Sunday, February 28, 2016

Pharmaceutical Fungi

Mushrooms are like insects - there are some that can cause disease, but the vast majority are beneficial. The proof of whether many of the mushrooms I started cultivating last year will emerge will begin soon. I am very confident of having a good crop of shiitakes, as the few logs I started in early 2015 are already wanting to explode with mushrooms. The lion's mane, hen of the woods, reishi, and three types of oyster mushroom are still in question. I am getting turkey tail, but I can also find natives quite easily.

The turkey tail tea I am sipping while composing this may ward off prostate cancer, should it darken my backdoor. Paul Stamets devotes a page-and-a-half to the medicinal value of turkey tail in his book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. In my upcoming talk to Calvert Eats Local, I plan to concentrate on the medicinal value of gourmet mushrooms that are often available commercially in our area. These include those just mentioned and two others, almond portobello and garden giant, which I am also attempting to grow. Their medicinal value ranges from helping the immune, cardiovascular, and/or digestive system to fighting cancer.

Mushrooms offer some unique compounds that you probably won't get from eating plants. Since I have eaten plants all my life, but few mushrooms, chances are that my body hasn't received its due from the fungal kingdom. Common ways to get these compounds are by either cooking the mushrooms at low temperature (< 220 F) or by extracting them with alcohol. Some of the compounds that come out with alcohol won't be extracted through cooking, and visa-versa. Since taking a homemade alcohol extract of shiitake, I've instantly enjoyed what seems to be better digestion and sounder sleep.

The medicinal benefits from shiitake also extend to helping the immune system, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and cardiovascular system.  They are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and they suppress many cancer cell types, e.g. breast, prostate, colorectal. They are also delicious. One cannot eat enough mushrooms to get the full range of unique benefits found in each species, but extracts and teas could supplement your diet to help. If you have a particular medical concern, then there is probably a mushroom that you can benefit by eating a lot of, while supplementing with others.

One mushroom that many people would like to eat a lot of is the morel, mainly for its special flavor, but also for immunity support. I don't cultivate them yet, but finding them this year should be easier with the help of guidance from one of our area's premier mycophiles. Things to look for are stands of tulip poplar in areas where moisture collects. Searching should begin for black morels when average night air temperature is above 50 F. Morels appear for about 6 weeks in early spring.

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