Herb Feature

Fantastic Fungi

Unless you’ve been asleep for the last few years, you’ve probably heard about the wonderful therapeutic effects of a number of Asian mushrooms. In particular: Reishi, Shiitake, Coriolus and Cordyceps have been shown to have powerful immune-enhancing activities, protecting humans from a wide range of diseases including viral infections and even some cancers!

Coriolus, also known as Turkey Tail due to its resemblance to this strange looking bird’s plumage, appears to have profound immune-modulating properties. This mushroom has been used as a food in Japan throughout history, where it is named Kawaratake, and as a traditional Chinese medicine for improving mental and physical vitality. More recently, Coriolus has been used for the treatment and prevention of a variety of cancers including stomach, lung, oesophageal and colorectal cancer. It contains a substance called polysaccharide K or PSK which reduce the immune-suppressive activities of both cancer cells and cancer treatments. It also enhances the activity of Natural Killer T-cells, B-lymphocyte antibody production and monocyte activity. Finally, it promotes destruction of tumour cells directly by apoptosis (programmed cell death), reducing blood vessel growth to tumours, and preventing tumour cell spread. Wow!

Ganoderma (Reishi) traditionally is used to promote health and longevity in traditional Asian medical systems, and scientific studies support its use, particularly in cancer treatment and prevention. In-vitro (test tube) studies indicate various mechanisms to prevent cancer cell activity including interfering with the ability of these abnormal cells to divide and spread. Human studies show a profound increase in immune activity, including natural killer cells, and T-helper to T-killer cell ratios. Reishi also improves energy, mood and sleep. That’s pretty good for a traditional Asian food source.

Cordyceps is a fungus straight out of a horror movie! This remarkable organism takes over the brains of caterpillars insects and spiders and turns them into “zombies”, making them move to damp dark places favourable for the growth of the parasitic fungi. Creepy! However, its uses as a Natural medicine are much more positive: Cordyceps improves ATP (adenosine triphosphate) inside our cells, which is actually how we produce energy. It also helps to improve memory and learning in animal studies, and helps to improve sexual function as well. Extracts of Cordyceps have been called “Himalayan Viagra”, so you can imagine what kind of affects you can expect! On a cellular level, levels of the powerful antioxidant enzymes Glutathione Peroxidase, Superoxide Dismutase and Catalase are enhanced by this intriguing natural medicine. This supports its use as an antiaging formula, reducing lipid (fat and cholesterol) oxidation and neurotransmitter depletion.

Our final medicinal mushy is my favourite; the delicious Shiitake. This highly popular edible mushroom is a staple in many Japanese foods and has a meaty texture and woody flavour, making it a wonderful addition to soups, stews and stir-fries. It is highly nutritious, containing the 8 essential amino acids, many vitamins including Vitamin D, and minerals such as selenium, zinc, copper and manganese. Shiitake also contains polysaccharides such as lentinan, which has been used as a co-therapy for patients undergoing cancer treatment. Lentinan has profound immune-strengthening effects and has been shown to help improve survival and quality of life in people with a variety of different types of cancer. Shiitake also contains another polysaccharide known as eritadenine, which reduces total cholesterol levels in mammals: which supports the traditional use for preventing heart disease.

In summary, these are just some of the magnificent, marvellous medicinal mushrooms that are available to us to help prevent and treat a wide variety of health problems. Many of them are available to us as foods, or natural supplements, but please use only high quality products from reputable sources. Contamination and substitution continue to be an issue with some supplements, so talk to your Herbalist/ Naturopath for more information. Bon appetite!

David is a practicing Naturopath/ Herbalist.

15/146 Anderson St, Manunda, Cairns

Contact: 07 4032 0038