Photo: Ganoderma tsugae, Reishi from Western North Carolina.
I have no words to sufficiently explain the wonder of our fungal cousins, the mushrooms. The mostly hidden and often feared fungal community help us in ways we are only just beginning to understand.
Whether edible, medicinal, neutral, pyschedelic, or poisonous; all mushrooms are recycling decay. Mushrooms simultaneously transform earth's unwanted substances and build healthy soil.
The mushroom is made up of an underground network of fungal cells called mycelium; this is the white stringy stuff you might find in a healthy compost pile. What we call the "mushroom" is in fact the fruiting body of the mycelium, which makes spores (or mushroom seeds) for reproduction.
Mycelium thrive in decomposing forest environments. Once a mycelium mass has completely overtaken a decaying log, the fruiting bodies will begin to produce. Foraging for edible mushrooms does not hurt the mycellium. New fruiting bodies will emerge as conditions are right.
Because mushrooms are working in an environment of decay and toxicity, they develop a mix of protective nutrients with activities including: anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory. Some of the numerous constituents found in mushrooms, have positive impact on human liver and immune function. Studies show tremendous promise for improving nervous system and brain function from Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus), which also happens to taste like lobster!
These powerful properties make mushrooms especially useful for humans! The connection of inflammation and chronic illness is well-known; just controlling inflammation may have deep impact on health prevention. Not to mention improved quality of life! Adding the immune, liver, anti-microbial and immune components give mushrooms additional layers of longevity. No wonder Reishi was once referred to as the mushroom of immortality.
The best part is that edible mushrooms are really tasty foods, with extremely low to non-existent toxicity. For most of us, mushrooms are a food that can help strengthen our systems to better stave off illness. (Please, check with your health care provider if you have an auto-immune disease or take medications you are concerned about).
Edible or medicinal mushrooms represent one of the best of ways to add a preventive food in our kitchens and in our wellness plans. We encourage you to cook with edible mushrooms whenever possible. Some favorites for eating include morel, chanterelle, shitake, oyster, and even Lion's Mane! They are delicious and deeply healthful!
Use them in your favorite mushroom recipes. We often simply saute' in butter or coconut oil with a little garlic and serve as a side dish or a topping for fish or meat.
Find them at your local farmer's markets or better quality produce markets. Also, check out our medicinal mushroom products, in case you are not inclined to cook!