mushroom-hunting classes.

Preparation

Powdered extracts and capsules: Because the scientific literature indicates that whole mushrooms are especially active antitumor agents and immune-system enhancers, I recommend taking dried and powdered mushrooms by the teaspoon, either in a cup of ginger tea or sprinkled into soup or on stir-fry and rice. Mushrooms that are too tough and fibrous to powder can be sliced thinly and dried for use in teas and tinctures.

Softer and thinner mushrooms can be easily powdered and put into capsules. A size 00 capsule holds about 400 mg of powdered mushroom. For mild to moderate immune-system support, I recommend taking two capsules morning and evening and, for specific immune-suppressed conditions, two to three capsules three times daily.

Teas and soups: Teas of medicinal mushrooms should be simmered for 40 minutes to an hour, or until they are dark and taste strong. You may add one part ­ginger to every eight parts mushrooms and one part licorice to every sixteen parts mushrooms to mask any bitterness.

To make a soup, begin with the mushroom tea, to which you may add broccoli, carrots, potatoes, beets, greens, garlic, onions, and/or a little seaweed. Thicken it with a little barley. Fish, chicken, or a little red meat can be added. Simmer for about fifteen minutes. Drink 1 to 3 cups of the soup a day. Tender, fleshy fungi, such as shiitake and oyster mushrooms, can be eaten with enthusiasm, but push fibrous chunks of reishi aside—the essence has already permeated the broth, and they are far too tough to chew, even after boiling.


Christopher Hobbs is a member of the Herbs for Health Editorial Advisory Board. He is author of Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing, and Culture (Botanica Press, 1995) and many other books. He is a fourth-generation herbalist and botanist with more than twenty years of experience.


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