There are literally thousands of mushroom varieties worldwide. Of those, perhaps 2% are known to be safely edible, and perhaps 2% are known to be outright deadly. Another 3% (approximate) are considered dangerously poisonous, and about another 3% are safe for most people if prepared correctly but harmful if eaten carelessly. Somewhere in between, lie the other 90%. Unidentified, untested, many unnamed and unstudied, most not particularly tasty, nor interesting or plentiful enough to try.
The 2% on each end of the extremes are the ones we seem to see most often. The poisonous ones have been identified precisely because they are fairly common, or because they look very much like an edible variety. The edible ones have likewise been identified precisely because they are common enough to have been tried many times, and cataloged and studied, and usually because they are large enough to bother with.
Most “poisonous” mushrooms aren't deadly. They'll just make you sick. Perhaps a little queasy, or maybe really yucky, possibly curled up in fetal position moaning in agony but not outright deadly.
Most edible mushrooms should be cooked before eating. Some are considered safe when raw, but the majority are used after cooking.
Many edible mushrooms can cause reactions in sensitive people. A few are known for causing allergic reactions. Reactions can vary, so if you experience a reaction after consuming mushrooms, wait at least a week to let it clear out of your system before you try it again. If the reaction was severe, or potentially severe if it worsens (such as hives that go into your face or mouth, which may be a precursor to anaphylactic shock), then it is wise to avoid that particular mushroom in the future.
There are perhaps 50 fairly common edible mushroom varieties that will pop up in search results over and over, and on which you can find a reasonable amount of individual information. About another 50 will show up scattered here and there in the listings, but with insufficient data to even make an accurate identification.
Most poisonous “look alikes” really aren't look-alikes. There are distinctive differences which clearly show which is which – but you have to match all features, and know the mushrooms individually.
There is no single set rule that will tell you that this group is edible and that group is not.
Even within a species, the individual varieties differ – one may be edible, others may not. So you have to learn the identification markers for each mushroom – about 5-6 elements for each one. That takes time to learn, so if you are a budding mushroom hunter, you'll want to stick to a single variety until you learn it very well, then learn to identify another.
Mushrooms have never been a neutral thing in my life. People around me seem to either love them, or hate them. And then there are the true fanatics, who love every mushroom, and who seek out new varieties to try, as though mushrooms are the holy grail of food. Ok, so they feel about mushrooms like I feel about chocolate. I get that!
I was a mushroom hater. I have learned to tolerate them, as I have begun to eat more and more types of mushrooms. Growing them will do that to you. Honestly I had no idea there were so many popular mushroom types – nor so many that could be harvested by mushroom hunters in the wild.
You might ask what converted me? Strictly the health benefits. I had Crohn's Disease. I adjusted my diet, took several herbs to heal my bowels, eliminated processed foods and chemical additives, and made great progress. But I was only able to heal partially, due to some other health issues which had crept in while I had Crohn's. Stopping the Crohn's turned out to be easier than healing all the damage.
Turns out, mushrooms provide a range of benefits that just happened to be ones that I needed. Some of the suggested benefits center around minimizing damage from chemicals in our diet, and healing auto-immune disease (Crohn's is an auto-immune disease, and is invariably accompanied by a range of other auto-immune illnesses). Mushrooms seemed like a wise idea.
In all my life, the only mushrooms I had ever tried were those sad white button mushrooms that pass for food. I have no great opinion of them even now. Other mushrooms proved to be more palatable, and less reminiscent of slimy little bits of slug.
The more I studied, the more I learned about the various mushrooms, their individual healing strengths, and their useful nutritional value. I also learned about mushroom markets, salable products, and the types that sold well. I discovered rare and valuable mushrooms, and common commodity mushrooms. Since we were seeking a means of profiting from our farm, mushrooms looked like a good option there too, if we could devise a way to bypass the complexities that everyone else thought were a necessary part of producing sustainable mushroom crops.
I now encourage people with health problems to eat mushrooms. Not for any miracle cure, but simply because they are good food that helps individuals maintain or achieve better health. I am still rather ambivalent about most mushroom varieties when they are served on a plate in large enough pieces to identify the variety, but I've made a truce with them, and no longer detest them. I sort of envy those who love mushrooms.
The world is full of fungus, and somehow it has become a dirty word. “Mold” we think, is a Bad Thing, to eradicate and exterminate at all costs.
