Updated: Apr 14, 2021
Quote by Phaedrus, photo by Brainy Quotes.
Just like this quote states, not all appearances are the same and the first one can always be deceiving. As this deception of appearance can occur in many aspects of life, it is one that the CF individual knows about quite well. As a individual who is diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, most of us look healthy usually, but if you could see the inside of our bodies or walk in our shoes for a day, it would tell a very different story. The same can be said, about what I would call one of mother nature's amazing biological phenomenon's, the mushroom which is part of the "Fungi Kingdom". This vast kingdom carries a wide variety of mushroom species and even if some may appear to look the same, they definitely may not be the same. Looks can be deceiving, so I always say " don't be quick too judge, as we do not have the pleasure of walking in other people's shoes."
In this blog, I will not be talking about mistaken identity, but I will be discussing those mushrooms that are considered medicinal and have been used by our ancestors and indigenous tribes for thousands of years to help ward off sickness and support our bodies systems internally; and that of which have had many judgements, mistaken identities, and a long controversy of the health benefits these fungi contain.
So let's dive right in, because I can't wait to tell you all about the amazing things I have learned about mushrooms over the years! I began loving mushrooms when I was a child. I would go on hunting trips with my dad and siblings to these amazing parts of the forest where I could run, climb trees, and get dirty! Being in nature has always been one of my favorite things and brings me great peace and serenity. The fresh air, the adventure, the beauty, and for me a place where my curiosity could go wild, I could EXPLORE and for a science girl I was in heaven. Now these were not your typical hunting adventures, no guns and killing involved in this hunting, but we would go for what my family called the Spring Gold mine, as we would go to hunt for the precious Morel mushrooms, these wonderfully delicious golden mushrooms that love to grow in forested areas in early spring as the ground begins to warm and near hard wood trees like ash or elm. It was these forest mushroom hunting adventures that my family and I loved to compete for who could find the most morels and what peaked my curiosity to explore other varieties of delicious mushrooms. As I grew up, I learned more about the biology behind how mushrooms grew, what mushrooms are great culinary delights, and what species are great for the magic of medicinal medicines.
Shroom Anatomy 101:
The classic mushroom is classified under the Fungi kingdom, and is one of the six scientific classifications used to identify all the species on the earth, its very large and contains many diverse species of mushrooms, yeasts, and molds. The characteristics that fungi posses that provided it with it's own kingdom classification and differs from that of the plant kingdom is they do not photosynthesis, there cell walls contain "Chitin", and they are heterotrophs; which allows them to consume their food by secreting digestive enzymes to absorb dissolved materials instead of using photosynthesis to make their own food.
There are five main phylums within the fungi kingdom; Basidiomycota, Ascomycota, Glomeromycota, Zygomycota, and Chytridiomycota which all contain a wide variety of different species of mushrooms. I want to discuss particularly those species that have been used for and researched as being medicinal to boosting human health in a variety of ways. First, let's learn about the parts of what makes a mushroom a mushroom, so you have a better idea of what you are looking for when out foraging the forests of nature.
Fungi began life in the sea as many of earths species did and moved from the sea to land about 1.3 billion years ago. There is a part of the fungi kingdom that is connected to the Animal kingdom and our DNA, contains 30-50% of the DNA of mushrooms and 80-85% of our ribosomal DNA is the same, mainly the parts where both humans and mushrooms have the ability to synthesize proteins making it easier for us to heal, eat, and thrive. These early Mushroom species used to break down rocks for food which eventually became our rich soils. Mushrooms don't make their own food, instead they play a symbiotic roll in the environment by secreting digestive enzymes that break down dead or decaying organic and inorganic materials to survive. There are even species of mushrooms like Oyster mushrooms that can break down toxins in the environment to products that are organic again and beneficial to nature instead of detrimental like diesel fuel, radiation molecules, plastics, and chemical warfare toxins. I like to call them nature's vacuum cleaners, as they feed, they enrich the environment with the necessities to bring forth new clean life.
Mushrooms are made up of many types of polysaccharides, the most of which are known as Betaglucans which is a soluble dietary fiber, found in many different foods that help support heart and immunity health as well as several other health benefits from anything as diabetes, lowering cholesterol, Aids, and Cancer. Hence the reason fungi are also widely used in the production of many antibiotics used today, one known antibiotic being penicillin. The Mushroom it self contains three different parts to it's basic structure, the mycelium, the fruiting body, and the spore. If you think of the mushroom like a apple tree, the mycelium would be the roots and the trunk of the tree, the fruiting body would be the apple, and the spores would be the apple seeds. The beauty of the mushroom species is that of the vastness of the mycelium of a mushroom, 25% of the earth's biomass is made up of mushroom mycelium. If you were to go foraging for mushrooms you would not be looking for the mycelium as this grows under the soil like the roots of a tree, but you would be looking for the fruiting body of the mushroom which contains the millions of tiny spores. The spores of the mushroom are how fungi reproduce sexually or asexually by traveling via wind or hitching a ride on animals and humans. The mycelium grow substantially underground and collecting the fruiting bodies will not cause the mushroom to die or disrupt the ecosystem as it is the fruit of the mushroom tree you could say and a delicious one at that. It is this fruiting body or what we commonly distinguish as the mushroom that is used as the medicinal part of the mushroom and holds the abundance of health benefits.
