Medicinal Mushrooms A Selective Overview*

Chris D. Meletis, N.D., and Jason E. Barker, N.D.

Most people, if they think about mushrooms at all, consider them a food with no particular value beyond taste. As a significant source of protein, fiber, several minerals, B vitamins, and ascorbic acid, mushrooms are actually a healthy addition to the diet. They also have uses beyond nutrition, having numerous medicinal qualities. A large body of work details the health benefits of mushrooms. There is even a journal that specializes in mushroom use in medicine, the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms.

Recent interest in the medicinal qualities of mushrooms has paralleled the rise in widespread commercial cultivation of these useful fungi. Their production and sales in the year 1999 totaled 18 billion dollars, an amount similar to that of coffee sales worldwide. 1 However, the use of fungi for medicinal purposes predates modern cultivation and scientific interest by thousands of years. In traditional Eastern medicine, mushrooms were used to treat diseases, increase longevity, and cleanse the mind and spirit. 2 Modern investigations into the medicinal effects of mushrooms began in the late 1960s. 3
Science continues to reveal the efficacy of mushrooms, and new uses for them will undoubtedly be discovered.

Among the 38,000 species of mushrooms, four are especially important to our current natural medicine pharmacopoeia. Cordyceps or DongChongXiaCao (Cordyceps sinensis), maitake (Grifola frondosa) , reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) , and coriolus or turkey tail (Coriolus versicolor) are used as antioxidants, vascular support agents, immune-system enhancers, and anti-inflammatory agents.

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