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Mushrooms with healing effects
Ever since the discovery of penicillin, it has been clear to everyone that there are some medicinally valuable types of mushroom in the realm of mushrooms. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in particular, in which many plant roots and tree bark are used, knows a whole host of healing mushrooms, some of which are still completely unknown in Europe. In the following article we would therefore like to take a closer look at some medicinal mushrooms.
What is the difference between medicinal mushrooms and medicinal plants?
When defining the mushroom types, many laypeople make the mistake and calculate mushrooms (Fungi) to the plants (Plantae). In fact, mushrooms are an independent classification of living things. The associated scientific specialty is mushroom science (Mycology), which deals among other things with the habits of mushrooms. Incidentally, mushrooms are closer to the animals (Animalia) as related to the plants. Because both life forms feed on organic nutrients in their environment, which they break down through enzymes and store in the form of glycogen. Plants, on the other hand, form starch as a storage substance and, in addition to soil minerals, mainly feed on sunlight, which they convert to chlorophyll through photosynthesis.
Another sub-discipline in mycology is research into the medical aspects of fungi. In addition to certain healing properties, this also includes potential health risks from fungi, as a number of fungi are able to trigger serious infectious diseases. There is a second significant difference between plants and fungi. Because plants can lead to poisoning that is harmful to health due to their toxic ingredients, unlike fungi they do not have any potential for disease.
As far as the habitat is concerned, there are clear differences between fungi and plants. While plants generally need an earthy or at least sandy-stony substrate, mushrooms primarily grow on organic matter. So they feed on other living things, which is why they are often also called parasites. However, it is often completely neglected that the decomposition work that many fungi do in nature is essential for the nutrient enrichment of the soil and that the fungi thus produce suitable nutrients for new plants. So mushrooms are a crucial part of the natural cycle.
Mushrooms in medicine
From a medical point of view, the division into small and large mushrooms is particularly relevant for mushrooms. As small mushrooms (Micromycetes) all mushroom variants are defined, the fruiting bodies of which are smaller than five millimeters and therefore difficult to see with the naked eye. With the exception of the brush mold, Penicillium, from which one of the first modern antibiotics, penicillin, is known to be made, most of these small fungi are problematic for the human organism. Although some of these fungi, such as the Candida fungus, are naturally found in the body, in many cases micromycetes, due to their small size, enter the organism unintentionally and often unnoticed, where they then multiply unhindered thanks to the warm, moist body climate can. Accordingly, it is usually small mushrooms that are responsible for serious fungal infections, including:
- Aspergillus mushrooms (causative agents of aspergillosis),
- Candida mushrooms (cause of candidiasis in overpopulation),
- Cryptococcus mushrooms (causative agent of cryptococcosis)
- and epidermophytes and trichophytes (pathogens of athlete's foot and nail fungus).
In the field of large mushrooms (Macromycetes) are especially dangerous toadstools in terms of health, such as the well-known toadstool or the tuber agaric, as they can lead to life-threatening poisoning if consumed. However, the macromycetes also make up the majority of all medicinal mushrooms. Traditional Chinese medicine in particular knows numerous types of mushrooms for the treatment of diseases, some of which have been used for naturopathy for several millennia. They are used either in the form of teas or by adding the mushrooms to special medical dishes such as soups or vegetable side dishes.
Traditional Chinese medicine is by no means the only traditional medicine that relies on medical treatment with fungi (mycotherapy). Some famous medicinal mushrooms are also native to Europe, Africa and America and have been in use since ancient times. Unfortunately, with the advent of modern treatment methods, the knowledge of the healing power of fungi has increasingly been forgotten. Medicinal mushrooms sometimes have extraordinary abilities. Especially in the area of cancer treatment, mycotherapy is increasingly recommended as an accompanying treatment measure, since many medicinal mushrooms have an anti-cancer effect and also sustainably strengthen the liver, which suffers particularly badly in the course of chemotherapy and radiation therapy measures, and protect it from therapeutic damage.
Special polysaccharides such as the glycogen mentioned above are responsible for this outstanding healing effect in fungi. On the other hand, medicinal mushrooms also have so-called mycosterols. These are fungal membrane lipids that are very closely related to the fatty acids and play a crucial role in the structure of the fungal cell membrane. Since the fungal cells have a lot in common with the cells of animal organisms and thus also those of humans, mycosterols can also strengthen the human cell structure and, in the case of cell-damaging diseases, even carry out considerable repair measures on the body cells.
