A medicinal mushroom contains certain useful substances that can promote your health. In this article you will find a wealth of interesting background information about medicinal mushrooms:
- Effects medicinal mushrooms
- Useful substances in medicinal mushrooms
- Examples of medicinal mushrooms
- Where are the active ingredients?
- Cultivation of medicinal mushrooms
- Powders and capsules
- History of medicinal mushrooms
Effects medicinal mushrooms
Each type of medicinal mushroom has a different effect. Yet there are also many similarities between medicinal mushrooms. With many medicinal mushroom species we see one or more of the following effects:
- strengthens the immune system
- cholesterol lowering
- against oxidative stress
- against a lack of certain minerals
Useful substances in medicinal mushrooms
In medicinal mushrooms, the following useful substances are often found:
- Essential sugars and polysaccharides
- Essential amino acids
- Minerals and trace elements
Each useful substance has a different effect in the body.
Essential sugars and polysaccharides
In chemistry, the term 'sugars' is used for a category of biological substances consisting of series of small carbohydrate molecules (monosaccharides).
Now these series can be very short (monosaccharides) or very long (polysaccharides). Medicinal mushrooms mainly contain sugars with long series of carbohydrate molecules. These include the following essential sugars:
- beta-glucan 1.3
- beta-glucan 1.6
These essential sugars from medicinal mushrooms have three benefits:
- they strengthen the immune system
- they can lower cholesterol
- they help in proper regulation of blood sugar.
Like sugars, triterpenes are also a category of organic substances with a certain chemical composition.
Triterpenes commonly found in medicinal mushrooms are betulin or betulinic acid. These triterpenes have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
Medicinal mushrooms also contain antioxidants. The main antioxidant in medicinal mushrooms is glutathione. This antioxidant plays an important role in the metabolism of free radicals. This works like this:
Free radicals are substances that can be compared to a double-sided sword. On the one hand, the body uses free radicals to kill unwanted bacteria and to clean up damaged proteins in the muscles. On the other hand, an excess of free radicals can be harmful to cells and tissue.
The antioxidant glutathione can neutralize an excess of free radicals.
Essential amino acids
The body can make 22 of the 13 existing amino acids itself. The other 9 amino acids must therefore be obtained through food. We call these essential amino acids because your body cannot make them itself.
With a sufficiently varied diet one usually gets enough essential amino acids. If for some reason that does not work, medicinal mushrooms can serve as a supplement. Medicinal mushrooms are rich in essential amino acids.
Minerals and trace elements
Your body needs small amounts of minerals (eg calcium, chlorine, phosphorus) and trace elements (chromium, fluoride, iron).
There may be reasons why you are not getting enough of these minerals and trace elements in your body. You can then supplement this by taking medicinal mushrooms. Medicinal mushrooms are rich in minerals and trace elements.
Examples of medicinal mushrooms
It would take too long to list all 800 known medicinal mushrooms here. That is why we limit ourselves to the most popular varieties.
Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum)
This medicinal mushroom has an antibacterial and antiviral effect. Furthermore, Reishi is rich in antioxidants. In addition, Reishi helps for a good balance of hormones.
The official Dutch name is Steelde lakzwam, but usually the Japanese name Reishi is used. In Japan, Reishi has been used for centuries as a medicinal mushroom.
Lion's Mane (Hericium Erinaceus)
Neuropeptides are required for the growth, production and maintenance of neurons in the brain. Lion's Mane helps the brain produce these neuropeptides.
The Dutch name is Wigzwam. However, when this fungus is sold as a medicinal mushroom, the English name Lion's Mane is used. Or the first part of the scientific name: Hericium.
The medicinal mushroom Cordyceps has a whole range of useful properties associated with it. For example, there are indications that Cordyceps could help with respiratory and liver diseases. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Cordyceps may even increase a woman's fertility.
Until very recently, Cordyceps was a very expensive medicinal mushroom because it could not be grown artificially. In nature, Cordyceps grows as a parasite in the body of a moth species that mainly occurs high in the Himalayas.
Today, Cordyceps can also be grown in a laboratory setting by means of liquid fermentation. We call the medicinal mushroom that is grown in this way Cordyceps CS-4.
Maitake (Grifola Frondosa)
In addition to being a medicinal mushroom, Maitake is also used as an ingredient in cooking. However, the tasty variant contains very few active substances. That is why there is a separate cultivation aimed at the production of Maitake as a medicinal mushroom.
The Dutch name is Eikhaas, but usually the Japanese name Maitake is used. This medicinal mushroom is mainly used for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory effect.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga contains a large number of antioxidants. In addition, Chaga is considered a plant-based antibiotic.
The Dutch name is Berkenweerschijnzwam, but we usually use the Russian name Chaga.
Where are the active ingredients?
In biology, the term mushroom is actually only used for the visible part of a fungus. Other parts of a fungus are the roots and the seeds. We call the roots mycelium. We call the seeds spores.
Now it can differ greatly per fungus which part contains the most useful substances. Therefore, sometimes the mushroom is used for processing, sometimes the mycelium, sometimes the spores or a combination of these three.