The Magic of Medicinal Mushrooms:
Most of the common medicinal mushrooms grow on dead or decaying trees; and the culinary mushroom delights and commonly mistaken poisonous mushrooms grow on the ground. That is why it is wise to always consult a mycologist or check out your local mycology association to forage with so you have someone who knows and can identify the mushroom species well before consuming them if you are wild harvesting these and are just starting to learn about mushroom identification.
The top Five most common medicinal mushrooms are Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, and Lion's mane. There are also amazing benefits found in many of the culinary mushroom delights known as Shitake, Maitake, Crimini, and Oyster, but more of that to come in my next blog.
Reishi Mushrooms growing on substrate.
The Queen of medicinal mushrooms is Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). This mushroom grows on hemlock trees and has many different species ranging in a variety of different colors from black, purple, or brown. This mushroom is good to drink in the evening as it is very grounding, calming, and supports better sleep. It was thought of in ancient times as the immortality herb and is antibacterial, antiviral, and a great adaptagen for energy and immunity support. It has anti-histimine properties that help with allergic reactions and can assist the body in cleansing the liver and the body of candida, a pathogenic yeast. This mushroom I believe has helped me with CF by increasing my immunity and helping to control the candida in my gut that accumulates from the ongoing use of antibiotics. It helps to clear the liver as well of toxins which is an added bonus for assisting the CF person as we do not detox well and any added support to eliminate harming toxins from our body and environment provides for stronger immunity against infections and better digestion.
The next wonderful mushroom is known as the King of medicinal mushrooms or Chaga. This mushroom grows on a variety of hard wood trees, but the best medicinal benefits are found from Chaga that is grown on Birch trees. This mushroom is not your typical polypore looking fruiting body as a typical mushroom would like like, but rather a large black knot growing out of the tree, which if broken off would be a dark brown on the inside. This mushroom king is like a force field in a cup against pathogens because it contains Betalyn acid which fights against the common cold and flus. It is loaded with antioxidants, potassium, Iron, minerals, and a property known as Melanin. Melanin is found in skin, hair, and eyes and supports these structures. The best use of Chaga I have experienced for a CF person is for the anti-inflammatory properties and the large amounts of antioxidants that help support and fight off infection.
One of the most fascinating medicinal mushrooms and one of my favorites that I have found supports CF very well is Cordyceps. This fungi is very different from other mushrooms and in nature normally grows on insects. This mushroom was discovered by ancient highlanders that lived high in the mountains, who would use yaks to carry their heavy loads up the mountain. These yaks would eat the fungus off these insects and the highlanders found that the yaks would have increased energy. They wondered if it would be the same if they consumed the mushrooms and they soon found out that it had the same affect. Due to this the Cordyceps mushroom has been researched and it has been found to help the cells of the body to increase the amount of oxygen the cells take in by 15% increasing the ATP energy production of the cells in the body. This mushroom has been widely used by athletes to increase lung capacity and endurance for training. This mushroom is typically grown vegan now on grain substrates and provides great support to the lungs, adrenals, and cellular respiration for our cells or what we know as energy production! A great support to CF in my experience.
The next wonderful medicinal mushroom that is widely used and found in many supplements is Lion's mane (Hericium Erinaceus). This mushroom normally grows on trees in North America. This amazing mushroom resembles that of a lion's mane in characteristic, but packs a large dose of benefits for increasing cognitive function. It contains a unique utropic that is able to regenerate nerve growth factors in the brain and penetrates the blood-brain barrier which can be a great support to nervous system damage. This mushroom also is known to increase memory, concentration, and increase cognitive function. Although this mushroom is not directly linked to body systems that CF are affected by primarily, I believe it to be a great support for focus, mental clarity as well as supporting the delicate nerve endings within our gut, lungs, and throughout the body and potentially repair them. I can't say that the nerve endings have been repaired myself, but I can say I have felt the effects that this amazing mushroom does for cognitive function and clarity as well as less diabetic nerve pain in my feet. There are many studies being done on how lion's mane and other medicinal mushrooms may help against neural degenerative disorders if taken on a daily basis. You can find one great study I read here.
