Mushroom for Discussion

Mushroom for Discussion: The Riddles of Reishi

By Amber Testa, CN Supplements Buyer & Armchair Mycologist

To those uninitiated into the wonders of mushrooms, Reishi is an unassuming entity. It is neither as strikingly colored as Turkey Tail, as luminescent as Lion's Mane, or as downright bizarre as Cordyceps. Indeed its physical form is simple and smooth, unlikely to attract much attention. The binomial name, ganoderma lucidum, literally means 'bright skin' in the Greek--a reference to its sleek brown surface. Reishi is a type of mushroom known as a bracket fungus, which means it doesn't have a stem or stalk. Instead it grows directly from the surface of trees (usually maple). It is either parasitic or saphrotrophic, growing on both living and decaying matter; indeed, it is as apt to colonize stumps as it is living trees.

But contrary to its plain appearance, perhaps no fungi has such an esteemed place in mythology as the Reishi. With written records of its use dating back as early as the first century B.C., it has been revered in Asia for thousands of years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is known as lingzhi 靈芝, or "divine mushroom" and is known as the "mushroom of immortality". The common name 'Reishi' is a loanword from the Japanese; similar cognates also exist in Thai (het lin chue, เห็ดหลินจือ); Vietnamese (linh ch); and Korean (영지; 靈芝).

Reishi is sacred in Taoism, and was often consumed by monks before their meditation sessions. The term zhī specifically means 'fungi', but has been translated by various scholars as 'excrescence' or 'cryptogam' (a plant or fungi that reproduces via spores instead of seeds). In Taoism, Reishi was thought to belong to a mythical class of substance that gave the eater xian, or immortality, when ingested. This association with immortality has persisted into the present day, and is evident in Reishi's contemporary usage.

In contemporary herbalism, Reishi is used primarily as an immune booster. Initial studies have shown that it has the potential to boost white blood cell count among cancer patients, although research indicates it is best to use the mushroom in combination with traditional cancer therapies rather than directly in place of them. Reishi may also reduce inflammation in the body, specifically among blood cells. Early studies also show the potential for Reishi to reduce anxiety and depression, especially among cancer patients.

Commercially cultivated Reishi is usually grown on hardwood logs, or else a substrate of sawdust or wood chips. It is a deep reddish-brown, generally fan- or kidney-shaped, and often larger than a fist in size. Reishi is dry and sturdy, and often surprisingly heavy--indeed, it often resembles a piece of carved wood more than a mushroom! Though it is slightly bitter in flavor, it can be easily neutralized by mixing it with other ingredients. It can easily be powdered and added to hot chocolate, mixed into baked goods, or crumbled and added to tea blends. The versatility of Reishi also means you can find it in some more unusual formats, like sparkling beverages and even body care products!

At Cambridge Naturals, we carry a variety of Reishi supplements in various formats. You can shop our entire stock of Reishi products online here, or come in for some exciting mushroom discussions with our Supplements team!

Sources:

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2018.01557/full

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/

The information in this blog post is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

Mushroom for Discussion: Talking Turkey (Tail)

By Amber Testa, CN Supplements Buyer & Armchair Mycologist

Kingdom Fungi is a diverse place, and the names within it reflect it. Among mushrooms you'll find specimens with such descriptive names as Latticed Stinkhorn (clathrus ruber), Amethyst Deceiver (laccaria amethystina), and Bleeding-Tooth (hydnellum peckii). As beautiful as these names are, they're also fairly literal--it's not hard to imagine why the early discoverers of hericium erinaceus thought it resembled a lion's mane!

So understandable, too, is the nomenclature of the mushroom trametes versicolor. One look at this fanlike fungus, with its wide bands of copper, rust, and gray, and you'll immediately understand why it earned the name Turkey Tail. It resembles nothing so much as the fanciful feathers of those enormous birdies that grace Thanksgiving decorations (and sometimes menace drivers along Cambridge's Massachusetts Avenue in autumn).

Turkey Tail isn't just a pretty polypore, though. For years, humans have tapped into the health benefits of this fabulous fungi. The mushroom was formally described as early as 1753 by famed Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, though it was known to Indigenous communities worldwide long before that. It's native to colder regions throughout North America and Europe, where it is often strikingly recognizable against the bare autumn trunks of trees. Indeed, it is at its best in autumn, when the mushroom releases its reproductive spores. Turkey Tail is not generally used as a culinary mushroom due to its flocked, leathery texture and unappealing taste, but the potential health benefits it offers have made it the subject of much contemporary research.

Modern scientific explorations have revealed that Turkey Tail contains high levels of antioxidants, chemicals that are known to prevent cell damage from free radicals. It also possesses substances called polysaccharopeptides, immune-boosting carbohydrates that inhibit inflammation and encourage the production of monocytes (a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infection). There's also some research into the potential for Turkey Tail to increase the efficacy of some cancer treatments when used in tandem with contemporary medical practices, although studies remain in the early stages.

The gut microbiome is lately a subject of renewed interest among laypeople and biologists alike, and the Turkey Tail mushroom plays a part in it. As a potent source of prebiotics, the fungus nurtures the good bacteria in your digestive tract, helping your gut bacteria to maintain a healthy balance and remain strong against hostile microbes that can cause problems like bloating, gas, and impaired digestion.

In short, Turkey Tail isn't just a pretty face--it's a potent source of beneficial chemicals to support your health. At Cambridge Naturals, we stock a variety of products made with Turkey Tail, including capsules, tinctures, and powder, and we even carry the dried mushroom itself in our fabulous bulk section! You can check out our selection of Turkey Tail products here, and avail yourself of the benefits of this fabulous fungus today.

