THE MAGIC OF MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS
When I was young, my mother used to take us mushroom hunting. I’d tag along, caught up in the silence and mysterious smells of the forest. It wasn’t until a few years ago though, after watching the movie Fantastic Fungi (now available for viewing on Netflix), that my interest in learning about medicinal mushrooms and how they can enhance our health first started.
Studies of how medicinal mushrooms can enhance our health are still new to Western medicine, but point to numerous health benefits (think: brain booster, hormone helper, antioxidant powerhouse).
PSYCHEDELICS FOR WELLNESS
Psychedelic drugs—once promising research subjects that were decades ago relegated to illicit experimentation in dorm rooms—have been steadily making their way back into the lab for a revamped 21st-century-style look. A rapidly growing number of studies that report encouraging results in treating depression, alcohol and heroin addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have brought them back out of the shadows.
In a major boost to the reviving field, Johns Hopkins university published a randomized double-blind study showing psilocybin significantly decreased depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer. Other studies show that psilocybin therapy holds great promise against treatment-resistant depression, with a faster antidepressant effect than SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS FOR IMMUNITY TO VIRUSES
Certain mushrooms can not only help increase the number of antibodies, but also enhance T-cell immunity against virally infected cells. Mushrooms have the advantage that they co-evolved with us. So bacteria, viruses and other fungi prey on mushrooms just like they prey on humans. And mushrooms have developed exquisite defenses against those microorganisms, defenses that they can confer to us when we eat them.
COVID AND MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS
MACH-19 (Mushrooms and Chinese Herbs for COVID-19) is a multi-centre study led by UC San Diego’s School of Medicine and UC-Los Angeles, in collaboration with the La Jolla Institute for Immunology. In a preclinical study published in 2019, Agarikon (Laricifomes officinalis) was found to inhibit viruses, including influenza (H1N1), influenza A (H5N1) and herpes. Lead investigator Gordon Saxe believes medicinal mushrooms inhibit the viruses’ replication, a theory he plans to test against SARS-CoV-2 in a Phase II trial.
TURKEY TAIL & CHAGA FOR BREAST & PROSTATE CANCER
Turkey tail or Tramates versicolor is widespread and prolific, growing on dead hardwoods. It got its nickname because of its vivid color patterns that appear similar to that of, yes, a turkey’s tail. They are high in antioxidants, which reduce or inhibit cellular damage caused by oxidative stress. After gathering it in the forest, I dry it in the sun, as exposing mushrooms to the sun enhances their vitamin D content. I then make an infusion or tea out of the turkey tail, letting it simmer for an hour or so before drinking. Turkey tail studies show great promise in helping women fight breast cancer.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of medicinal mushrooms as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition, it recently approved a clinical trial for a turkey tail extract, allowing patients with advanced prostate cancer to take it in combination with conventional chemotherapy.
Then there is Chaga or Inonotus obliquus. Far more rare than turkey tail, it grows mostly on live birch trees. It takes several years for it to grow, so take only what you need. I use it as a tea as well, never boiling, but letting it simmer for several hours. It turns into a dark brew that I sip on throughout the winter. Chaga mushrooms are rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including:
- B-complex vitamins
Animal and test-tube studies suggest that chaga extract can positively impact immunity by reducing long-term inflammation and fighting harmful bacteria and viruses. It stimulates white blood cell formation, essential for fighting off harmful bacteria or viruses.
There are over a million wild mushroom species, and only a fraction of these has been identified. I am very grateful for having caught the mushroom bug, the love of foraging for mushrooms.
If interested, consider joining a local mushroom foraging club. In my area, there is the Mycologues amateurs de l’Outaouais. We go out foraging every few weeks, and I keep learning from experienced mycologists. Find one in your area, and you’ll never look back. Or find a local mycologist who can teach you. I really enjoy learning from Colleen Hulett, whose blog Calabogie Hiker is worth subscribing to. For more information on my Ottawa services, visit my website at Full Circle Healing.