That attitude is in fact both futile, and harmful. Not only is it impossible to eradicate, but the effort to do so is actually counterproductive! Mold and fungus spores disperse and persist in the air. So you can never quite obliterate them – they'll just rematerialize and grow on whatever surface you just sterilized, even in a "clean room".
Sterilization of many things is in fact counterproductive, because when you sterilize something, you leave it wide open for opportunistic contamination. This does not refer to surgical situations, but rather to daily life, cultivation, and even food preparation. Even in surgery, the doctor only sterilizes what is OUTSIDE the body, not what is INSIDE it.
There are healthy bacteria and fungus around us, and unhealthy ones. In general, the healthy ones do a pretty good job of keeping the unhealthy ones in check – and bacteria and fungus have limiting affects on each other. So if you kill one, the other gets out of control – hence, when we take an antibiotic, we often end up with a fungal infection as a result of having killed off the friendly bacteria in our bodies.
So if you sterilize something, whatever you sterilized is now open territory. Whatever colonizes first will grow unrestrained, often very fast, and very aggressive. A microbe which was not a threat at all, will suddenly become very damaging.
This is why pasteurized milk is more prone to harmful contamination than raw milk. This is why sterilized potting soil always seems to grow mold faster than dirt from the garden. This is also one reason why farm fresh eggs, produced in the typical dirt, hay, mud, grub and skelter of the typical small farm, are less likely to carry salmonella than eggs produced in a controlled factory farm setting (extended time between gathering and consumption gives it plenty of time to grow). It is also why we now have more aggressive forms of food poisoning than we used to. A natural balance of microbes enhances the health of everyone involved, and reduces the chances that a single opportunistic microbe will run wild and multiply to the point of making anyone (or anything) sick.
Unfortunately, we've been taught in the last 5 decades to view all fungus as harmful. To think the word itself is somehow repulsive, and something to avoid. Never mind that some of the most healthy foods in the world are healthy specifically because they contain a large body of both bacteria and fungus. Never mind that bread is made using fungus as a leavening agent (yeast), or that mushrooms, one of the world's most prized foods, are really just fungus.
Real kefir, kombucha, yogurt, raw milk, fresh eggs, fresh sour kraut, naturally brined pickles, etc, all contain a variety of yeasts, molds, and bacteria (YES, they do TOO contain molds). They are not harmful because they are kept in healthy balance by the variety and abundance of them. Those microbes colonize in our intestines, where they help with food digestion, they help to stimulate the immune system, they help to reduce the chances of foodborne illness (by providing a frontline defense to help control and reduce the growth of foodborne pathogens), and they help to heal and mend damaged tissues.
Fungus is mostly good stuff! There are actually very few harmful fungi, in comparison to the number of helpful molds, yeasts, and mushrooms. No need to feel that you need to run for the bleach every time you hear the word “fungus”. It is one of the benefits we receive from nature every day – and one we should appreciate and encourage in healthy ways.
The best health benefits from mushrooms come not from extracts, concentrated dosages and blended compounds, but simply from incorporating mushrooms into your diet on a regular basis.
Mushrooms are not a cure-all. But they do effect almost all systems of the body. This is because they have a good nutritional balance, and contain elements which effect the regulatory functions of the body. There is strong scientific evident that they support health in the endocrine glands, blood balance, digestive system, and storage of nutrients and release of stored nutrients. That gives them the potential to positively affect many conditions, including heart disease, persistent obesity, IBD and IBS (including Crohn's and Celiac), cancer, mutating viral diseases, hormonal imbalances, growth and healing disorders, fertility, and diabetes.
One of the most interesting potentials of mushrooms is the ability to help to compensate for damage from the modern world. They may help to minimize the effect of chemical exposure, and promote healing of tissues damaged by preservatives, Chlorine, formaldehyde, phtalates, and other chemicals which we are exposed to on a daily basis. If you minimize your exposure to chemicals, they may help to make the remaining exposure far less harmful. Even those nasty little white button mushrooms may do this – and that is about ALL they might do (other mushrooms may do much more).
Contrary to a popular myth (perpetuated largely by the prevalence of the White Button Mushroom), mushrooms are not lacking in nutrition. They are in fact a good source of protein precursors, many B vitamins, and a range of other vitamins. They are generally lacking in minerals (and as such, are not a meat substitute as some people would have you believe). They can provide an acceptable form of plant type protein precursors for food storage purposes.
Some mushrooms do have specific disease prevention or treatment benefits (according to a range of recent scientific studies). But most are a good choice in achieving or maintaining good health, when incorporated into a balanced diet.
