In China and Japan, some types of edible mushrooms have been used and worshipped for over 3,000 years. They are used both in medicine and in the kitchen for their extraordinary properties. In this post, I would like to mention at least three of them. I have chosen these particular mushrooms because they belong to my favourites and are available outside Asia in fresh or dried form for culinary purposes not just as Dietary Supplements. It is noteworthy that mushrooms, unlike most other ingredients commonly used in cooking, have strong effects. To me, they were always more medicine than food. In other words, it is always necessary to consider who we cook for. Even seemingly plain mushroom soup can help but also harm.
First, I would like to introduce shiitake (Lentinula Edodes) mushrooms (or donggu in Chinese). Dried can be seen in the opening photo. Shiitake mushrooms are of a balanced nature and a sweet taste. They benefit the stomach, spleen and lungs and have positive effects on the immune system. Shiitake are used to treat tumours, especially stomach and uterus and reduce the level of cholesterol and fat in the blood. In the form of ointments, this fungus is used to treat eczema and acne. It can also alleviate allergic symptoms, fatigue, dizziness and frequent colds. They are a natural source of many vitamins and minerals. We must also not forget their antibacterial effects. They have a significant inhibitory effect on Staphylococcus aureus, TB, E-coli, etc.
The first written references to shiitake date back to the year 199 AD. In the 14th century, the famous Chinese physician Wu Jue wrote about it: “it is used in upper respiratory tract illnesses, low blood circulation, liver disease, exhaustion and great weakness. It supports energy and acts against ageing “. In 1969, Japanese Professor Goro Chihahara managed to isolate polysaccharide from this fungus, which showed a clear anti-tumour effect. He gave it a name Lentinan. Unfortunately, it has proven to be too toxic for a separate, longer-term clinical use. Therefore, it is better to use shiitake as a part of the meal, possibly in the form of a Dietary Supplement. However, even so, some people can respond sensitively to this fungus. This fact is necessary to take into account. People who will consume this fungus for the first time should be cautious. I personally never met anyone with an allergic reaction, but you never know. Since this fungus has an anticoagulant effect, people who take blood thinners should also be very careful.
Finally, I would like to share a personal experience with you. From my childhood, I suffer from pollen allergies every spring. I can not say that I would get rid of them completely, but with regular use of shiitake during the pollen season, my problems improved by at least eighty per cent.
Another interesting fungus that I would like to introduce you is Judas’s ear (Auricularia Auricula). This mushroom is really shaped like a human ear. It grows on fallen stems and branches of deciduous trees. Judas’s ear or Jew’s ear owes its name to its shape and rumours that it grew up on the tree where Judas hanged himself after betraying Christ. It is widely used in the kitchen as well as in natural medicine almost for 1500 years. In medieval Europe, because of the dogma of “Theory of Characters”, which was promoted by Paracelsus, Judas’s ear was used for ear diseases. This recommendation is still appearing today in some books on healthy nutrition. Neither traditional nor modern medical studies do not confirm anything like that. Paracelsus was the son of a Swiss pharmacist and alchemist, his full name was Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus of Hohenheim. Paracelsus’s “Theory of Characters” meant in Western medicine a step back. The walnut was used for head injury, Pulmonary Officinalis (lungwort) was used for pulmonary disease, the beans were due to their shape used to treat the kidneys. However, in order not to be unjust to Paracelsus, he brought into the medicine of that time an interesting concept that only the dose differentiates a poison and a remedy. The Ear has a sweet taste and balanced nature. It benefits the stomach, liver and colon. This fungus is used to treat haemorrhoids and their bleeding. It supports immunity, liver and brain activity, promotes heart activity, works against blood clotting. It lowers cholesterol. It should be avoided by pregnant women, those who are trying to conceive and also people who are taking blood thinners. There is some discrepancy in the list of effects. Although it works against blood clotting, it is used in bleeding haemorrhoids. The explanation is not complicated, the fungus supports bowel peristalsis and therefore relieves this kind of problems. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ear is also used for other types of bleeding. (For example, nosebleeds, bloody dysentery, etc.) However, without careful consideration of the patient’s individual problems, I strongly recommend not to use it in these cases.
Photo © Dave Hitchborne (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Another interesting fungus Pleurotus Ostreatus (oyster mushroom) is widespread throughout the world and is mainly used for its ability to lower cholesterol. It is a suitable substitute for meat, in Chinese cuisine is often served with chicken or shrimps. Oyster mushroom helps with the absorption of iron, has antitumor effects, helps in the treatment of liver diseases, is a natural source of minerals and vitamins, acts positively in acne and skin allergies. It works against spasms and problems with the musculoskeletal system (tendons and joints). This mushroom is slightly warm in nature and has a sweet taste, benefits the liver, stomach and spleen. In the concept of Western medicine, the oyster mushroom is successfully used to lower cholesterol and sugar in the blood without lowering insulin levels.
Mushrooms are a fascinating part of traditional medicine. Modern Western research shows that could become a hope for many patients suffering from serious civilization diseases. I would, therefore, like to return to this broad topic in the following posts and introduce you to other mushrooms used in medicine and, of course, a few interesting recipes. For further study, I can also recommend the book Medicinal Mushrooms by Christopher Hobbs.
I would like to say that most mushrooms used for medical purposes are currently available in the form of Dietary Supplements. In their choice, however, is the need to proceed very cautiously. Mushrooms are very specific and sensitive organisms. Therefore strictly sterile conditions must be observed in laboratory cultivation, and their natural environment must be closely imitated. Not all products on the market are of high quality. For my own purposes and practice, I prefer not to experiment and use the products of the British MRL (Mycology Research Laboratories Ltd.) company. They adhere to a very high standard, and I think they are number one on the mushroom diet market. Have a look at their website, you will find there interesting scientific and practical information. You can also purchase their products.
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