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Herbal Ally – Mysterious Mushrooms
As summer nights grow into fall, the forests of upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains teem with magical, mystical, medicinal mushrooms. “Toadstool” is the odd name for many mushrooms that grow during the rains, while “fungus” is a more technical term. Fungi are plants, but plants without flowers or roots or chlorophyll (which makes plants green). Odd shapes (some sexually suggestive), ability to grow (and glow) in the dark, and psychedelic colors make mushrooms an obvious addition to any witch’s stew. But you may need other reasons to make mushrooms a part of your diet. Is it reason enough to take out the cancer?
That is true. All edible fungi – including the common white button mushroom sold in supermarkets – are able to prevent and reverse cancerous cellular changes. We’re not exactly sure why. Perhaps this is because fungi find, concentrate and share with us the minerals we need to build a strong, healthy immune system. Or maybe it’s because of the wealth of polysaccharides—interesting complex sugars that appear to be all-around health-promoters. This may be because mushrooms are an excellent source of protein and B vitamins with low calories and no sodium. Or we can combine the anti-cancer, anti-tumor and anti-bacterial compounds found in the stems, caps, gills and even underground structures (mycelia) of every edible mushroom.
Be sure to cook your mushrooms though; Avoid eating them raw. Scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical School found that mice that ate unlimited amounts of raw mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) over their lifetimes developed significantly more malignant tumors than a control group.
Wherever I go in August and September—whether it be walking barefoot over green mosses, or lightly stepping through deep fragrant pines and hemlock needles; Whether climbing over massive rocky terrain or swamps buzzing with mosquitoes; Whether stalking the muddy banks of a flowing stream or balancing on old stone walls inhaling the scent of religious rot – I’m on the lookout for my fungus friends.
My woods have been especially generous to me with chanterelles, beautiful cornucopia-shaped mushrooms. I have both delicious black ones – jokingly known as “death trumpets” because of their strange color – and very tasty and very large oranges. Sometimes we return home from our mushroom walks naked – if we find more ‘shrooms than bags, we have to use our shirts and pants as carriers to carry dinner home.
The bright orange tops and sulfur yellow undersides of the sulfur shelf mushroom (Polyporus sulfuroides) are easy to spot in the wild in late summer. Growing only on recently dead oak, these covered shelves add a great tasting immune boost to dinner. I have harvested “chicken of the woods” in oak forests around the world. In the Czech Republic, I saw a particularly large example as we drove down a country lane. Upon stopping, I noticed that part of it had been cut off. I only took a share, taking care to leave lots for other mushroom lovers after me.
You don’t have to live in the wild and forage for your own mushrooms to enjoy their health benefits. You can buy it: fresh or dried for use in cooking and medicine; And also tincture or powder. Find chanterelles, ceps, enoki, oyster mushrooms, portobellos, maitake, reishi, shiitake, chaga, and many other exotic and medicinal mushrooms in health food stores, supermarkets, specialty stores, and oriental markets.
Mytake (Grifolia frondosa) is more effective than any other fungus tested in inhibiting tumor growth. It is very effective when taken orally by laboratory mice or humans battling cancer. The fruiting body of the mitke resembles the tail feathers of a small brown chicken, hence its popular name: “Hen of the Woods”. If you buy Mytake in pill form, make sure to get the fruiting body, not the mycelium.
Reishii (Ganoderma lucidum) is one of the world’s most revered immune tonics. Reishii is especially liver friendly, rejuvenating and regenerative. Even occasional consumption builds powerful immunity and reduces the risk of cancer. In clinical studies, the use of reishi increased T-cell and alpha interferon production, shrunk and eliminated tumors, and improved the quality of life of terminal patients. Reishii and shiitake are great partners, the effects of one enhancing the effects of the other. Reishi is taken as a tincture, 20-40 drops, 3 times daily.
Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) is highly medicinal and tastes good when eaten in moderation. I go to an oriental market and buy a big, big, big bag of dried shiitake mushrooms that I could pay for at a health food store. To use, I simply pour boiling water over them or rehydrate them by adding chunks to soup. Those who make shiitake a regular part of their diet increase their production of cancer-fighting alpha interferon, reduce inflammation in their bodies, extend their lifespan and improve their ability to produce and use vitamin D.
Chaga (Innonotus oblicus) is an unsightly and intensely tough fungus found on birch trees. Baba Yaga and other Russian herbalists favor immune nutrition, cancer prevention, and as an aid to those dealing with melanoma.
Mushrooms aren’t just for food and medicine; They are known for their ability to change our perception of reality. The psychoactive psilocybin mushroom was used by Maria Sabina, a famous shaman/healer in Mexico. The red-capped mushroom with white spots next to the witch’s house is the mind-altering Amanita muscaria, sometimes called manna and widely used in Siberian shamanic rites.
Whether you use mushrooms to make mushroom soup or as a remedy for someone battling cancer, stir them in a witch’s cauldron or sew them into a spirit bag, mushrooms offer magic and mystery, good health and happiness. .
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