Medicinal mushrooms at a glance
Interestingly, medicinal mushrooms grow almost exclusively on the bark of trees. They even have certain preferences depending on the species and sometimes only form certain active ingredients if they thrive on selected tree species. Since trees in many cases themselves have special active ingredients, most of which are found in their bark or the tree sap hidden behind them, it is not surprising that fungi adapt appropriate healing effects after absorption or convert them into substances with a similar effect. The most important medicinal mushrooms include:
Oyster mushroom / oyster mushroom
The oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) owes its name unmistakably to its appearance, which is similar to that of the oyster shell. You can also find it like oysters, usually thriving in a cluster, mainly on the bark of deciduous trees such as the European beech. Here it can sometimes hit the infested trees severely due to intensive nutrient deprivation. On the other hand, oyster mushrooms are extremely healthy for humans because they contain numerous trace elements, healthy multiple sugars and proteins and are also rich in mycosterols, which have a liver, stomach and spleen strengthening effect. Various studies have shown that oyster mushrooms are also
- lowering cholesterol,
- and disinfect.
Above all, their cholesterol-lowering effect is very well documented and can primarily be attributed to the ingredient lovastatin. It is already widely used medically for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia and thus confirms that the healing properties of the oyster mushroom are not out of thin air. This type of mushroom is native to almost all regions of the world, which is why its use has a long tradition in several cultures.
Chaga mushroom / slate schillerporling
Also the Schiefeporling, known as Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) grows preferentially on the bark of deciduous trees and especially on the bark of birch trees. It is therefore also native to Europe, where it has been used as a medicinal mushroom in Lapland and Russian folk medicine since the 15th century. At first glance, you could almost think of the black chunk of mushroom as out of place volcanic rock.
The association with naturopathic properties, on the other hand, hardly comes to mind when you first look at it. In fact, the Chaga mushroom also bears the nickname "King of Mushrooms" because of its extremely intensive healing properties. This is mainly based on the
- cardiovascular strengthening,
- immune boosting,
- liver protecting,
- metabolism stimulating,
- cell protecting
- and vitalizing
Properties of the Chaga mushroom. At Inonotus obliquus, antioxidants, ß-glucans and betulinic acid are largely responsible for this extensive medical effect. The latter only occurs in the mushroom when it grows on a birch bark, which is why Chaga is mostly cultivated on this deciduous tree for medicinal purposes.
Chinese caterpillar mushroom
The Chinese caterpillar mushroom (known from the core leg group) has a very special growth habit (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) on. In fact, the peculiar, club-shaped shape of its stemmed fruit body is reminiscent of a caterpillar, and not without reason. Because, unlike many other medicinal mushrooms, the tubular fungus does not grow on trees, but develops from infested caterpillars of the ghost moth (Thitarodes). Since this caterpillar prefers to feed on the roots of various legumes, sedge species, sour and sweet grasses as well as knotweed and lily plants, the Chinese caterpillar fungus is mainly found in moist grass and shrub landscapes. The natural distribution area is in Tibet, where it is also celebrated as a medical miracle mushroom. Classic ingredients of medicinal mushrooms such as polysaccharides and amino acids, but also unsaturated fatty acids and the specific active ingredient cordycepin ensure a
- cholesterol regulating,
- cardiovascular strengthening,
- lung and kidney protection
- and anti-cancer effect.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the core club is also used to treat back pain. In culinary terms, this mushroom is particularly suitable for refining chicken and duck dishes.
Eichhase / Ästiger Büschelporling
Like a bunch of teasing rabbit ears spiked out of the thicket, the oak hare named after it, which is scientifically correct also knotty tufted porling (Polyporus umbellatus) called. It usually grows on two stems, with the two light brown to gray-brown colored fruiting bodies growing together on the stem. According to the name, the medicinal mushroom is found especially on oak trees that prefer a calcareous location. Although Polyporus umbellatus is also native to us, it is mainly used in traditional Chinese medicine. Here the medicinal mushroom is also known as Zhu Ling and, due to the diuretic effects of its polysaccharides and mycosterols, it is used primarily as a diuretic to flush out the kidneys and bladder.
Tip: Since the calibration rabbit also has an anti-inflammatory effect, treatment is particularly useful for urinary tract infections.
Common rattle sponge / Maitake
For patients with unhealthy cholesterol levels, the common rattle sponge (Grifola frondosa) aka Maitake can be helpful. The latter is the Japanese name of the medicinal mushroom and means "dance mushroom". The name comes from various Asian legends. One of them says that the name is due to the way the Maitake mushroom colonies grew, which preferentially grow on the roots of deciduous trees such as oak, linden or chestnut and are reminiscent of a flock of dancing butterflies. According to another legend, the name Tanzpilz stems from the fact that after the discovery of the Maitake, the Japanese started dancing themselves with happiness that the mushroom had been weighed with silver. The silver value may indicate the valuable healing properties of the mushroom, because it is considered
- regulating blood pressure,
- lowering cholesterol,
- intestinal strengthening,
- immune boosting,
- lung strengthening
- and strengthening the kidneys.