Fresh cooked, frozen, or dried mushrooms have the greatest potential to benefit. Canned ones have a lesser potential, but may still help.
Simply incorporate a meal with mushrooms into your diet every day or two, and see what they do. Mushrooms are, after all, just good food!
Many mushrooms, such as Reishi, Turkey Tail, and Chaga, are used primarily for medicinal purposes. They really aren't recommended for culinary use. Others, such as Almond Portobello, Maitake, Shiitake, and Matsutake, are considered fine edibles, but are also used for medicinal purposes.
The literature and lore regarding medicinal mushrooms ranges from traditional, to fantastical. Some have been studied for specific treatments, and have been found to be more or less efficacious. A few have shown fantastically useful components for treatment of cancer and auto-immune disease in contemporary medical studies. Mushrooms are used medicinally more in the Orient than in the Western world.
In Asia, many mushrooms are consumed for culinary purposes, but are also used traditionally for healing. They see no inconsistency in using something both as a food and as a medicine. People in the US and many parts of Europe are less likely to feel that a familiar food has any kind of use in treating specific diseases or conditions.
The three mushrooms worth mention for medicinal use, which have been studied and proven, are Turkey Tail, Almond Portobello, and Gypsy.
Turkey Tail and Almond Portobello are used in cancer treatments, though in different ways. Gypsy is recommended for use as an anti-viral.
Almond Portobello has been shown to contain components which destroy certain kinds of cancer cells. Research is limited at this time, and I don't have full data on which cancers it does not treat, but it may not be effective on neural cancers. There are actually TWO Almond Portobello mushrooms with this history - Agaricus blazei murrill, and Agaricus subrufescens. Both have been shown to be effective against cancers, though the types of cancers vary minimally between the two.
Turkey Tail is suspected to help the immune system recognize cancer cells, but it has not been tested for that specifically. It has been tested as an immune booster to assist cancer patients in recovering from chemotherapy – chemo depresses the immune system, and it can take quite some time to rebuild a healthy immune system after intensive chemo. It has been used to enhance cancer treatments also.
Gypsy mushroom is nothing more than a hoax. While it has been shown to successfully treat herpes, and has been shown to have antiviral effects against other viruses in vitro, you can forget using it for any health purpose. You can't GET it. Oh, a few companies sell something purporting to be Gypsy mushroom, but it cannot be verified to BE what they claim it is. Gypsy mushroom is kind of hard to identify in the wild, it ONLY grows in the wild (since it is mycorrhizal), and mushroom hunters who KNOW and recognize it are a dying breed. You simply cannot GET Gypsy mushroom.
The cool thing is though, the gills of common Portobello mushrooms are an effective alternative. This is something I've used successfully, not for herpes, but for viral pneumonia. It is certainly worth a try.
Other mushrooms may have value in treating heart disease, diabetes, persistent obesity, HIV, asthma, and auto-immune disease, including Celiac and Crohn's, and are currently under study.
We are of the opinion that simply consuming mushrooms is more effective than using “extracts” or isolated components from the mushroom. In most cases, when a food, herb, or fungus is found to mitigate a disease, pharmaceutical companies want to try to isolate the “active compound” to extract it (or synthesize it) and patent it. You cannot patent a food, so they want to patent an artificial version. The problem with this is that most foods that contain pharmaceutically active compounds also contain other elements which help balance those compounds, and which assist those compounds in working effectively. Hence, the potential side effects are generally higher, and the degree to which it can work effectively, is lower, once it is extracted and concentrated.
This is especially true of active foods. The best way to use them, is simply to toss them into appetizing recipes, and enjoy them!
For purely medicinal mushrooms, which are not appetizing to eat as food, most people will grind them and put them in capsules, or shred and dry them, to use for making tea.
Medicinal mushrooms may be more likely to cause reactions than culinary mushrooms. They are considered less likely to do so if well-cooked before consumption.
If you develop allergic reactions, or stomach upset, stop eating the mushroom. There are a few that will cause reactions on the first dose, which will diminish with successive doses, but most will not improve, and some can get radically worse with each dose. It is unwise to try to use anti-histamines or other remedies to try to subdue the effect so you can eat the mushroom anyway – best to avoid the mushroom in the future and go another direction.
Whether or not to use mushrooms medicinally, and HOW to use them, is an individual choice. You probably won't be able to find useful information on dosage or usage timetables.
Medicinal information regarding mushrooms also pretty much duplicates herbal medicinal lore. The accuracy is highly suspect. This is NOT to say that herbs or mushrooms do not heal. They can help some individuals. But most information about WHAT they heal is highly inaccurate.