Sources:

www.first-nature.com

www.healthline.com

www.webmd.com

The information in this blog post is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

Mushroom for Discussion: Lion's Mane

By Amber Testa
CN Supplements Buyer & Armchair Mycologist

hericium erinaceus via Wikimedia Commons

Whether cultivated or encountered in the wild, Lion's Mane is a truly striking fungus. Cascades of fringelike white spines have inspired a variety of unusual names, mostly animal in nature. Its Latin name, hericium erinaceus, literally means 'hedgehog hedgehog'; in German it's called Igel-Stachelbart ('hedgehog goatee'); and one of its common names in Chinese translates to 'Monkey's Head Mushroom'. Nobody's quite sure where exactly the name 'Lion's Mane' came from originally, although the fungi itself is native to North America, Asia, and Europe. 

Lion's Mane is saprophytic, meaning it feeds on dead or decaying matter, but it's also a parasite, invading living trees. It's fond of growing on beeches and oaks especially, although Lion's Mane that is grown for commercial use is often grown on a substrate of rice bran. 

Unlike many other medicinal mushrooms, Lion's Mane is occasionally used as a culinary mushroom. Chewy and meaty in texture, it is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, where it is sometimes used as a meat substitute (the taste has been likened to seafood like crab or lobster.) It can be deep-fried or marinated in spices--a versatile ingredient indeed! 

In terms of its health benefits, Lion's Mane is remarkably comprehensive. Of particular note is its high antioxidant levels, which fight inflammation in the body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they have a long history of being used for neurological support and supporting memory and nerve function, and have been used by Buddhist monks for thousands of years. Lion's Mane is primarily thought of as a nootropic, or a substance which bolsters cognitive function; the many helpful compounds within it have been found to easily cross the blood-brain barrier. Like many other fungi, Lion's Mane has also been found to boost the function of the immune system. 

As one of the newer examples of mushrooms being scientifically investigated for their medicinal benefits, there's still a lot of research to be done on quantifying the precise benefits of Lion's Mane. Early studies have already validated it as a powerful addition to the medicinal mushroom canon.

Lion's Mane is most commonly consumed encapsulated in pill form, although you'll occasionally encounter it as a loose powder. It's also often blended with coffee, matcha, or tea to create a tasty, brain-boosting beverage that can be consumed at home or on the go. One of my personal favorites is Tamim Tea's Lion's Spice, where it joins turmeric and ginger in an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. 

On the whole, Lion's Mane is a visually striking member of Kingdom Fungi, respected for both its health benefits and culinary uses. It's by far the most popular mushroom supplement we sell here at Cambridge Naturals. You can shop our full selection of Lion's Mane products in-store or on our webstore here

Sources: 
https://www.mushroomexpert.com/hericium_erinaceus.html 

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2018/04/14/2003691277 

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323400

Mushroom for Discussion: Cordyceps

By Amber Testa
CN Supplements Buyer & Fungi Enthusiast

Image via OM Mushrooms

Out of all the mushrooms commonly used for medicinal purposes, cordyceps (cordyceps species, including c. sinensis and c. militaris) may indeed be the most bizarre. A bulbous-topped, finger-like fungus, its scientific name literally comes from the Greek words meaning 'club-headed'. But you may have heard it called the 'zombie caterpillar fungus' due to the fact that it grows primarily by parasitizing the living bodies of caterpillars. (More on that later.) You may also know of its appearance in science fiction works like the videogame 'The Last of Us' and the novel/movie 'The Girl With All the Gifts'; in both, it is responsible for a global outbreak of zombies.

Suffice to say that pop culture hasn't exactly been kind to the noble cordyceps. It's something of a shame, really. Cordyceps has a long and storied history in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it's called Dong Chong Xia Cao, or 'Winter worm, summer grass'. The earliest recorded usage of it dates to 1757, though it likely entered the TCM materia medica long before that. It's believed to strengthen the lungs and kidneys, as well as support cardiovascular health. So it comes as no surprise that Western herbal healing promotes it for stamina, energy, and metabolic health.

Wild cordyceps is usually found in the Himalayan mountains, where it parasitizes the bodies of caterpillar larvae. It infects its host and eventually fruits from the head of the caterpillar, killing the insect. (This particular aspect of its life cycle has led to some truly weird photographs of the fungi, many of which I viewed--and cringed at--while writing this.)

Image by David Evans via Wikimedia Commons

Though cordyceps contains a variety of important nutritional compounds such as vitamins B1, B2, B12, and K, as well as the amino acids L-threonine and L-lysine, it is not usually used as a culinary mushroom. Most cordyceps supplements can be found in the form of powders (which are easily added to smoothies, protein bars, and even oatmeal), or as easy-to-swallow capsules.

So, wait, you might be thinking. You want me to eat a mushroom that's grown on bugs?! I'll pass, thanks. The good news is that most commercially-cultivated cordyceps is grown on a substrate of rice or barley, making it both vegan and vegetarian. Wildharvested cordyceps (aka cordyceps that's found growing naturally on caterpillars), obviously isn't.

You must be wondering, of course--does it taste weird, like insects? Thankfully, the answer is no. In terms of flavor, cordyceps is pretty mild, and easy to cover up in recipes.

When it's wildharvested, cordyceps can fetch up to $50,000 per pound, making it the most expensive fungi in the world. But cultivated cordyceps is significantly more budget-friendly, enough so that everyone can incorporate it into their supplement regime. At Cambridge Naturals, we carry a variety of cordyceps products such as capsules, dried mushroom powders, and even hot cacao mix, making it easy to add some of this eccentric mycological powerhouse to your diet.

And don't worry--it absolutely won't turn you into a zombie.

Sources:

OM Mushrooms, https://ommushrooms.com/

The National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3909570/