The magic of mushrooms
Updated: Feb 10, 2019
They can be psychedelic, medicinal, tasty and poisonous- the mushroom world is a vast and highly complex one. Thankfully, disciplines such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda as well as different cultures like the Egyptians and Romans have a long-standing relationship with functional mushrooms- and are happy to let us borrow their wisdom as mushrooms emerge in the west. The notion of using mushrooms as medicine has penetrated the research world. There’s no more potent concoction than modern science and ancient medicine coming together- a revolution of sorts is brewing and the way we look at medicine is rapidly changing. Before we dive into the wonderful world of mushrooms let's take a look at the basics:
“The notion of using mushrooms as medicine has penetrated the research world. There’s no more potent concoction than modern science and ancient medicine coming together...”
All mushrooms are part of the fungi kingdom and are genetically more similar to animals than plants
It is currently estimated that there are 2,000 species of edible/medicinal mushrooms
They have been around for 1.3 billion years and are hypothesized to be the first organisms on dry land
Mushrooms generally need to undergo an extraction process to be therapeutic in nature
There are only 5 poisonous mushrooms out of thousands of species
Most “Magic” mushrooms are part of the Psilocybin family- and there are very few. They have traditionally been used for spiritual practices but are not yet classified as a medicinal mushroom.
Extra fun fact: the mushroom emoji is indeed a magic mushroom
The Good Stuff
Now that we’ve learned the majority of mushroom are neither poisonous or psychedelic, let's kick the shroom phobia to the side and get to the good stuff. Healers around the globe have been utilizing mushrooms for centuries for preventing & treating disease. The list of benefits attributed to medicinal mushrooms is astounding but they are best known for their modulating effect on the immune system. All mushrooms contain beta-glucans, these are water soluble polysaccharides and are responsible for the tonifying effect on the immune system. In addition to immunomodulating properties, mushrooms are shown to improve cognitive function, reduce stress, establish proper sleep patterns, increase physical performance, quench free radicals, improve gut health, promote detoxification and contribute to flawless skin. They also exhibit antiviral and antibacterial activity. While most mushrooms work on the immune system, each mushroom has its own specific constituents. These allow for tissue specificity and allow each mushroom it to act upon different systems and pathologies. Let's take a look at the 4 most common functional mushrooms and explore their properties.
The Big Guys
Chaga The benefits of chaga are far reaching. This is due to the potent antioxidant content they exhibit. Duel extracted chaga, has one of the highest ORAC values to date (a universally accepted way to measure the antioxidant properties of food and beverages). Ancient medical records show chaga being used for digestive complaints and cancer.
Why Use Chaga?
Shorten the duration of a cold
Reishi This mushroom is known to rejuvenate the whole body. In the mushroom world, it has been deemed the “queen of mushrooms” for this reason. Traditionally, reishi was reserved for emperors and royalty- so you know it’s special.
Why use Reishi?
Helps the body cope with stress
Helps with allergies
A very fitting name, this mushroom does not look like a mushroom at all and has multiple thin white strands that resemble a lions mane. It has an affinity to the nervous system. Lion's mane stimulates nerve growth factor (NGF), and has been shown helpful in neurological disorders such as parkinsons, alzheimers and dementia.
Why Use Lions Mane?
Improved ability to retain information- memory and studying!
This mushroom has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 1,000 years. They are parasitic in nature and grow from caterpillars. Not to worry though, the ones you get in the store are insect free. They are most known for their energizing effect and have been used to increase performance.
Why Use Cordyceps?
Increase athletic performance - primarily endurance
Helps with respiratory conditions
Thanks to modern science, clinical trials and mushroom gurus like Tero Isokauppila, Paul Stamets and Ron Teegarden, the fungi kingdom is being popularized and for good reason. This is just the tip of the fruiting body if you will, the link between our physiology and mushrooms runs as deep as the earth itself. In addition to this there is a whole sector of research on the fungi kingdoms’ ability to reverse the collective environmental damage we’ve created and even save the bees. Pretty radical stuff. If you’re ever going to jump on a bandwagon- your body, mind, spirit and the planet will certainly appreciate this one.
Thanks for reading this introduction to mushrooms- if your interest is peaked, here are some of my favorite resources to help you understand the fungi kingdom in more depth!
Healing Mushrooms- Tero Isokauppila www.foursigmatic.com-they have a wonderful blog!
The Mushroom Academy- a free 3 part education webs series Mycelium Running- Paul Stamets Episode 1035- Joe Rogan Podcast
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