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The Amazing Healing Powers of Mushrooms

Explore the tremendous promise of mushrooms to fight against cancer, arthritis, superbugs and other serious health concerns.

| September/October 2015

  • Chaga was used by the Cree indians as treatment for arthritis.
    Photo by iStock
  • Lion's mane promotes nerve cell regeneration, which could aide in the treatment of brain diseases such as Alzheimer's.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Reishi mushrooms have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, and have been shown to protect against stroke.
    Photo by iStock

When asked to name some of the world’s most advanced medicines, most people are probably more likely to think of pharmaceutical concoctions than the humble mushrooms that grow on the forest floor and in stands of trees. Yet mushrooms are some of the most promising natural medicines available today. As researchers discover mushrooms’ ability to battle stroke, arthritis, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, cancer, brain disease and a number of other serious health concerns, a growing body of scientific evidence shows that mushrooms deserve a rightful place in our medicine cabinets.

Fine Fungi

The world is home to an estimated 1.4 million species of mushrooms, but only about 700 have been explored for medicinal properties. Here are four of the finest fungi.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

This beautiful, large, white mushroom derives its name from its long ridges that resemble a lion’s mane. Although its crab-like taste and texture make it a popular culinary mushroom, research shows this mushroom also offers some serious health benefits.

Perhaps its greatest promise is as a treatment for brain and nerve diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. New research in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found this mushroom promotes nerve cell regeneration following injuries. For many years, it was accepted as medical fact that nerve regeneration was impossible, but this exciting research may prove otherwise. Additional research found that a liquid extract of the mushroom helped grow new brain and nerve cells known as neurons.

About a dozen studies have shown lion’s mane has impressive brain-healing properties. In one study, mice with amyloid plaques comparable to those found in Alzheimer’s were fed a normal diet then compared with mice fed a normal diet plus lion’s mane. The lion’s mane mice regained cognitive capacity, were more capable of navigating mazes, and had a reduction of beta-amyloid plaques—a biomarker that suggests a reversal of Alzheimer’s.

Fresh lion’s mane mushrooms are increasingly available in gourmet food, grocery and health-food stores. To prepare, simply sauté in olive oil with salt and chopped garlic. Its bitter raw taste disappears when cooked until crispy at its edges.

12/13/2019 8:46:38 PM

Hi. I first of all would like to say thank you for acknowledging the usage of mushrooms by indigenous peoples, like the Cree and Chaga. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that the structure of the sentence “Cree used chaga” is grammatically incorrect. In fact, Cree use! Indigenous people are still here! Let’s please bare that in mind and the importance of this distinction, so we can remember to look to those who have had relationships with these mushroom kin for a very long time for guidance, and be careful to not over harvest. Thanks for listening!

7/23/2019 12:12:14 PM

Should be noted that most cordyceps in supplements are grown in a substrate, not a caterpillar, so are vegan-friendly. But always check the label.

7/23/2019 7:10:01 AM

Would have been nice to have photos to see what they looked like.

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