Even though I’ve never been a fan of the taste or texture of mushrooms, the fungal kingdom has always fascinated me. Years ago I read about Terence McKenna’s book, Food of the Gods and I’ve been devouring information about mushrooms ever since. As famous mycologist Paul Stamets points out, the mushrooms are our elders. They are truly ancient organisms. In fact, the oldest multicellular organism in the fossil record today is a mushroom, and it has been dated to 1.4 billion years. Just as a point of reference, that’s a full BILLION years before anything even remotely human showed up on this planet. Just let that sink in for a second. Imagine the wisdom that a species that’s been here for 1.4 billion years must have. Stamets dreams of a day when we will be able to interface with these fungal teachers, and I personally feel that that day can’t come soon enough. Mushrooms seem to benefit and heal our species on every level, most importantly, spiritually and physically.
My top 3 reasons to consume mushrooms regularly:
Loaded with antioxidants
Mushrooms are generally high in antioxidant value. Antioxidants are compounds that help prevent the oxidization of our cells. Oxidation has been associated with numerous health concerns, but just to name a few at random: heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, inflammation, asthma, and even infertility. The more that we can protect our cells from this process, the better. One mushroom in particular, Chaga, has the highest known antioxidant value of any food that we know of!
The medicinal mushrooms play an important role in immune health. Whether your immune system is under-functioning (chronic colds and flus, slow recovery time from infections, recurring infections) or over-functioning (autoimmunity), the mushrooms will be beneficial. Many of them are immuno-modulators, meaning that they come in and help your immune system to find a better balance, whether that means strengthening or subduing your immune system.
Cool fact: If you forage your own mushrooms, leave them in the sun with their gills up for a day or two, and they will absorb a ton of vitamin D. They will essentially become little vitamin D bombs!
Helps us manage stress
Many mushrooms function as adaptogens. If this is a new term for you, the short version is that an adaptogen is anything that helps our body to adapt to stress. We all face multiple stresses in our daily lives, whether they are biological, social, financial, or otherwise. If stress is not properly managed and minimized, it can create imbalances that will eventually lead to health problems. The mushrooms help our bodies cope with stress in the long-term.
As you know, I believe that local (and wild) food is always going to be better for us than food from environments that are not our own. Some of the medicinal mushrooms that grow right here in Ontario are the following:
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum and tsugae)
Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor)
Artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum)
Maitake (Grifolia frondosa)
Other local mushrooms that have plenty of medicine but aren’t strictly categorized as medicinal:
Chicken of the woods
How to Consume them:
There are endless ways to consume mushrooms! If you like the taste, you can include them in your meals in any number of ways. For those of you who, like me, can’t stand the taste, the best way to go is to find a company that you like and trust who produces mushroom powders. Once you’ve got that, you can try any of the following:
Mushroom hot chocolate: find a good quality drinking chocolate and add about 1tsp of dried mushroom powder
Making capsules: you can make these yourself or simply buy mushroom capsules from a trusted source
If you have whole mushrooms, chunks or slices:
Use them in soups and stocks. This is one of my favourite ways of incorporating mushrooms on a regular basis
Infusions: this is basically a tea that is steeped for 4-48 hours. I especially like to use chaga this way because the flavour is gentle, earthy and even a little bit like vanilla.
As always, look for organic and non-gmo.
By the way: If you’re interested in a fascinating discussion about all things fungal, Paul Stamets on the Joe Rogan podcast is pretty awesome. You can find a link to that interview: here