The wet weather we’ve been having lately has been a boon for mushrooms. They are growing with abandon all over my park. I love mushrooms, and not just for eating. They are very cool and can do some amazing things. Their primary job is to convert plant, animal, and mineral matter into soil and this includes converting toxins. (Paul Stamets is a mycologist who is raising awareness about fungi and the role they can play in restoring the Earth. To hear him talk about it go here.) Thinking about the role mushrooms play in the environment can help us understand what they can do for us when we take them as medicine.
You’ve probably heard of reishi mushrooms. They are used a lot in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Ling zhi or “Spirit Plant”) but they also grow here in the US. Reishi will work to normalize your immune system, support the detoxification of the liver, and will engage in anti-tumor activity. Reishi is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and calming to the nervous system. It is of particular use if you feel very run down all the time and find yourself getting cold after cold. As it builds topsoil on the earth so it builds your stamina.
Most of the mushrooms that are considered “medicinal” are on the exotic side – reishi, maitake, shitake – but the common white button mushroom and crimini mushrooms have many of the same benefits for us. Take advantage of the bountiful crop at the farmer’s market and eat some every day. They are best cooked – raw mushrooms can be hard to digest.
Fungi were the first complex organisms to grow on Earth preceding plants by millions of years. They are our ancestors and we should pay attention to what they have to tell us. They deserve our respect and if we can work with them we may yet save ourselves and the eco-system we depend on.