As a healthcare practitioner I am enamored with mushrooms.
For thousands of years they have provided nourishment and medicine around the world. As a general rule, mushrooms are rich sources of trace minerals such as copper, zinc, potassium and phosphorous. They also are rich in something called “ergothioneines,” which has antioxidant activity.
Nerve growth stimulators in mushrooms such as lion’s mane, Hericium erinaceus, boost brain function and nerve healing. Many mushrooms also sport antimicrobial compounds which assist our defense against viruses.
Mushrooms also offer a generous serving of protein. The oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, has one of the most digestible vegan sources of protein as well as one of the richest vegetarian sources of B-vitamins.
While medicinal mushrooms have been used in Japan and China for close to seven thousand years, their medicinal powers came into the international limelight when the scientific community discovered the presence of beta-glucans, triple helix polysaccharides which activate the immune system. Maitake, Grifola frondosa, was one of the first mushrooms studied for anti-cancer activity, and the water-soluble polysaccharides, 1,3 beta D-glucans, have been found to stimulate cytokine production by macrophages as will as tumor-necrosis factors. Both of these immune enhancements implicate that maitake, as well as other mushrooms such as turkey tail and shiitake, could play a potent role in cancer treatment and prevention.
Paul Stamets recently wrote about using mushrooms as a dietary source of vitamin D. In a recent blog post he describes how to make your own homemade vitamin D supplement by exposing mushrooms to sunlight. Mushrooms such as shiitake and maitake provide the vitamin D precursor ergosterol, which converts to ergocalciferols, also called provitamin D2 when exposed to UV light. Drying shiitake mushrooms, gills up, in the summer sun for two days can pump up the vitamin D stores in this delicious food. Sun-treated shiitakes can be stored and used during the fall winter and spring to boost dietary vitamin D2. While vitamin D supplements offer vitamin D3, which can last longer in the blood stream, vitamin D2, if consumed regularly, boosts immunity equally. Store-bought vitamin D supplements are derived from sheep or pig skins, or cold water fish. Mushrooms offer a more sustainable vegan alternative. Additionally, since mushrooms provide so many nutrients, it makes sense that this might be better way to supplement vitamin D.