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.
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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.
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