Mushrooms have been valued throughout the world 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 value of wild mushrooms. In Japan, pushcart
vendors on the streets 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 only grow on very old plum trees–such as the Reishi–renowned
as a cure for cancer and degenerative diseases. Likewise, for over 3,000
years the Chinese have used and revered many fungi for their health-giving
properties, especially tonics for the immune system (Bo and Yun-sun, 1980;
Yun-Chang, 1985). To the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria a number of fungi
became an important part of their mythology and medical practice (Oso, 1977).
Mushrooms may also be the perfect food for staying trim and healthy. A recent
“letter from the editor” in the Nutrition Action newsletter
(September, 1994) from the Center for Science in the Public Interest mentioned
that up to 1/3 of the U.S. population are overweight. Because fats occur
in mushrooms in minor amounts, especially compared with protein and carbohydrates,
and the fatty fraction consists predominantly of unsaturated fatty acids
such as linoleic acid, they may be the perfect food for losing weight and
maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.
When it comes to mushrooms, most Americans and inhabitants of the British
Isles are rather ignorant. Many people in the United States have a distinct
dislike, even a fear, of fungi–a phenomenon that may be called “fungophobia”–a
term coined by Hay (1887). Rolfe and Rolfe wrote about the distinctly unsavory
view of which the British view mushrooms and mushroom hunters, in
their delightful Romance of the Fungus World (1925). Generally, the
first association wild mushrooms bring to mind here is “poisonous.”
The principal edible mushroom most Americans know is the bland Agaricus
bisporus (Lange) Sing., or “button mushroom” found in supermarkets.
It has little flavor and negligible medicinal value compared with other
wild species. In fact, it can even be unhealthful in the sense that
it may be heavily sprayed with malathion and other pesticides (many commercially
cultivated mushrooms are among the most heavily sprayed items in the vegetable
section). The button mushroom may also have cancer-causing properties when
eaten continuously, though exactly how potent this effect might be in humans
is not clear. See the section on this common mushroom on page xx for further
In recent years other cultivated species such as the oyster mushroom and
shiitake have begun to appear in markets.
Happily, however, there are signs that these narrow-minded attitudes in
the United States and England are changing and catching up with the rest
of the world. The spreading popularity of natural foods is one factor that
has helped re-awaken interest in mushrooms and mushroom-hunting. Another
factor is the recent growth of the mushroom-export business, which has been
boosted by troubles in Europe. Due to acid rain, sprawling development,
and industrial accidents such as the one at Chernobyl, millions of acres
of mushroom habitat in Europe and Russia have been disturbed, and many species
of wild mushrooms are becoming scarce (Cherfas, 1991).
Europe imports thousands of pounds of chanterelles and boletus each
year. The high price these traditional gastronomic delights bring creates
a good supplementary income for knowledgeable gatherers in the United States.
Indeed, wild or home cultivation may soon become viable cottage industries
in the Pacific Northwest, which has the forest habitats and substantial
rainfall needed for such ventures. Cultivation as a home business may be
preferable to the recent problems that are surfacing in the Pacific Northwest
among professional and itinerant pickers alike–namely squabbling over mushroom
patches on public lands. A newspaper article told of teams of professional
pickers using walkie-talkies to coordinate harvests and mentioned that they
can become upset when other pickers strayed into what they considered their
turf. In response to the increased harvesting pressure, quotas were recently
set in the Mt. Hood National Forest (McRae, 1993). For books and supplies
for the cultivation of edible and medicinal mushrooms, see the appendix.
Finally, Japanese products containing LEM, a polysaccharide-rich extract
from the shiitake mushroom and similar extracts from maitake are currently
undergoing trials in Japan and the U.S. to test their effectiveness in treating
various forms of cancer. They show promise for treating people suffering
from various forms of cancer and AIDS and are currently in strong demand
in Japan. Commercial shiitake cultivators in the U.S., Canada, and in parts
of Asia are decidedly interested in this new potential market and are starting
large cultivation efforts, hoping the demand will continue to grow as further
scientific studies are conducted. At present, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical
products from mushrooms may be worth more than 1.2 billion dollars U.S.
Wei Qi Soup for Building Immune Strength
Fill a pot 2/3 full with purified or spring water, then add:
Astragalus membranaceus (5-7 sticks)
Ganoderma lucidum (reishi) (1 medium)
any other tonifying mushrooms 2-3
Slightly sprouted beans (1/4-1/2 cup)
(aduki, black, etc.)
Bring water to boil, simmer for 20 minutes, then add:
Organic barley (1/2-1 cup)
(choose amount depending on thickness desired)
Simmer another 20 minutes, then add favorite vegetables such as:
carrots & celery
beet tops (or chard, collards, mustard greens, etc.)
sea vegetables (nori, kelp, wakame, etc.)
gobo (i.e., burdock root)
nettles or other wild greens (when available)
garlic & onions
Simmer until the vegetables are tender, then add miso and spices such as
ginger, celery, or fennel seed. Make enough for a few days and store it
in the refrigerator.
Indications and Dosage: During illness, when solid food is not desirable,
drink 3-4 cups of the warm broth (add less barley and more water to make
broth). For degenerative immune conditions, eat 1-2 small bowls per day,
and drink the broth as desired. For autoimmune diseases such as allergies,
lupus, diabetes, and hepatitis accompanied by fatigue, weakness, or autoimmune
conditions, eat the soup when desired, or drink the broth. This soup can
be used upon occasion (1-2 times per week) for general tonification and
may help to increase stamina.
Table 1: Sources of Medicinal Fungi
Table 2: Use Summary of Major Medicinal Mushrooms: Arranged by Species
Table 3: Medicinal Mushroom Uses: Arranged by Symptom or Condition
P.O. Box 7634
Olympia, WA 98507
1338 Cyperus St.
Oakland, CA 94607
Chinese herbs in bulk, extracts and other herbal products
RECOMMENDED READING LIST
Medicinal Mushrooms by Christopher Hobbs
Kombucha by Christopher Hobbs
Manual on Mushroom Cultivation by Peter Oei.
Mushrooms in the Garden by Helmut Steineck.
The Shiitake Growers Handbook by P. Przlbylowicz and J. Donoghue.
The Mushroom Cultivator by P. Stamets and J. Chilton.
Growing Shiitake Mushrooms in a Continental Climate by Mary Ellen
Kozak and J. Krawczyk.
Cultivating Edible Fungi by P.J. Wuest.
Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora.
All That the Rain Promises and More by David Arora.
Rainbow Light Herbal Systems
Medicinal Mushrooms Christopher Hobbs, L.Ac., A.H.G. 6