In addition to numerous vitamins and minerals, maitake is mainly due to active ingredients such as amino acids, ß-glucans and an ingredient called vanadium. The latter is a mineral that has been shown to have a hypoglycemic effect, which is why a study is now investigating whether vanadium can possibly be used as a medicinal active ingredient against diabetes mellitus. Vanadium also seems to be used successfully against high cholesterol levels. Maitake is therefore particularly recommended as an edible mushroom for diabetes and cholesterol patients.
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With the Chaga mushroom we already know a medicinal mushroom, the appearance of which is more reminiscent of an inconspicuous boulder. With the Indian bread (Poria cocos or Wolfiporia cocos) It is very similar, because thanks to its appearance similar to chunks of earth to potatoes and the fact that it grows underground at the foot of pine trees, it is all too easy to overlook. Therefore only the most resourceful mushroom connoisseurs track him down.
Its spectrum of action is very extensive because it works
- skin protecting,
- relieves cough,
- heart strengthening,
- spleen and kidney protecting
- and immune boosting.
In addition to traditional Chinese medicine, the mushroom is no stranger to Indian medicine, which can easily be recognized by the name of the Indian bread. Because the Native Americans used the mushroom as a kind of bread substitute. Even today you can safely use the mushroom as a food. Since its taste is not too intense, it is advisable to combine it with vegetables or meat.
The Judas ear (Auricularia polytricha) owes its unusual name to two reasons. On the one hand, the appearance of the reddish-brown mushroom actually reminds of the shape of an ear. The other is growing Auricularia polytrichia predominantly on or under elderwoods, on which Judas Iscariot is said to have hanged himself after his betrayal of Jesus Christ. The associations with the Christian religion also show in which culture the Judas ear is mainly used for medicine. This mainly includes the western culture of Europe. It is customary here to boil the Judas ear in milk, beer or vinegar for a sore throat and then either use it internally or put it on the chest and neck as a warm vinegar envelope. Traditional Chinese medicine, which had the taste of Judas ear several millennia ago, uses the medicinal mushroom to treat hemorrhoids.
Larch tree sponge / pharmacist sponge
Feared in European forestry as the cause of brown rot on conifers such as the eponymous larch, the larch tree sponge enjoys (Laricifomes officinalis) a rather dubious reputation in this country. In medicine, on the other hand, it is even known as a pharmacist sponge, because with its quinine ingredient it provides an important medication for serious infectious diseases such as malaria and also for muscle cramps. Overall, the quinine of the larch sponge works
- pain reliever
- and promotes labor.
In particular, its antispasmodic effect is used in many ways, for example against leg cramps, uterine cramps or to induce labor pains. In the case of existing gastrointestinal inflammations such as gastritis, heart problems and respiratory cramps, the pharmacist's mushroom should not be used. Here, the muscle-stimulating effect of the fungus could have a negative impact and lead to serious complications. In general, careful dosage is important for Laricifomes officinales in order to avoid side effects such as indigestion and nerve problems, visual and hearing disorders or skin irritation. We therefore advise against using the mushroom without consulting an experienced doctor or naturopath. Pregnant and nursing mothers should also avoid the use of larch sponge because it is considered to be harmful to the fruit and harmful substances could get into breast milk during breastfeeding.
Almond Mushroom / Brazilian Almond Egerling
A medicinal mushroom comes from the South American Brazil, more precisely from the city of Piedade near São Paulo, which originally provided the mushroom with apparently ideal climatic conditions for its growth, which is visually very reminiscent of our domestic mushrooms. And indeed, the Brazilian almond boarling (Agaricus brasiliensis) closely related to the domestic mushroom and, like this one, can be used as an edible mushroom, even if its taste is slightly stronger to musty-sweet. Like many medicinal mushrooms, the almond mushroom is particularly important for alternative cancer therapy. However, there are also numerous studies that certify that the mushroom has a medicinal effect in obesity and diabetes, which is why it is increasingly being traded as functional food.
