As summer nights lengthen into autumn, the forests of the Catskill mountains in upstate New York fill with magical, mystical, medicinal mushrooms. “Toadstool” is really a quaint term for the many mushrooms that spring forth between rains, while “fungi” may be the more technical term. Fungi are plants, but plants without flowers or roots or chlorophyll (which makes plants green). Strange shapes (some quite sexually suggestive), the capacity to grow (and glow) in the dark, and psychedelic colors make mushrooms an obvious addition to any witch’s stew. But you will want several other reasons to create mushrooms a regular part of your diet. Is outwitting cancer a good enough reason?
It’s true. All edible fungi – including those ordinary white button mushrooms sold in supermarkets – can handle preventing and reversing cancerous cellular changes. We aren’t exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s because fungi search out, concentrate, and tell us the trace minerals we must build powerful, healthy immune systems. Or simply it’s due to their wealth of polysaccharides – interesting complex sugars that appear to be over-all health-promoters. Maybe it’s because mushrooms are excellent resources of protein and B vitamins with few calories and no sodium. Or we could single out the anti-cancer, anti-tumor, and anti-bacterial compounds present in the stalk, caps, gills, and even the underground structures (mycelia) of each edible mushroom.
Make sure to cook your mushrooms though; avoid eating them raw. Scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical School found that mice who ate unlimited amounts of raw mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) developed, over the course of these lifetimes, now more malignant tumors than the usual control group.
Everywhere I go in August and September – whether walking barefoot on vibrant green mosses or stepping lightly across the deeply-scented fallen pine and hemlock needles; whether climbing rocky outcrops festooned with ferny whiskers or skirting swamps humming with mosquitoes; whether following a muddy bank of a meandering stream or balancing on old stone walls inhaling the scent of righteous rot – I’m looking for my fungi friends.
My woods are specifically generous in my experience withchanterelles, beautiful cornucopia-shaped mushrooms with a delectable taste. I find both delicious little black ones – jokingly called “trumpet of death” for their eerie coloration – and the tasty and much bigger orange ones. Sometimes we return home naked from our mushrooms walks – if we find more ‘shrooms than we’ve bags for, we’ve to make use of our shirts and pants as carriers to help haul dinner home.
The bright orange tops and sulfur yellow undersides of sulphur shelf mushrooms (Polyporus sulphuroides) are easy to identify in the late summer forest. Growing only on recently-dead oaks, these overlapping shelves produce a great-tasting immune-enhancing addition to dinner wavy bar mushrooms. I have harvested the “chicken of the woods” in oak forests round the world. In the Czech Republic, I saw an especially large example once we drove a country lane. Stopping, I came across a part of it have been harvested. I took just a share, being careful to leave lots for other mushroom lovers who might come down the lane after me.
You don’t have to live in the woods and find your own personal mushrooms to savor their health-giving benefits. You should buy them: fresh or dried for use within cooking and medicine; and tinctured or powdered as well. Look for chanterelles, cepes, enoki, oyster mushrooms, portobellos, maitake, reishii, shiitake, chaga, and many other exotic and medicinal mushrooms in health food stores, supermarkets, specialty stores, and Oriental markets.
Maitake(Grifolia frondosa) is more efficient than any fungi ever tested at inhibiting tumor growth. It is very effective when taken orally, whether by lab rats or humans working with cancer. The fruiting body of the maitake resembles the tail feathers of a small brown chicken, hence its popular name: “Hen of the Woods” ;.If you purchase maitake in pill form, make sure to get the fruiting body, not the mycelium.
Reishii (Ganoderma lucidum) is one of the very respected immune tonics in the world. Reishii is adaptogenic, revitalizing, and regenerative, especially to the liver. Even occasional use builds powerful immunity and reduces the chance of cancer. In clinical studies, usage of reishii increased T-cell and alpha interferon production, shrank and eliminated tumors, and improved the quality of life for terminal patients. Reishii and shiitake are great partners, the consequences of one enhancing the consequences of the other. Reishii is most beneficial taken as a tincture, 20-40 drops, 3 times daily.
Shiitake(Lentinus edodes) is highly medicinal and tastes good enough to consume in quantity. I visit an oriental market and choose the big, big, big bag of dried shiitake mushrooms for a portion of what I would pay for them in a health food store. To use, I recently rehydrate them by pouring boiling water over them or by dropping pieces into soups. Those who make shiitake a regular part of these diets increase their production of cancer-fighting alpha interferon, reduce inflammation throughout their health, prolong their lives, and improve their ability to produce and utilize vitamin D.
Chaga(Inonotus obliquus) is really a rather ugly and intensely hard fungi found on birch trees. Baba Yaga and other Russian herbalists favor it as an immune nourisher, cancer preventive, and an aid to those working with melanomas.
Mushrooms are not just for food and medicine; they are renowned due to their ability to improve our perceptions of reality. Psychoactive psilocybin mushrooms were used by the famous shaman/healer Maria Sabina in Mexico. The red-capped mushroom with white dots usually drawn close to the witch’s house may be the mind-altering Amanita muscaria, sometimes called manna, and widely found in Siberian shamanic rites.
Whether you utilize fungi to produce a mushroom soup or as a solution for someone working with cancer, whether you stir them up in a witch’s cauldron of spiraling power or sew them into a spirit bag, mushrooms offer magic and mystery, good health and good cheer.