25 August 2008

Mushroom: The Mighty Fungus

Did you know that the “ugly” name associated with mushrooms is not bad at all?

Now, that sounds interesting.

Come, let me walk you through some interesting facts about the mighty fungus.

Mushrooms are known in the scientific community as fungi. And when we hear of fungi we tend to imagine very awkwardly. This is because we are more familiar with the disease causing type, which brings many health troubles.

Let us temporarily depart from this thought and try to converge as we journey towards unearthing the many secrets of this mighty friend of ours.

Well, mushrooms have been used for many years both as food and for medicinal purposes. People across the globe consider them as vegetable (although they don’t have chlorophyll – essential botanical characteristic of vegetables) or herb, but our Chinese neighbors treasure them as health food. Of the 14,000 over identified verities, only about 3, 000 are edible, around 700 have known natural medicinal properties, and less than 1.0% are recognized as poisonous.

Wow! Isn’t that too much for us to understand?

OK, I’ll make it simpler for you.

Mushrooms for Food

Mushrooms have been used for food throughout recorded history.

The Pharaohs considered mushrooms as delicacies and food for royalty while Greeks regarded them as strength-giving food for warriors during battle. Romans served them as “food of the gods” on festive occasions [1] [2] [3].

For these reasons, many believed that mushrooms had properties that could produce super- human strength. Consequently, they were considered as very pricey commodity.

Back in the province where I grew up, various dishes made from mushrooms are some of the favorite delicacies served specially during rainy seasons, when they are abundant. My grandmother and aunts would always advise us young kids to feed on mushrooms while they were plenty. According to them, mushrooms are packed with various types of nutrients known to make humans healthy and strong. It is for this simple reason, they would add, that dwarfs are strong and clever, as well. Delighted with this story, of course, we can’t help but convince ourselves to consume any mushroom preparations served on us.

Well, this is not a fable at all, maybe they were just handing down to us the information they learned from their ancestors in the form of tales to entice and encourage us to submit to their persuasions. Ah, kids are really difficult to win over especially when they think that mushrooms are some type of vegetables.

Today, some types of edible mushrooms are available all year-round through commercial cultivation and are widely used in cooking especially in many notable cuisines around the world. They are used for soups, sauces, garnishes, gravies, stuffing, and raw in salads. They combine well with various types of vegetables and the combination usually comes out very delectable.

Nutritional Value

Mushrooms are a great source of essential and valuable minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and selenium, nutrients often lacking in our highly processed-food diets. In addition, many species are high in dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble, and provide considerable amount of group B vitamins, ascorbic acid and vitamin D. Mushrooms, likewise, contain nearly no fat and zero cholesterol and are naturally low in sodium [4] [5].

Fresh mushrooms have about 13-46 % crude protein from their fruiting bodies [6]. This is less protein than animal sources, but more than most plants. Interestingly, mushrooms proved to be good sources of almost all essential amino acids when compared with common vegetables [7] and even contain amino acids that are scarce in grains [8].

What does this mean?

With this information on hand, we can freely combine mushrooms in our daily meals with much less worries on elevated blood cholesterol, sodium, triglycerides and sugar levels later on.

Medicinal Properties

Like most fruits and vegetables, fungi, specifically mushrooms, are also naturally blessed with potentially bioactive components known to alleviate various types of medical maladies.

I enumerated 10 of the most common edible medicinal mushrooms for your reference.

Here they go...

1. Button Mushroom (Agaricus bisporus)

Collaborative American & Chinese study demonstrated that increased intake of white button mushrooms may promote innate immunity against tumors and viruses through the enhancement of a key component, natural killer (NK) cell activity.

2. Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinus edodes)

Shiitake is one of the best known and well characterized mushrooms used for medicinal purposes. Lentinan, a highly purified polysaccharide fraction extracted from Shiitake mushrooms, is an approved natural anticancer drug in Japan. Shitakes was also found to lower blood pressure and the bad LDL cholesterol.

3. Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Proteoglycan fractions from oyster mushrooms were found to exhibit anti-tumor and immunomodulating effects in a research conducted at the Department of Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology. Oyster mushrooms are, likewise, a natural source of statin, a cholesterol depressing drug. Studies have shown that they typically contain 0.4% to 2.7% statins on a dry weight basis.

4. Enoki Mushroom (Flammulina velutipes )

Enoki mushrooms contain a powerful polysaccharide called flammulin. Japanese and Chinese researchers have reported anti-cancer and anti-tumor activity from extracts containing this water-soluble polysaccharide. It is believed that the abnormally low cancer rates in Nagano, Japan (the center of enoki cultivation) are related to the high consumption of enoki in that region. Enoki is also thought to stimulate the immune system and be anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Blood pressure lowering and cholesterol lowering compounds have likewise been found in Enoki. Other research indicates that enoki may be useful in treating lymphoma and prostate cancer.

5. Paddy Straw Mushroom (Volvariella volvacea)

The straw mushroom is one of the common edible mushrooms and is widely cultivated in Southeast Asian countries. It has been reported to produce a hypotensive response in animals including humans. They have been used, as well, as an auxiliary treatment for cancer and diabetes patients.