Reishi Mushroom / Shiny Lacquer Porling
As the name suggests, the shiny lacquer porling (Ganoderma lucidum) due to its glossy, glossy fruiting body. This is mostly reddish-yellow to yellowish-brown in color and thrives preferably on oak or beech bark, although other hardwoods, more rarely conifers such as spruce or pine, are also suitable as substrates. In the field of medicine, the glossy lacquer porling is better known under the name Reishi Pilz from traditional Chinese medicine and has been used for more than 4000 years
- cell and liver protective
Properties applied to a variety of health complaints. Since its medically valuable polysaccharides are not only extremely vitalizing, but, as studies have shown, they even have a cancer-inhibiting effect and are therefore able to do something against one of the deadliest of all diseases, the Reishi mushroom also bears the nickname "mushroom of immortality". A real medicinal mushroom, whose use for thousands of years is more than justified.
Butterfly Porling / Butterfly Tramete
The butterfly porling or the butterfly tramete (Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor) we meet almost constantly. It is the dark, rosette-shaped mushroom with a sharp, wavy white edge that can be found in the forest and on the edge of the forest on numerous stumps, lying wood piles and dead wood. As inconspicuous and banal as it is in the wild, this wood dweller can also be healing. In addition to the polysaccharides that are typical of many medicinal mushrooms, it mainly has the medically valuable mycosterin called ergosterol, which is a precursor of vitamin D2 and is particularly important for the immune system. Basically, the healing effect of the butterfly porling is as
- and anti-cancer.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it is mainly used to treat heart and spleen complaints. Various studies also suggest use in complementary immunotherapy for cancers such as colon and liver cancer.
Another medicinal mushroom from traditional Chinese medicine is the Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes). It is also cultivated in China as an edible mushroom and is the world's most cultivated edible mushroom after mushrooms. In addition to its multiple sugars, the shiitake has medical relevance primarily because of ingredients such as adenine and choline. The two substances were previously also called vitamin B4 and are still associated with a special nutritional value as vitamin-like substances.
Together with the multiple sugars of the shiitake mushroom, they give it one
- lowers cholesterol and blood pressure,
- immune boosting,
- liver protecting,
- muscle relaxers,
- metabolism stimulating
- and digestive effects.
The mushroom also contains numerous amino acids and minerals. The minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium and iron make the shiitake a real tonic for bones, joints and teeth. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the medicinal mushroom is also often used against vascular diseases such as arteriosclerosis. It is best to use the mushroom as a cooking ingredient for all of these purposes. It is of course ideal with Asian rice and vegetable dishes, such as sushi or wok vegetables.
Yamabushitake / hedgehog goatee
The hedgehog goatee is an optically very extravagant medicinal mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) or, as it is called in Asia, the Yamabushitake. It grows in long, whitish, tubular structures and its appearance is strongly reminiscent of a lion's mane, which earned it the nickname Lion's Mane. Yamabushitake also has an original flavor, which is reminiscent of a combination of veal or poultry meat with the exotic fruit aroma of citrus and coconut. This taste can be attributed to the limes from the terpenes group contained in the hedgehog goatee, which is already an important active ingredient, it works
- and hematopoietic.
The anti-carcinogenic and hematopoietic effect in particular make it an interesting active ingredient against blood cancer, according to an Indian-American study. The hedgehog goatee might also be interesting as a natural antibiotic. Since it is used very much for cooking anyway - its edibility is a very rare property among the prickly mushrooms - the medicinal mushroom can also be used as a precaution.
Mycotherapy - contraindications and side effects
There are actually hardly any reasons that speak against the use of medicinal mushrooms. Side effects only occur with the fewest types of mushrooms and are usually due to an overdose of medicinal mushrooms. For this reason, it is important to only take unknown types of mushrooms that are not explicitly identified as edible mushrooms after extensive consultation with a professional alternative practitioner or a medical professional who is familiar with traditional Chinese medicine. Otherwise there could be side effects such as sweating, fever or nausea and vomiting. Allergy sufferers who cannot tolerate multiple sugars, for example, must be careful when using mycotherapy. The same applies to children and pregnant women, who generally react much more sensitively and unpredictably to certain active ingredients.
Collect medicinal mushrooms
When it comes to collecting medicinal mushrooms, caution is also necessary for laypeople. Those who are not familiar with mushrooms should trust the range of an official health food store, health food store or a pharmacy. Alternatively, you can of course improve your knowledge of mushrooms by participating in a mushroom tour. Here it is important to only attend courses that are carried out by certified mushroom experts and mycologists. (ma)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Domingo, José L. et al .: "Vanadium compounds for the treatment of human diabetes mellitus: A scientific curiosity? A review of thirty years of research", in: Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 95, September 2016, sciencedirect.com
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- Lin, Yu ‐ Li et al .: "Polysaccharide purified from Ganoderma lucidum induced activation and maturation of human monocyte-derived dendritic cells by the NF-κB and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways", in: Journal of Leukocyte Biology, Volume78 Issue August 2, 2005, JLB
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