There are over 2,000 species of edible mushrooms on the planet, though most people can name just a handful. While we do love cooking with them, mushrooms are more than just delicious ingredients for umami-rich dishes. In Eastern medicine mushrooms have been used for centuries as curatives.
Now the West is catching on and turning to our friends in the fungi kingdom for medicinal purposes. You may have noticed mushrooms showing up in dietary supplements, tea, coffee, and extracts recently. This early rush to market mushrooms as superfoods with health benefits is just the beginning of a new era for fungi.
Although there are relatively few human trials, lab experiments show all kinds of promising mushroom benefits, from killing cancer in human cells to reducing insulin resistance in diabetic mice.
The components in mushrooms that are so promising include dozens of nutrients like selenium, vitamin D, potassium and compounds known as beta glucans, which can help fight inflammation in the body. It is increasingly recognized that chronic inflammation can contribute to many diseases associated with aging, such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.
While it’s too soon to draw conclusions about how mushrooms and their extracts might work on a wide range of people, the studies continue. This NPR story on mushrooms as medicine offers cautious hope for the future.
While the studies go on, we will continue to enjoy eating mushrooms simply because they are so tasty. D’Artagnan offers a range of wild, foraged and organic, cultivated mushrooms, including shiitake and maitake, and many mushroom recipes for your edible enjoyment.
One particularly beautiful mushroom, Grifola frondosa, also known as maitake or hen-of-the-woods, appears to help improve the immune system in some cancer patients and has reduced blood glucose levels in rats.