than delightful food. Not so much for medicine, we’ve been eating earthy mushrooms on
pizza and burgers, in Asian food, soups, risotto, stir-fries, and gourmet foods most of
Today, what our ancestors used as medicine for thousands of years, an array of mushrooms is showing up in coffee, supplements, mushroom broths, tinctures, skin care, and chocolate.
The fleshy, fruiting, spore-bearing body of a fungus, mushrooms moved to land at about the same time as plants, about 460 million years ago. Fossils of land fungi date to almost 400 million years ago. For many millennia, mushrooms have played an important role in human history as food, poison, medicine, in folklore, legends and religion. Ancient Egypt hieroglyphs indicate mushrooms were being consumed with meals 4,500 years ago. The Greek physician Hippocrates classified the amadou mushroom as a potent anti-inflammatory.
Mushrooms, grown in nutrient-rich compost, are undeniably engineering masterpieces of mother nature’s benevolent cupboard and contain some of the most potent natural medicines on the planet. The overnight appearance of the fruit body is wondrous, with the rise of millions of pre-formed cells extending the stem, pushing warm earth aside, and unfolding the cap.
Abundant fungi, not a vegetable, are responsible for life on land as we know it. Their activities are essential for the operation of planet earth. From helping plants colonize terrestrial earth to treating human disease, fungi were some of the first complex life forms on land, mining rocks for mineral nourishment, slowly turning them into what would become soil. To support everything is connected, the human gastrointestinal tract, microbiome, is host to immense populations of microorganisms including fungi, bacteria, viruses, single-cell organisms.
Only the commonly available white button variety have been popular, but there are many edible varieties: oyster, shiitake, reishi, portobellos, beech, chaga, Lion’s Mane, cremini, cordyceps, turkey tail, porcini, chanterelles, ceps, maitake, chicken of the woods, enoki, chestnut, Ganoderma, morel, truffles, “magical” psilocybin mushrooms, and more.
Mushrooms are considered as the best alternative for meat as they are high in fiber, protein, low in fat, and cholesterol free. Mushrooms provide many of the same nutritional benefits as vegetables, meat, beans, and grains, and have virtually no fat or cholesterol. Mushrooms exposed to UV radiation synthesize vitamin D2, making mushrooms the only known non-animal source of dietary vitamin D.
The Mushroom Council explains, “Mushrooms are the leading source of the antioxidant selenium that protects body cells from damage that might lead to chronic diseases and help to strengthen the immune system.” In the pandemic era, shiitake also supports immune health as they are rich in polysaccharides like lentinans and other beta-glucans, according to WebMD. Scientists at City of Hope discovered mushrooms could suppress growth of breast cancer and prostate cancer cells in cell cultures and in animals.
The Mushroom Council states toadstools possess B-vitamins, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, selenium, copper, soluble fiber beta glucan, which scientists say boosts immune function. A single portabella mushroom can contain more potassium than a banana. Additionally, wcmushrooms.com says mushrooms provide ergothioneine, a naturally occurring antioxidant that may help protect the body’s cells.
As a defense against bacterial invasion, fungi have developed strong antibodies, which also happen to be effective for us humans. Penicillin, streptomycin, and tetracycline all come from fungal extracts.
Regarding Lion’s Mane, NIH research reveals, “The evidence so far has shown that Lion’s Mane, enriched with its active compounds, can delay neuronal cell death in rats with neurodegenerative diseases, such as ischemic stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and depression. I regularly consume Lion’s Mane for cognition and can validate its cognitive-enhancing benefits.
Certain mushrooms may improve human skin conditions, including acne, redness, and eczema, Dr. Gary Goldfaden told Women’s Health in a 2019 interview. The reason is because they contain antioxidants and vitamin D, both "work to protect the skin against environmental stresses, discoloration and fine lines," Goldfaden said.
No longer stigmatized, Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is focusing on how psychedelic mushrooms affect behavior, mood, cognition, brain function, and biological markers of health to determine the effectiveness of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient, as a new therapy for opioid addiction, Alzheimer's, PTSD, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, anorexia nervosa and alcohol use in people with major depression.
In understanding the enduring positive effects of psilocybin, Johns Hopkins asserts, “Our research has demonstrated therapeutic effects in people who suffer a range of challenging conditions including addiction (smoking, alcohol, other drugs of abuse), existential distress caused by life-threatening disease, and treatment-resistant depression.” Illegal in most states, Wikipedia says the movement to decriminalize psilocybin in the U.S. began in the late 2010s.
Clearly, we cannot go wrong exploring the extensive world of edible mushrooms in different recipes. The revival of nourishing, edible mushrooms can please taste buds while delivering one of earth’s original plant medicines.