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The ultimate example of "food being your medicine and medicine being your food"
Reishi mushroom is arguably the most well documented and revered herb on the planet! It has a 4000 year history and has gained almost cult status thanks to the outstanding health benefits that accompany its use. It is unique in that it is a food that is mainly used as a medicine! Shiitake mushroom on the other hand has become one of the most popular edible mushrooms world-wide but it also has a 'secret' history as a source of the chemical lentinan, an injectable anti-cancer pharmaceutical licensed in several countries around the world.
There are several other so-called 'medicinal mushrooms' and between them they produce some very interesting and well studied health promoting active constituents. One group of actives they all produce are the polysaccharides, and a mountain of research on the effects of polysaccharides has been building up for decades. The great interest shown by science in the polysaccharides is due to the fact that they have been shown to modify various aspects of immune system function. It is for this reason that these mushrooms have become linked to the treatment of cancers, infections and other immune system disorders. They are unique in stimulating the body to fight off disease itself (as all good food should do of course) in contrast to the pharmaceutical approach of killing, poisoning or burning things out!
Even though we are talking about common foods here, the information presented is quite technical and based on reviews of scientific studies and actual clinical experience. It's not intended to substitute for medical advice, or to be used for self-treatment. If you suffer from any of the serious ailments mentioned in this information you should always seek advice from a herbalist, medical doctor or other suitably qualified health care practitioner before using these mushrooms or any other dietary or herbal substance. Please feel free to call Stuart FitzSimons MNIMH, Medical Herbalist on 07802 408146, or e-mail through the contact page of this website.
Why are mushrooms so good for us?
Mushrooms such as Reishi, Coriolus, Maitake and Lion's mane all contain polysaccharides. More specifically, the most well studied type of polysaccharide, in terms of their effects on the immune system, are the beta-glucans. These elements would basically be included in the carbohydrate and fibre portion of the mushroom. The polysaccharides are found generally as structural or storage elements in the walls of the cells that make up the mushroom.
MAITAKE (Grifola frondosa)
The modern story of Maitake has become the story of one of its polysaccharide fractions referred to as D-fraction and more recently as MD-fraction. Dr. Hiroaki Nanba (Pharmaceutical University of Kobe) isolated D-fraction in 1984 and later purified it further and subsequently obtained a Japanese patent on MD-fraction in 1996. Historically speaking Grifola was a much sought after mushroom with several stories of collectors staking claim to their own personal patch and quantities of it changing hands for huge prices. During the 1990's cultivation of this mushroom took off in the US and China as well as Japan and by 1997 world production reached 331, 000 tonnes. Today it not just a highly commercialised medicine it is also in the top 5 most cultivated and marketed edible mushrooms.
LION'S MANE (Hericium erinaceus)
Hericium is another herb, much like Grifola, that has a major history of being a much sought after food. For centuries it has been used as a rare and special delicacy and has even been used as a meat substitute. However, in the last half century or so in which medicinal mushrooms have come under the research spotlight Hericium has revealed activity in the human nervous system that makes it potentially one of the most useful herbs we have to counter the almost epidemic rise in dementia, age related mental decline and Alzheimer’s we are seeing today.
TURKEY TAIL (Coriolus / Trametes versicolor)
The bracket fungi such as Coriolus have been utilised by mankind for millennia, even Otzi the iceman, whose 5000 year old mummified body was found in the Italian Alps in 1991, had two polypores of the bracket type just like Coriolus with him, demonstrating the length of European mans connection to these plants. In China we find first written mention of its use in the Ming Dynasty; 1368-1644, recorded in the Materia Medica of Li Shi Zhen. In the modern era Coriolus has a huge history in a pharmaceutical context with the Japanese having licensed drugs based on its constituents.
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The information is made available with the understanding that the author and publisher are not providing medical, psychological, or nutritional counseling services on this site. The information should not be used in place of a consultation with a competent health care or nutrition professional.