Lions Mane mushroom
The last of the top five is the Turkey tail mushroom. This mushroom has a wide variety of colors and resembles that of a turkey's tail and it's latin name means many colors. This mushroom contains one amazing polysaccharide called Krestine and is gaining great popularity in research against cancer. Polysaccharide Krestine (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) are used in regenerating white blood cells and bone marrow. Making this mushroom a great asset for immunity support and restoring joints. These mushrooms like to grow on hardwood decaying trees and are very easily found when foraging. There also are not any identical mushrooms or any poisonous mushrooms like it, so it can not be mis-identified. Again this mushroom is not directly associated with any of the CF body systems, but I use it as a immunity booster and enjoy making teas of this mushroom.
How to prepare medicinal Mushrooms:
All of these mushrooms have been used by our ancestors and shamans for thousands of years as medicinal herbal medicines to support overall health. There are many studies being done on the health benefits of these mushrooms and they are growing in popularity. When wanting to familiarize yourself with using these medicinal mushrooms there are two main ways to use and prepare these medicinal mushrooms. None of these mushrooms should be eaten raw and should always be cooked.
If you will be growing or foraging these yourself you will need to wash and chop them first. Then there are two ways to extract the medicinal properties within these mushrooms, by either boiling the mushrooms in water for 2-3 hours to make a decoction or by making a tincture.
A tincture is made after you have made the decoction, you then take the cooked pieces of mushroom and place them in a dropper tincture bottle along with pure 95% proof or higher vodka or brandy. The decoction extraction will remove the water soluble compounds within the mushroom along with removing any toxins; and the tincture extraction will allow the fat-soluble compounds to be extracted from the mushroom. Tinctures should be left in a dry warm spot for several months to extract out all the wonderful medicinal properties of these mushrooms. Decoctions should be placed in the fridge and drank as a cold or hot tea within 2-3 days.
Turkey Tail mushroom
Most of these medicinal mushrooms can also be found in capsule form as supplements, but you want to ensure the source of the mushrooms are grown on non-GMO grains, and that they are using the fruiting body in the capsules as this will contain more of the medicinal properties than the more common supplement source of these products being the mycelium. In most of these mycelium supplement products you are only getting a small percentage, about 2 %, of the active medicinal properties of the mushroom and more of the grain substrate it is grown on. Make sure to check labels and if you can take a look at the capsules themselves it is a good idea. If the capsule is darker in color this means the fruiting body was most likely used as with lighter colored capsules it is more likely to be the mycelium that was used to make the product. You can also taste the powder within the capsules and you may be able to tell the difference. The fruiting body capsules should taste more bitter and the mycelium capsules will have more of a starchy sweet taste from the grain substrate. Overall, they have a wide variety of different medicinal mushroom products out there including capsules, tinctures, and blends of mushroom powders. I suggest doing your research on potential products or brands before buying as most of these supplements are not that cheap. So, if you live in a place with plenty of woody forests to forage or have a backyard where you could grow some of your own mushrooms on old cut down stumps, I say go for it! It will save you money in the long run as well as provide a awesome hobby on the side that let's you connect with our beautiful mother earth and slow down for a bit while providing a wealth of essential health benefits for years to come.
Resources and Updates:
If you are interested in learning more, or looking for information on creating your own mushroom extractions then look no further than the awesome Mushroom academy, given by foursigmatic.com, you can find it here. It is a wealth of awesome free knowledge and was my main resource for this blog. There are also some amazing medicinal mushroom and herbal books that will provide a wealth of knowledge on mushroom identification, making herbal medicines and tinctures, and even assist in growing mushrooms. There are also amazing podcasts and Ted talks on the power of the mushroom. A couple of my favorite Ted talks on mushrooms is this one by Jae Rhim Lee and this one by Paul Stamets. If you are just getting started on learning about medicinal mushrooms or know all about them, I would love to hear what benefits they have provided you or any great recipes, tips, or comments you may have in the comment section below.
I have just begun my herbal and plant medicine journey and have already learned a wealth of knowledge on herbal medicines good for Cystic Fibrosis. I am continuing my studies this next couple months to include learning about all of the native local herbal medicine plants Hawaii has to offer and I am very excited to take this course with Sage Maurer at the Gaia School of Healing (http://www.thegreenwoman.com/). 2019 is the beginning of a new beautiful year of change, learning, growth, and the start to my herbalist adventure. With this knowledge and certification I hope to begin to incorporate herbal medicine into the Cystic Fibrosis community as another complimentary way to heal ourselves along with Western medicine to create balance within every Cystic Fibrosis individuals body, mind, and spirit.
Please visit my website for more information on my upcoming projects, herbal medicine recipes, and stay tuned for my next blog on the fantastic health benefits of the many culinary mushroom delights that can help benefit your health as well.
I am also working on many new Cystic Fibrosis herbal medicine tincture blends, a medicinal mushroom blend with cocoa, more CF natural T-shirt designs, and other awesome products for the launch of our online store. Don't miss out, and subscribe today to be added to our email list here. I look forward to learning, growing, and healing together.
With much Aloha and Gratitude,