Medicinal Mushrooms 101
The use of mushrooms as medicine can be traced back thousands of years in cultures around the world. In China, usage of Ganoderma lucidum (the Reishi mushroom) was first documented around 500 BC. In the Italian Alps region, the frozen body of Otzi (who died approximately 3,300 BC) was found in 1991 carrying Piptoporus betulinus on his tool belt, potentially as a treatment for internal parasites. The Chinese Materia Medica lists dozens of mushrooms used for a range of medical conditions from arthritis and irregular menses to the enhancement of life force (chi) and the treatment of numerous forms of cancer. Modern science has backed up this rich history of anecdotal evidence with countless double-blind human trials and in vitro (lab-based) studies. Much of this modern research comes out of Asian countries. All of this evidence and history has led to a rather extensive (yet still growing) list of medicinal mushrooms and their variety of applications.
Below is a short list of some of the more commonly used and cultivated medicinal mushrooms:
- Agaricus subrufescens – Extracts have antihyperglycemic and anticancer activities.
- Agrocybe aegerita – Extracts have demonstrated anticancer and immunomodulatory activities in vivo.
- Auricularia auricula – Extracts have antihyperglycemic in vivo, and anticancer, anticoagulant, and anticholesterol activities in vitro.
- Coprinus comatus – Extracts have inhibited adenocarcinoma in vitro.
- Cordyceps sinensis – An entomopathogenic mushroom collected on the Tibetan Plateau. The immunosuppressant ciclosporin was originally isolated from Cordyceps subsessilis. The adenosine analog cordycepin was originally isolated from Cordyceps. Other Cordyceps isolates include, cordymin, cordycepsidone, and cordyheptapeptide.
- Flammulina velutipes – Possible applications in the development of vaccines and cancer immunotherapy.
- Ganoderma lucidum – The mushroom with the longest record of medicinal use. It is thought to be useful against a wide variety of ailments.
- Grifola frondosa – Potential anticancer and antihyperglycemic activities. D-fraction, MD-fraction, SX-fraction, and grifolan, are researched isolates of Grifola frondosa.
- Lentinula edodes – Lentinan, AHCC, and eritadenine, are isolates of Lentinula edodes. In 1985 Japan approved lentinan as an adjuvant for gastric cancer. Studies there indicate prolonged survival and improved quality of life when gastric cancer patients with unresectable or recurrent diseases are treated with lentinan in combination with other chemotherapies.
- Pholiota nameko – Has antiinflammatory, immunomodulatory, and hypolipidemic activities.
- Pleurotus eryngii – Extracts have immunomodulatory activities in vitro.
- Pleurotus ostreatus – Extracts show a strong potential as a treatment for high cholesterol. Anticancer and immunomodulatory activities present.
- Sparassis crispa – Has anticancer and immunomodulating activity in vivo.
- Trametes versicolor – Medicinal use of Trametes versicolor was first noted during the Ming Dynasty. PSK (Krestin, polysaccharide-K) and PSP (polysaccharopeptide) are protein-bound polysaccharides isolated from different Trametes versicolor mycelia strains. In Japan, PSK is a commonly prescribed chemotherapy adjunct that is covered by goverment issued health insurance.
Cultivating Medicinal Mushrooms
Growing the medicinal mushrooms follows the same principles and practices used to cultivate edible and remediative fungi (indeed, many of the above species fall into these two categories as well). For many species, one need only cultivate the mycelium instead of going through the difficult and intensive practice of growing the actual fruiting bodies (the mushrooms) of the fungus. While the fruiting bodies of the above species contain medicinal compounds, the mycelium itself may contain significant quantities of the same or similar compounds. Medicinal mushroom capsules sold in stores are often simply comprised of “myceliated brown rice,” literally mycelium that was cheaply grow on brown rice, dried, powdered, encapsulated, then sold for an incredible markup. Better products actually contain powdered fruitbodies. But for the Radical Mycologist, learning to produce your own myceliated brown rice is a cheap, simple, and powerful ability when developing a skill set for self sufficiency and medication.
Growing myceliated brown rice can be accomplished by following the same techniques describes in the Radical Mycology publication Mushroom Cultivation for Remediation (just don’t do the third, sawdust-based, step).
Capsules can then be made from this myceliated brown rice, as demonstrated here.