What are mushrooms good for? From nutritional benefits to healthful constituents, adding mushrooms into your diet can be a smart move
People often wonder what are mushrooms good for? To many wanderers, mushrooms are simply there to be kicked or stepped on like the classic puffball. Maybe once in a while a crude joke can be cracked in the name of particular stinkhorns that resemble human genitalia. Alas, while these may be common amusements of mushrooms be assured they are not the only ones! Humans and mushrooms are closer related than most understand. Our ancestors arose and evolved from fungal-like organisms in the past. Because of this close relation, consuming mushrooms have a wide array of medicinal and nutritional benefits for people.
In this blog, those are the species that will be examined. So one must ask about these scrumptious fungi, what are mushrooms good for?
Shiitake- Lentinula edodes
Shiitake is a choice edible mushroom. It is a true saprophyte but occasionally is found growing in decaying, necrotic plant tissue of dying trees. It grows on oak, Sweetgum, ironwood, beech, poplar, alders, and birch trees among others. It is a meaty mushroom that is tasty in soups, baked, grilled, and sautéed. Most of mushrooms nutritional value is activated when cooked; however, with shiitakes some people don't mind consuming them raw. Give it a try sometime! Although shiitake is a mushroom that is commonly chosen for the dinner pallet, it also has a variety of medicinal characteristics that could be beneficial in the medicine cabinet. What are mushrooms good for? Shiitake produces many different polysaccharides and chemical compounds that can be seen aiding human health.
Two important compounds to understand are LEM (Lentinula edodes mycelium extract) and the polysaccharide lentinan. Lentinan has been studied extensively over the past few decades. It is thought to stimulate and regulate the immune system. Among many abilities, lentinan aids in anti-inflammatory functions by increasing the phagocytotic ability of macrophages to breakdown infections. Lentinan also inhibits tumor growth by stimulating NK cells, T helper cells, and lymphocytes in the blood. It aids in humoral and cell-mediated immune mechanisms to help fight viral infections from the common influenza to the devastating human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Shiitake strengthens endocrine functions, antibacterial properties, and, with the compound eritadenine, lower cholesterol levels in the blood. This is only some of the many properties that shiitake mushrooms are good for.
Lion’s mane – Hericium erinaceus
Lion’s mane is a unique mushroom that does not grow like a classic stem and cap. This mysterious mushroom pokes out of cracks in conifer bark and resembles a white brain. The “brain” cortexes seem to morph into downward-facing, white teeth than cover the mushroom. It is a tasty mushroom when fried with some butter or oil and has certain properties long sought to be medicine. Past and current healers have believed it to aid in the health of the five internal organs. This mushroom promotes good digestion, vigor, and strength. It has also been proven that it can treat “ulcers, inflammation, and tumors of the alimentary canal.”
Lion’s mane has been shown that it can inhibit some forms of cancer as well. What seems to be most remarkable about this mushroom isn’t just that it looks like a brain but more interesting, this mushroom’s effect on the brain. Lion’s mane is a neurotropic on humans. This means that it affects our nervous system. However, this is not all. The mechanisms that lion’s mane effects in the nervous system creates neurological connections in our brain, similarly in the same fashion to Psilocybe cubensis only without trippy symptoms. The brain mushroom affects the brain. It has been shown to help with Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, cognitive function, and muscle memory.
Oyster mushroom- Pleurotus osteatus
There are many different species of oyster mushroom which can have a range of growth characteristics and properties. However, for the purposes of this blog P. ostreatus will be focused on because it the most commonly grow oyster at Fungi Ally. It can be found growing out of broadleaf hardwoods in the spring and fall. It has a wide range of hosts that include but are not limited to; alders, maples, oaks, cottonwoods, ashes, beech, birch, willows, elms and poplars. It is a meaty mushroom that is widely consumed across the globe. It is a delicious mushroom that also has medicinal properties. It contains a compound called Lovastatin that has been shown to treat and lower excessive cholesterol in the blood. Mice studies also suggest it aids in tumor suppression.
Chestnut- Pholiota nameko
Although, here at Fungi Ally, this mushroom isn’t cultivated it has similar growing conditions to P. limonella (aka P. squarrosa-adiposa) which is grown on the farm. It is a viscid, brown to tan mushroom that grows in thick clusters. They have high yields for the first 2-3 flushes and have a nutty flavor. It has been noted to carry antimicrobial characteristics and can help in resisting infection.
Reishi- Ganoderma lucidum
Reishi is a gorgeous and powerful medicinal mushroom. It has long been respected as a healer amongst the forest across the planet. It grows horizontally. It resembles an antler at first and, when it is time, will fan the tip of the antler out to create the ‘cap’ of the mushroom. All exempt the rim of the mushroom will change color to shades of yellow, orange, but mostly red. It will have a hardened surface that is glossy and deserves a second look. Healers have long recognized this mushrooms ability to assist the immune system but now it is understood how this occurs physiologically. It produces compounds that are antitumor/-bacterial/-viral. These compounds and others are immunostimulating and some compounds even enhance natural killer cells ability to fight cancerous cell proliferation. Reishi has potential to increase DNA and RNA synthesis, lower blood pressure, and enhance bone marrow growth. Triterpenes contained in reishi are anti-inflammatory and antitussive. It also is an antioxidant and therefore has the ability to scavenge free radicals.
Cordyceps militaris and C. sinensis
Cordyceps is a fascinating ascomycete fungi with an ability to grow inside insects. It will eventually cause the insect’s death and protrude an ascocarp, usually from the hosts head. In some cases this fungus even has the ability to mind control by making the host climb to high locations in an attempt to spread spores over the colony, this occurs with some species of ants. Here at Fungi Ally, a grant has been issued to the farm to study the cultivation of Cordyceps. It is a new trial underway but seems optimistic so far.
Cordyceps is a traditional mushroom used in eastern medicine for hundreds of years. Used as a general tonic to promote vigor and enhance the immune system. Recent studies have also suggested it aids in the endocrine system as a natural sex enhancer while moderating epinephrine effects. It is antitumor and inhibits cancerous cell proliferation. It also helps asthmatic individuals when consumed as a lung tonic. This zombie mushroom prevents human zombieness (drowsiness), persistent cough, impotence, anemia, and reduce excess phlegm. There you have it. Now you have an answer to the question, "What are mushrooms good for?"
by Ben Baldi
Hobbs, C. (2003). Medicinal mushrooms. Summertown, TN: Book Pub. Stamets, P., & Stamets, P. (1997). Growing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms = : A companion guide to The mushroom cultivator. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.