As summer nights lengthen into fall, the forests of upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains fill with magical, mystical medicinal mushrooms. “Toadstool” is a curious name for the many mushrooms that sprout between rains, while “mushrooms” is the more technical term. Fungi are plants, but plants without flowers or roots or chlorophyll (which makes plants green). Odd shapes (some quite sexually stimulating), the ability to grow (and glow in the dark), and psychedelic colors make mushrooms an obvious addition to any witch’s stew. But you’ll need a few other reasons to make mushrooms a regular part of your diet. Is it reason enough to outsmart cancer?
It’s true. All edible mushrooms — including the common white button mushrooms sold in supermarkets — are able to prevent and reverse cancerous cell changes. We’re not exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s because mushrooms seek out, concentrate, and share with us the trace minerals we need to build a strong, healthy immune system. Or maybe it’s because of their richness in polysaccharides — interesting complex sugars that seem to be all-around health boosters. It could be because mushrooms are excellent sources 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 found in the stalks, caps, gills, and even the underground structures (mycelia) of every edible mushroom.
However, be sure to cook your mushrooms; Avoid eating them raw. Scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical School found that mice that ate unlimited amounts of raw mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) developed significantly more malignant tumors over their lifetime than a control group.
Everywhere I go in August and September – whether I’m walking barefoot on bright green mosses or walking lightly across the deeply scented fallen pine and hemlock needles; whether to climb rocky outcrops adorned with whiskers of ferns or skirt swamps buzzing with gnats; whether I’m following the muddy bank of a meandering stream or balancing on old stone walls and inhaling the smell of righteous rot – I’m in search of my mushroom friends.
My woods are particularly generous to me with chanterelles, beautiful cornucopia-shaped mushrooms with a delicious flavor. I find both the tasty little black ones – jokingly known as the “trumpet of death” because of their sinister coloring – and the very tasty and much larger oranges. Sometimes we return home from our mushroom hikes naked—when we find more mushrooms than we have pockets for, we have to use our shirts and pants as porters to lug dinner home.
The bright orange tips and sulphurous yellow undersides of Sulfur Mushrooms (Polyporus sulphuroides) are easy to spot in the late summer forest. Growing only on recently dead oak trees, these overlapping shelves make a savory, immune-boosting addition to dinner. I have harvested the “chicken of the forest” in oak forests around the world. I saw a particularly large specimen in the Czech Republic when we were driving on a dirt road. When I stopped I found that part of it had been harvested. I only took a portion, making sure to leave plenty for other mushroom lovers who might come down the lane after me.
You don’t have to live in the forest and find your own mushrooms to enjoy their health benefits. You can buy them: fresh or dried for cooking and medicine; and also tinctured or powdered. Look for chanterelles, porcini, enoki, oyster mushrooms, portobello, maitake, reishii, shiitake, chaga and many other exotic and medicinal mushrooms in health food stores, supermarkets, specialty shops and oriental markets.
Maitake (Grifolia frondosa) is more effective at inhibiting tumor growth than any other mushroom ever tested. It is very effective when taken orally, whether by laboratory rats or people dealing with cancer. The fruiting body of the maitake resembles the tail feathers of a small brown chicken, hence the popular name: “hen of the forest”. If you’re buying maitake in tablet form, be sure to get the fruiting body, not the mycelium.
Reishii (Ganoderma lucidum) is one of the most respected immunotonics in the world. Reishii is adaptogenic, revitalizing and regenerating, especially for the liver. Even occasional use builds strong immunity and reduces the risk of cancer. In clinical studies, the use of Reishii increased the production of T cells and alpha interferon, shrank and eliminated tumors, and improved the quality of life in end-stage patients. Reishii and Shiitake make great partners, with the effect of one enhancing the effect of the other. Reishii is best taken as a tincture, 20-40 drops, 3 times a day.
Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) is highly medicinal and tastes good enough to be eaten in large quantities. I go to an oriental market and buy the big, big, big bag of dried shiitake mushrooms for a fraction of what I would pay for it at a health food store. To use them, I simply rehydrate them by dousing them with boiling water or adding pieces to soups. Those who make shiitake a regular part of their diet increase their production of cancer-fighting alpha interferon, reduce inflammation throughout the body, lengthen their lives, and improve their ability to produce and utilize vitamin D.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a rather ugly and extremely hard mushroom found on birch trees. Baba Yaga and other Russian herbalists prefer it as an immune nutrient, cancer prevention, and an aid to people dealing with melanoma.
Mushrooms aren’t just for food and medicine; They are known for their ability to alter our perception 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 next to the witch’s house is the mind-altering Amanita muscaria, sometimes called Manna, and is widely used in Siberian shamanic rites.
Whether you’re using mushrooms to make mushroom soup or as a remedy for someone struggling with cancer, stirring them up in a witch’s cauldron with spiraling power, or sewing them into a spirit pouch, mushrooms offer magic and mystery, good health and good humor .
Thanks to Susun Weed