Latin names
Cultivated: A. bisporus (Button, Crimini, and Portobello)
Wild varieties: Cantharellus cibarius (Chanterelle), Agaricus campestris (field), Morchella vulgaris (Morel), Suillus luteus (Pine), Boletus edulis (Porcini)
Exotic varieties: Flammulina velutipes (Enoki), Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster), Lentinus edodes (shiitake), Grifola frondosa (maitake)

What are Mushrooms?
A mushroom is the fleshy, fruiting body of a fungus, which thrives on dead trees or the roots of living trees. Not technically a vegetable, mushrooms are usually prepared like one. There are more than a hundred thousand varieties of mushrooms, but only about seven hundred of them are edible. Mushrooms range in size, shape, texture, and flavor, from tiny button mushrooms to gigantic puffballs. Portobello and field mushrooms have a meaty flavor, while other mushrooms, such as chanterelles, have a subtle, delicate taste.

Considered a royal food by the Egyptian pharaohs, mushrooms have held a mysterious fascination for many cultures over the centuries. In Asia, mushrooms have long been prized for both their taste and their therapeutic value. Shiitake (as well as reishi and maitake) mushrooms have grown wild since prehistoric times. They play a critical role in Asian medicinal traditions and were mentioned in some of the original herbal medicine books written thousands of years ago. It was not until the 1900s that mushrooms were cultivated for year-round production.

What are the health benefits of Mushrooms?
In China, mushrooms are regarded as a symbol of longevity and have long been used to boost immunity. Considered cooling in nature, mushrooms are used by traditional Chinese medicine to lower blood pressure, decrease high cholesterol levels, combat tumors, clear toxins, and alleviate irritability caused by hot conditions, such as heat exhaustion.

Many mushrooms, particularly shiitake and maitake, have superb anti-aging properties. Depending on the type, they may exhibit high antioxidant activity and contain polysaccharides, sterols, coumarin, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that boost immune function, lower bad cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and protect the body from virus and cancer.

Nutritionally, many species are high in dietary fiber, protein, and vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, cobalamins, and ascorbic acid. Mushrooms are also a source of some important minerals, including selenium, potassium, and phosphorus.

More information about the healing powers of Ganoderma (or Reishi) mushrooms can be found in the Herb section.

Are there any precautions for Mushrooms?
Do not seek wild mushrooms without an experienced mushroom expert, as there are many more poisonous varieties than edible ones, and a mistake could prove fatal. Additionally, even edible mushrooms can sometimes produce an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals, from a mild asthmatic response to severe anaphylactic shock.

Where can I find Mushrooms?
Fresh, dried, or frozen, mushrooms can be found in grocery stores, Asian markets, health food stores, specialty food stores, and some outdoor markets in season. Cultivated mushrooms are available year round, but wild mushroom season (chanterelles, field mushrooms, porcini) have their season from late summer into cooler fall. Field mushrooms and morels are among the few specifically early-spring mushrooms.

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This entry was posted in Foods, Natural Health Dictionary.