Cultivation of medicinal mushrooms
In the past people had to rely on wild picking for the collection of medicinal mushrooms. Today, most medicinal mushrooms are cultivated.
Benefits of cultivation
Cultivation is preferable to wild picking for the following reasons:
Some medicinal mushrooms are rare in nature. Large-scale wild picking of the mushrooms can then have a major impact on an ecosystem.
- Cost reduction:
Wild picking can be quite labor intensive. Growing in a controlled environment requires seed capital. However, after this investment, the costs are much lower than with wild picking.
By growing in a controlled environment, the grower has complete control over which substances a fungus ingests.
Forms of cultivation
There are several ways to grow medicinal mushrooms. Which method you choose depends on the type of mushroom, the ratio of active substances that you want and the costs.
The following methods are widely used:
- Grain Spawn
- Substrate cultivation
- Liquid fermentation
With this method, the medicinal mushrooms are grown on a substrate of sterilized grain or rice. Often only the roots (mycelium) are then harvested for further processing. That is why this method is also called Mycelium on Grain (MOG).
The main advantage is the low cost. The disadvantage is that MOG leads to less active substances in some species.
Hydroponic cultivation uses an artificially composed soil (substrate) that imitates a natural cycle. There are two forms of substrates:
- Wood substrate: Wood chips or sawdust to which lime has been added.
- Compost substrate: Fermented fertilizers to which straw, lime and other elements have been added.
This form of cultivation is more expensive than Grain Spawn. However, it is worth it, because medicinal mushrooms based on substrate cultivation are of a higher quality.
There is a group of fungi that grow in nature as a kind of parasites on caterpillars, insects and arthropods. These are the Cordyceps.
Until recently, Cordyceps had to rely on wild picking. Recently, however, an innovative method has been developed to grow Cordyceps in a laboratory environment. A process called liquid fermentation is used for this. This works like this:
First, water is mixed with certain nutrients in a stainless steel tank. A small amount of live mycelium from Cordyceps CS-4 is then added to this mixture.
After this, the mycelium is allowed to grow in the mixture for 3 to 8 days while the mixture is kept agitated.
Finally, there are some types of medicinal mushrooms that still do not grow well. The most famous example of this is Chaga.
Attempts have been made to cultivate Chaga, but the fungus that then grows appears to contain far fewer active substances. That is why people are still dependent on wild picking for Chaga.
Powders and capsules
In the past, medicinal mushrooms were used to make tea. Or by first letting them dry in the sun or over a low heat.
Today, medicinal mushrooms are usually sold in powder form or as capsules. This has a number of advantages:
- More active ingredients
- Higher bioavailability
- Simple dosing
More active ingredients
In practice, two different methods are used to process medicinal mushrooms into a powder or capsules:
- hot water extraction:
for a high concentration of polysaccharides
- ethanol extraction:
for a high concentration of triterpenes
To get as much as possible of all useful substances in the end product, a combination of these two methods is often used.
The extent to which a useful substance from a food supplement is absorbed by the body is called bioavailability.
Unprocessed medicinal mushrooms contain a lot of fiber that reduces the bioavailability of the active substances. By means of water and ethanol extraction, the active substances are separated from the superfluous fibres. The end product has a much higher bioavailability.
The packaging and/or leaflet states exactly how many active substances are in a powder or exactly how much is in a capsule. That makes an exact dosage much easier.
History of medicinal mushrooms
It is unknown when the first people started using mushrooms for medicinal purposes. In any case, that was a very long time ago.
The use of medicinal mushrooms goes back at least to the Stone Age. We know this thanks to an ice mummy that was found in the Italian Alps at the end of the twentieth century.
This ice mummy is about 5300 years old. When he was found in the ice, he was wearing clothes and carrying several items. Among other things, what he had with him were two fungi: the Tinder fungus (suitable for making fire) and the Birch fungus, which is known for its antibacterial, antiparasitic and antitumor properties.
Medicinal mushrooms were also used in classical antiquity.
The Roman Pliny the Elder (24 – 79 AD) wrote a lot about nature. Some of his lyrics are about medicinal mushrooms.
The Greek physician Pedanius Diocorides (ca. 40 – 90 AD) also wrote about medicinal mushrooms.
Over the next few centuries, Western medicine slowly lost interest in medicinal mushrooms. A lot of knowledge has been lost as a result.
Fortunately, the knowledge about medicinal mushrooms elsewhere in the world was preserved.
The oldest preserved Chinese texts on medicinal mushrooms date from the second century BC. However, the knowledge about medicinal mushrooms in China probably goes back much further.
Archaeological findings suggest that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) originated sometime between 5.000 and 7.000 years ago. It is very likely that medicinal mushrooms were already part of the TCM at that time.
And today, medicinal mushrooms are still part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In Asia, knowledge about the medicinal potential of mushrooms has never been lost. It is therefore not surprising that Asian countries in modern times were the first to conduct medical scientific research into the effect of medicinal mushrooms.
The rest of the world followed in the XNUMXs. Nowadays, more and more medical research into medicinal mushrooms is taking place in Europe and America.
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