6. Wood Ear Fungus “Black Mushrooms” (Auricularia auricula )

Wood Ear Fungus is widely used for its medicinal properties for many centuries in China. It is particularly useful in treating hemorrhoids, agina, diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems. Additionally, regular consumption of this type of mushroom in small doses proved to be beneficial in preventing strokes and heart attacks. Other findings from modern medecine suggest that it can also be used to lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides, cure diabetes and cancer, and reverse ageing.

7. White Jelly Fungi (Tremella fuciformis)

Known as the white jelly fungus or silver ear, is one of the most significant of the medicinal mushrooms, with a long tradition of healing in China. The extracted polysaccharides from tremella are proven to enhance cellular and immune function. White jelly fungus is also used in Chinese hospitals in conjunction with chemo and radiation therapy and for the treatment of hepatitis. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), silver ear finds its specific action on the lungs, used for coughs, asthma and bronchitis in a one-month daily use program. It is recommended for anyone smoking tobacco or other herbal products. Clinical research has also shown the fungus to be antidiabetic, antitumor, hepatoprotective, cholesterol reducing, to slow aging and prevent osteoporosis by enhancing calcium absorption.

8. Nameko (Pholiota nameko)

As with all other edible mushrooms, Namekos also have medicinal properties including immune boosting and cancer fighting properties, with up to 30% cancer fighting success rates with full recoveries worldwide. In a separate study, conducted at the Tokyo National Cancer Research Center in Japan, hydrothermal extract of nameko has been shown to suppress tumor proliferation by as much as 86.5%.

9. Monkey Head Fungus (Hericium erinaceus)

Also known as pom pom mushrooms. Hericium erinaceus is best known for its traditional use in treating chronic ailments of the stomach and digestive tract, as well as nervous system disorders. Other reported medical benefits include improving and protecting liver functions, restoring the body's natural strength, reduces cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and inhibits cancers and tumors.

10. Ganodrma - Reishi n Japanese or Ling Chih/Lingzhi in Chinese (Ganoderma lucidum)

Ganoderma is a commonly used Chinese herb and an important ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbal formulations for immune dysfunction related illnesses. It has six species in the category of medicinal mushrooms of which have been reported to contain an estimated of more than 200 active elements having specific medicinal properties. Recent study carried out at the Department of Medical Biochemistry, Ehime University in Japan, have revealed that it can help prevent the spread of cancer, especially of the prostate, breast, liver and spleen. Other properties of Ganoderma such as anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, antidiabetic, anti-hypotensive, and protective of the liver have also been documented. Like the majority of edible medicinal mushrooms, Ganoderma was found to inhibit platelet aggregation, and to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

You see, many mushrooms thought merely as palatable food ingredient have been shown in many studies to have surprising medicinal properties. Yes, the humble mushroom could be a veritable source of natural remedy that can help promote health and longevity.

There you go, folks. I hope the reading time you spent on this rather lengthy article brought some enlightenment on the many nutritional and healthy benefits of this small yet mighty fungus.

What do you think? Are you just like me who needed a good old tale to believe that mushrooms are indeed “giants” sitting in the backyard? Do you despise mushrooms like Voltaire and Alexander Dumas?

“I confess that my stomach does not take to this style of cooking. I cannot accept calves sweetbreads swimming in a salty sauce, nor can I eat mince consisting of turkey, hare, and rabbit, which they try to persuade me comes from a single animal . . . . As for the cooks, I really cannot be expected to put up with this ham essence, nor the excessive quantity of morels and other mushrooms, pepper, and nutmeg with which they disguise perfectly good food.” Voltaire (1694-1778) [Pen name of Francois Marie Arouet]

"I confess, that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town." Alexander Dumas, early 19th century

Think about it!

Don’t be a stranger. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Photo Credits:

Button Mushrooms

Rosemary Chicken & Mushrooms

Growing Gourmet & Medicinal Mushrooms


  1. Nice article on mushrooms, you should also include my recipes using mushrooms minsan. Hehehe...

  2. Don't worry, dude I'll consider that next time.

  3. Very informative article...I do love mushrooms...as in...
    Great write up my dear.


  4. How interesting. This must be my mushroom information day. I was going around on my EC drops. I usually read the entry that I comes up on my screen. Anyway, last night I watched a show on the History Channel about mushrooms. They are really very interesting. I am amazed at the money that some make on harvesting mushrooms from the wild. Big money in that.

  5. Hey there, Cristy. I didn't know that you love mushrooms a lot. Anyway, I am very glad you found this article informative.

    Thanks much for the visit and of course for the comment. Hope to hear regular feedback from you.

  6. It’s great to hear that you found this post as a supplemental information to the ones you watched over History Channel, Tammy. I missed that, but yes, there are unlimited ways to earn from these interesting nature wonder.

    Thanks for droppin’ by.

  7. Good informative blog about mushrooms.I do like mushrooms.

    Treatment Abroad

  8. Thanks, Cancer Treatment India. Happy to hear that you found the article informative.

  9. This is by far one of the better posts I've read in a while, its a very compelling article with a lot of well written content.