Mushrooms have been a valuable source of health for humankind since the dawn of time. Medicinal mushrooms are just catching on in the West — and as expected, there’s been lots of inaccurate information. To help remedy this, we’ve prepared guides on mushroom medicine in our blog so that you know just what you’re getting into.
Let’s take a look next at the question “What are medicinal mushrooms?”
Mushrooms have been used for food and medicine for centuries. Compared to plants, which constitute an important part of traditional and modern medicine worldwide, the medicinal use of mushrooms was for a very long time restricted to Asia.
Until recently, medicinal mushrooms were mainly used by ancient medicine practitioners, but this is slowly changing as mycotherapy is quickly gaining popularity in Western countries. So why the sudden interest in medicinal mushrooms — and what are medicinal mushrooms good for?
While it may be tempting to dismiss mushroom medicine as a passing trend, many scientists and medical professionals are increasingly turning to this ancient practice in search of modern health remedies. And while the research into the benefits of medicinal mushrooms is still in its infancy, the preliminary results are promising.
What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?
Mushrooms are recognized worldwide for their rich flavors. Mushrooms contain umami, a flavor considered one of the five core tastes thanks to the presence of the glutamate amino acid. But mushrooms do more than create a savory dish. According to current research, they have numerous health benefits.
Medicinal mushrooms can be defined as macroscopic fungi used to prevent, alleviate or “cure” different ailments. These mushrooms contain a higher density of bioactive compounds than regular edible mushrooms, hence the increased benefits. Medicinal mushrooms are typically used in the form of extracts or powder.
The concept of using mushrooms as medicines is not new. Medicinal mushroom use in traditional Asian medicine goes back thousands of years, where it was used to prevent and alleviate a number of ailments. There are ancient texts dating back to 100 BCE that describe mushrooms and note their ability to cure respiratory and other ailments.
While it is common knowledge that mushrooms and other fungi were used in the past for medicinal purposes, modern medicine only turned to fungi in the 20th century, following the discovery of penicillin in 1928. Now, modern medicine is rediscovering what our ancestors knew about mushrooms.
But can mushrooms be used in medicine? If yes, what are the benefits of medicinal mushrooms?
Are Mushrooms Useful in Modern Medicine?
As mentioned earlier, medicinal mushrooms have been used for thousands of years, particularly in Asia. But can mushrooms as medicine work in modern society? In the US, the answer is still “maybe,” as there’s no mushroom currently approved as a drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, research shows that medicinal mushrooms may have a place in modern-day treatments. In some countries, medicinal mushrooms are used to manage various conditions, including respiratory diseases and cancer.
Medicinal mushrooms have been approved for more than 30 years in Japan and China for use in addition to standard cancer treatments. According to research, medicinal mushrooms have an extensive history of use alone and in combination with chemotherapy or radiation.
Although medicinal mushroom therapies are very popular in Asia, they are still largely unknown in Western countries. However, this is slowly changing as complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) approaches get popular in Europe and the United States.
CIM combines complementary practices – i.e., herbs, mushrooms, probiotics, etc. – with conventional medicine in a coordinated way. The use of mushrooms for health is known as mycotherapy. To answer the question, yes, mushrooms can be used in modern medicine somehow.
Mycotherapy And How Mushrooms Are Used In Medicine
Presently, mushrooms in the United States are mainly used as functional food or dietary supplements, as they are yet to be approved by the FDA as medicine. However, they have the potential to become real drugs in evidence-based medicine.
Mushrooms are already used in traditional medicine, but to become authorized in modern medicine, they have to go through extensive preclinical and clinical trials to identify the benefits, potential risks, etc. Currently, most medicinal mushroom products are only used alongside conventional treatments.
Medicinal mushrooms contain a number of bioactive compounds such as polysaccharides (beta-glucans), alkaloids, lectins, terpenoids, among others. These compounds give medicinal mushrooms their beneficial benefits.
Medicinal mushrooms with these complex compounds have been found in various studies to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, immunomodulating, and other health-beneficial properties.
Extracts from mushrooms as commonplace as Shiitake have been found to possess potential anti-cancer benefits. A 2018 study investigating the efficacy of polysaccharide K immunochemotherapy found that it may promote disease-free survival and improve the quality of life of colon cancer patients.
Another study on Lentinan, a polysaccharide extracted from the Shiitake mushroom, found it effective as an adjuvant therapeutic drug in treating lung cancer patients in China.
Other claimed benefits of medicinal mushrooms include boosting heart health, reducing the risk of diabetes and combating inflammation, among other benefits. Many studies have been conducted on medicinal mushrooms with several compounds, making it through phase I, II, and III clinical studies.
However, despite the mushroom compounds making it through human trials and being used successfully in Asia – and, to some extent, in Europe – in the management of various cancers, not much is known about the potential side effects of mycotherapy.
Types of Medicinal Mushroom Products
Medicinal mushrooms typically aren’t very different from ‘regular’ mushrooms. However, most tend to have a bitter or mud-like taste that may be difficult to mask with other ingredients. This doesn’t mean they can’t be eaten as food; some of them, like Shiitake and Red Reishi, can.
Most medicinal mushroom products are in powder or extract form. Some products may contain a “pure” extracted medicinal mushroom compound, such as Lentinan and other polysaccharides.
Some popular medicinal mushrooms that we at PNW Spore, Co. offer for home growing using spore syringes include:
- Shiitake, “The Fragrant Mushroom”
- Cordyceps, known for its energy-boosting properties
- Turkey Tail
- Red Reishi
Shiitake and Red Reishi can be prepared in culinary recipes, while Turkey Tail and Cordyceps are typically ground to powder.
If you’re interested in studying or growing these gourmet and medicinal mushrooms, head to our online shop for high-quality liquid culture syringes. We have generously filled 10cc syringes for a wide range of medicinal and gourmet mushrooms — including Shiitake, Blue Oyster, Black Morel, Turkey Tail, Red Reishi, and more.
Shop for medicinal mushroom cultures at PNW Spore Co. today and get high-quality products, the best prices in the market, and free shipping on orders over $100!
PNW Spore, Co. is your partner in all things mycology. Get started today!