Herbal lore is prone to the same perpetuation with motive that pharmaceutical drugs have fallen prey to. In other words, most people telling you to use this or that mushroom are doing so based on greed – they want to sell it to you. Sadly, most alternative practitioners are no better – they recommend supplements which they, themselves, sell.
The herbs, mushrooms, or supplement formulas which are recommended for a particular illness are poorly studied. They are often compounded of a series of elements which have been “historically used for” a particular condition, or similar conditions. The mechanism by which they are presumed to work is speculative. The vast majority of natural treatments do not do what they are promoted to do – at all. It is nothing more than snake oil.
That said, many herbs and mushrooms DO accomplish exactly what they are promoted to do. And many that are promoted for one thing, do something else instead – equally valuable, but completely different. You can often discover this by deep research, but you have to use a lot of reasoning and digging for the rare bits of information.
The real caution is that when the means by which something works is not known, you may take something that actually does the opposite of what you needed it to do. Migraines, and sinus headaches are a good example.
If you take a remedy for a migraine, and you have a constrictive migraine, you need a remedy which dilates blood vessels. But many migraines are actually caused by dilated blood vessels, so a remedy may be recommended for migraines which constricts blood vessels - usually natural remedies are recommended by what they are FOR, not by what they actually DO. If you assume it is simply a pain reliever, and your migraine is of the opposite type than the remedy is actually formulated for, you will end up with a worse headache. Similarly, if you take a remedy which dilates blood vessels, and you actually have a sinus headache and not a migraine (sinus headaches can mimic migraines in every respect and are commonly misdiagnosed based on pain level), then you end up worsening the problem.
With herbal remedies, one of the great problems is that someone had a headache, they took this, and it got better, so now they recommend it for headaches. They don't specify the headache type, or what the remedy actually did.
Midwives have historically used a series of herbs to treat miscarriage. Again, they use them without really understanding what they do – they have been used this way, so they assume that they help, simply because they've been told they do. If the miscarriage is averted, the attribute it to the herbs. If it happens anyway, they shrug and console, and say there was nothing anyone could do (which is usually the case anyway). Each herb DOES something, and with each action, there is a reaction. Let me explain:
When a miscarriage is threatened, the goal is to stop the bleeding and to keep the baby in there. But to stop the bleeding, you have to constrict the uterus (which constricts the blood vessels). If you constrict the uterus, you REDUCE the blood flow to the baby. That is counterproductive. On the other hand, if you increase the blood flow to the baby, you increase the uterine bleeding. There is no solution to this – you have two goals, and they are mutually exclusive, but unless you understand what you are dealing with, and what the herbs actually do, you won't grasp that there really is not any herb you can take to stop a threatened miscarriage. There ARE herbs you can take to slow uterine bleeding, OR to increase blood flow to the uterus. But during a threatened miscarriage, either one can be more harmful than helpful.
The point is, that with herbs or mushrooms either one, alternative medicine may be fairly chancy. You have to be willing to give things a try, and to accept the personal risk involved. If they are historically used for specific conditions, and you don't find a lot of warnings about toxicity or potential side effects, the risks may generally be low. But you'll have to pay attention to your body to really know whether it is doing what you need it to do or not, and if not, then try something else.
Be suspect of any source that recommends something when they are getting paid to recommend it. This includes anyone who sells the thing they are recommending (and this includes US, since we sell mushrooms!).
Mushrooms are very much in the same category – some of the lore exists because it really does work. Some exists because it works in particular circumstances but not others. Some exists because they really didn't know what else to do, they used that, and the person recovered independent of the usage of the mushroom.
Proceed with caution, and don't believe everything you hear!
I believe that mushrooms help with some of the conditions we've used them with. But you have to find out for yourself.
This Organization and Website are dedicated to the Preservation, Cultivation, and Wise Use of Culinary and Medicinal Mushrooms. We do NOT assist with cultivation or preservation of recreational mushrooms.
Mushrooms may cause allergic reactions in sensitive people. Some mushrooms are more likely to do this than others. Please research possible reactions prior to use. We are not responsible for how you choose to use our information, and do not claim that mushrooms are completely safe to consume.
We do not make any claims as to the efficacy of any mushroom product to treat or prevent any disease or condition. We are not medical professionals and will not provide advice on alternative medicine use for any mushroom. Please consult a doctor or alternative practitioner prior to using any mushroom product for treatment of any disease or illness.
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