As herbalists we immerse ourselves fully and whole heatedly into the world of plant medicine and its complex healing potential. Mushrooms are something we learn about and revere, but often with caution and hesitation. Their complexity and amassment can seem daunting and overwhelming at times and can cause us to overlook these invaluable medicines. In a world where our immune systems are bombarded and overwhelmed on a daily basis, never has it been more important to dive into the use of mushrooms as medicine.
Although mushrooms feel like a foreign entity, ironically, they have journeyed beside us all along. One of the oldest known organisms on earth, they dominate in species numbers up to 10,000 and span unfathomable mileage as they grow in complex mycelial networks below our feet. They spy on us from trees while they spit spores into the air so inconspicuously yet intentionally at numbers that would astound you. It is one of the many heartbeats of nature, sharing an alarming number of genetic similarities to you. They don’t just adorn your pepperoni pizza and attempt to pass as a vegetable… mushrooms are more complex and intelligent than you could ever imagine.
So why are we becoming so aware of our fungal companions? Psilocybin is being toted as a powerful tool to treat a wide range of ailments, from PTSD to depression making it hard to ignore. But this is only one mushroom, one drop in the bucket of so many unique and powerful fungal allies.
You may be familiar with some of the other top contenders; Reishi, Lions Mane, Cordyceps, Maiitake, Shiitake, Turkey Tail, Chaga, Morels, Chanterelles and Oyster mushrooms (to name a few.) Yes its true some mushrooms are more buzzworthy and trendy. This is because research and cultural uses have gravitated towards the most well known and medicinal species.
Although we are still on the cusp of understanding how mushrooms interact with the human body, much of the research focuses on constituents called “Beta-glucans.” Beta-glucans appear to dance with our innate immune mechanisms in a way that orchestrates a variety of healing or ever so gently guides our body in its own healing processes. Think of beta-glucans as a pesky parent telling you to clean up your room and pointing out what needs to be cleaned. That’s sort of how they function in the human body; they tell our immune systems what to start cleaning up and what to become aware of (with a swift kick in the butt.) Each mushroom contains different fungal beta-glucans, unique in their directive and intentions in the body. This means that different mushrooms may be more fitting to certain people or conditions.
Lions Mane Mushroom (for example) has been researched for its role in cognitive health, memory and treatment of dementia. Turkey Tail Mushroom contains certain constituents that are used as a standard treatment for people in Japan who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. Shiitake mushroom has been researched to be anti-tumour and anti-viral (with a staggering ability to support the host in its defence.) These are just small examples of why mushrooms are gaining attention. In a world where cancer impacts so many individuals, having a natural substance with limited side effects (if any) on your side is worth taking note.
There are a few important points to take into consideration before using this beautiful and powerful medicine.
Firstly, not all mushrooms supplements are made equally. Unfortunately, when it comes to mushrooms powders or capsules, you get what you pay for. Looking for companies that provide sustainable and organic harvesting and test for beta-glucan content is an important process. Furthermore, if you choose to harvest your own mushrooms, please do so in a sustainable fashion and always leave more than 2/3 of the source.
Secondly, “not all medicine is medicine for everyone.” This means simply that mushrooms are not necessary for every person to take on a daily basis. They do however support the body in times of stress, lowered immunity, or where a history of cancer or chronic illness is present.
If you want to begin to reap the benefits of mushrooms today, a great way to start is by cooking with organic mushrooms you purchase in the store. Look for Shiitake mushrooms, Morels or Chanterelles and add them to your favourite dishes. Cooked is always better when it comes to mushrooms and trusting the source is also massively important. Lastly, when you find yourself out for a walk in the woods look up… observe the way mushrooms grow on trees or on roadsides, or creek beds or cracks in the concrete. They grow in families with strength and endurance in even the most adverse conditions.
If you are like me and are interested in learning more about mushrooms and benefiting from their medicinal gifts, the ladies at Thrive Custom Herbals are a great source of information and offer beautiful products. Located on the west coast of Canada in British Colombia, you can access their website at: www.thrivecustomherbals.com and if you get to see them in person make sure you give them a big hug for me!
Sending Love and Light
Lisa Marie Holmes