Medicinal mushrooms are gaining an ever-wider popularity, largely due to the growing number of scientific studies investigating their benefits to immune health and overall wellness.
Both laboratory analysis and human clinical studies have found a number of compounds in fungi can stimulate immune health. In particular, compounds called polysaccharides. These large, branched chain-like molecules have been intensively studied since the 1950s for their immune system benefits. Beta-glucans are polysaccharides found in mushrooms that are known for their ability to activate the immune system. B-glucans may also support healthy cholesterol levels within the normal range and aid in wound healing.
Did you know that about 60 percent of our body’s immune tissue occurs in the gut? Immune sensors have been found there that can “recognize” the large polysaccharides that occur in all species of mushrooms. This knowledge has led scientists to conclude that ingesting various mushrooms and mushroom extracts can lead to a vigorous immune response in many cases.
Mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Until the twentieth century, however, medicinal mushrooms found limited use in the United States. In 1928, Western science developed one of the most powerful infection-fighting agents – penicillin – from a fungus and today, major pharmaceutical companies worldwide have mycologists (scientists who specialize in fungi) on staff actively extracting and looking for marketable compounds.
Medicinal mushrooms can be used on a daily basis to support immune health and a long and healthy life. Let’s take a closer look at the most-studied medicinal mushroom today: Trametes versicolor, also known as turkey tail.
Turkey Tail: The Most-Studied Medicinal Mushroom
This common denizen of the woods is true to its name, as the multi-colored cap resembles turkey tails. Its fan-shaped fruiting bodies grow in overlapping clusters on dead logs. The top is zoned, usually in shades of brown, white, grey, or blue (though this is variable), and it sports hairy bands. The underside of the cap is white and shows minute pores which do not discolor after scratching.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, T. versicolor is used to clear dampness, reduce phlegm, strengthen the physique, increase energy, and benefit general health. In Japan, a preparation of turkey tail is used as a health food. Modern laboratory tests indicate that turkey tail supports healthy cholesterol levels in the normal range and may also strengthen immune health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides ongoing funding for studies of turkey tail to examine its effects on immune health.
The pharmacological activity of turkey tail may be due to the protein-bound polysaccharide PSK. In clinical studies, PSK has demonstrated effects on immune health, cholesterol levels and in addressing inflammation.
Cooking with Mushrooms: Try Grilling!
Although turkey tails aren’t especially tasty, when cooking, there are many delicious mushrooms to choose for their culinary appeal as well as the health benefits they provide. The shiitake is now commonly found in grocery and natural health food stores and it is especially tasty and easy to prepare. In the past, as in the present, shiitake was used for any and all conditions where immune health needs a boost.
Now that warmer weather is on the horizon, try this delicious grilled shiitake dish!
Recipe from Christopher Hobbs
- 3 ½ oz. shiitake mushrooms (about 10)
- ¼ cup virgin olive oil (preferably organic)
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 ¼ teaspoons dried thyme leaves, crushed
- 1/8 teaspoon earth salt or sea salt (contains other minerals besides sodium)
- 1 1/4 cups zucchini sliced ¾-inch thick
- 1/2 cup sweet red bell pepper cut in 1-inch squares
- ½ block firm tofu (optional)
- 1/2 cup yellow bell pepper cut in 1-inch squares
Prepare outdoor grill or preheat broiler. Cut the stems from Shiitake Mushrooms; quarter mushroom caps; set aside. In a small saucepan place olive oil and balsamic vinegar (mix well before using), thyme and salt; heat and stir until flavors blend, about 1 minute. On skewers spear the mushrooms mixed with zucchini and red and yellow peppers. Brush with olive oil mixture and roast or grill about 3 inches from heat source. Cook by turning skewers frequently until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.
Statements made here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.