Editor’s Note:

Medicinal mushroom
Trametes versicolor, AKA the turkey tail, is a potent and common medicinal mushroom. Photo by Jason Hollinger. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

The time has come yet again for mushroom radio theater, wherein I share a bit of audio from my archive of recordings from Crazy About Mushrooms: Conversations With Fungus Fanaticsthe radio documentary I produced about fungi and the people who love them.
Today’s interview comes from Dr. Christopher Hobbs, who is a noteworthy herbalist, phylogenetic researcher, and author of Medicinal Mushrooms. This book is a seminal English-language examination of different fungi that can be used to treat and prevent disease, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to understand the uses of different species medicinal mushrooms throughout the ages.
Yours In Fungal Fancy,
Mushroom Anna

Medicinal Mushrooms – A Partnership Between People and Fungi

This audio segment is most of the “medicinal mushrooms” chapter of an hour-long documentary, and the bulk of it is my interview material from Dr. Hobbs. However, do not be alarmed if you click the MP3 and you hear me talking a little bit about the history of fungi as medicine by way of a brief introduction.
One editorial note is in order here: in the audio, I incorrectly state that ling zhe, (aka reishi or Ganoderma lucidum) is called the 1,000-year mushroom because of its reputation for increasing longevity. In fact, it’s actually the 10,000-year mushroom, which I suppose stands as even more significant proof that Chinese herbalists identified this species as one of the most potent medicinal mushrooms in their pharmacopeia.

Anna and Dr. Hobbs on Medicinal Mushrooms

North Carolina’s Wild Turkey Tail and Reishi

For those who are interested in exploring the world of medicinally valuable fungi, there are numerous routes one can take. There is of course a host of different vendors for high-quality mushroom tinctures and supplements, and then there is the cheapskate mushroom hunter’s option: wild crafting your own medicinal mushrooms in the forest.

Ganoderma sessile
Ganoderma sessile is an extremely common medicinal mushroom in North Carolina. Photo by Patrick Harvey. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

North Carolina and other U.S. states are rich in turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor); pretty much all forests I visit have at least one fallen log colonized by this fungus, and the fruiting bodies are often produced in huge quantities. To use it medicinally, it’s important to heat-treat the mushroom in order to break down the fruiting body’s cell walls so that beta glucans and other beneficial compounds can be digested by the human gut. To do this, simply dry the fruiting bodies and chop the mushrooms into strips, then simmer in hot water for 15-20 minutes. In this way, you can easily make medicinal mushroom tea that’s good for tumor suppression and immune function.
Reishi is similarly common in the United States, although we have a few different species of this mushroom that can be foraged from the wild; there is the classic “reishi,” which is called Ganoderma lucidum, the hemlock reishi (Ganoderma tsugae), the ground-loving Ganoderma sessile, and a sort of classic-looking reishi called Ganoderma curtsii. There may be other reishi-like mushrooms in North America, and I have heard varying accounts of whether or not there is a true distinction between Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma curtsii. Despite this, it’s quite easy to find these mushrooms in the wild, and I plan to dedicate a future post to the different habitats and habits of the medicinally active Ganodermas.
Like the turkey tail, reishi is easy to dry, although the fruiting bodies can be pretty thick and so it’s ideal to cut them up prior to drying them so that the inside of the mushroom does not miss out on the dehydrating action. It can then be simmered for tea, and traditionally it appears in many Chinese herbal blends.
In addition, the white growth margin of the caps of fresh reishi mushrooms are edible and choice, so if you find one in prime condition, consider trimming off the soft white edges and cooking it like you would any other culinary mushroom species.

Medicinal Mushrooms Vs. Medicinal Mycelium

Ganoderma lucidum
The classic reishi or ling zhe mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum, often has a fanned fruiting body. Photo by jatlas. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic.

One thing I will note is that for many different medicinal mushrooms, the most promising research for cancer treatment, anti-viral action, and immune benefits were conducted with extractions that make use of both the fruiting body and the mushroom mycelium (or sometimes simply the mycelium alone). In a future post I will address this, because I am of the opinion that medicinal mushrooms offer us a vast and largely untapped medicinal resource that can improve human health in numerous ways by using both fruiting bodies and mycelium.
Another issue revolves around extraction of the medicinal compounds in these mushrooms. The use of simple heat-extraction (making tea) is ancient and exceedingly safe, but a lot of the research suggests that alcohol extractions (especially on mycelium) can make a different and equally beneficial suite of medicinal compounds bioavailable. This is why many high-quality medicinal mushroom products use both heat extraction and alcohol extraction protocols, and then these extracts are blended so as to confer maximum benefit.
At the end of the day, the medicinal properties of different fungi are well-documented and varied, and many folks have benefited from their use over the millennia even with simple mushroom teas and mushroom-based meals. I do believe that wild mushrooms offer us a particular benefit that may not be so readily available from commercially cultivated stock, to wit, the opportunity to encounter microbial communities that are resident in our ecosystems, which in turn leads to a more robust immune system and microbiome.

…Coming Soon, Medicinal Mushroom Roundup

So yes, now I have convinced myself that I need to write up some posts on gathering, growing, and using medicinal mushrooms. Look out for that soon!

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