Saturday, September 27, 2008

There's a (Healthy) Fungus Among Us

Although I have always enjoyed eating mushrooms, I never really paid too much attention to them--except on a few occasions when trying to determine if a newly discovered fungus could be used in a culinary creation or was to be avoided like the plague.

It wasn't until the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, that I started seeing mushrooms in a new light--I actually began to realize their deeper, more meaningful purpose on this planet.

Now, you may be asking how do mushrooms and oil spills even fit together in the same sentence? Well, I found the answer to this very interesting question as I listened to a radio talk on NPR where the show's main purpose was to educate the public about totally organic methods of the cleaning up and disposal of massive amounts of spilled oil.

This new and exciting process is executed using hair mats made from human hair in a project started by Lisa Guatier, called Matter of Trust. In the clean-up mission, volunteers use the hair mats to suck up the offending oil. Once the hair mats become saturated, they are layered in a giant tank and the mushrooms are then put to work. In this system, Oyster mushrooms are placed on the mats to grow and absorb the oil. The mushrooms take approximately 12 weeks to complete the job, converting the oily hair mats into nontoxic compost.

A national mushroom expert named Paul Stamets donated $10,000 worth of Oyster mushrooms to the clean-up effort when he heard of the project. Paul actually claims that when the mushrooms have finished cleaning up the oil, they are still edible.

Because this information completely amazes me, I decided to do my own research about the miraculous mushroom. Here are some of the interesting facts I found:
  • Mushrooms are actually the fruits of fungus. The fungus itself is simply a net of threadlike fibers, called a mycelium, growing in soil, wood or decaying matter. Mushrooms on a mycelium are like apples on an apple tree.
  • There are an estimated 38,000 species of mushrooms.
  • Most mushrooms provide a substantial amount of protein, fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin C, calcium and other minerals.
  • While medicinal mushrooms have been used in China and Japan for more than 3,000 years to boost immunity and fight diseases such as cancer, only in the last decade has their power become acknowledged in the United States.
  • At least three species have demonstrated phenomenal healing potential: maitake, shiitake, and reishi.
  • Harry Preuss and Sensuke Konno, Ph.D., authors of Maitake Magic, say that studies show Maitake (Grifola Frondosa) can hamper growth and spread of cancer cells, protect normal cells from environmental carcinogens, reduce side effects of and augment chemotherapy, stimulate anti-tumor and anti-microbial activity, and help to halt HIV proliferation. The National Cancer Institute declared Maitake more powerful than AZT, with no toxic side effects. Those with high blood pressure can expect a gradual decrease and Maitake also reduces blood and liver cholesterol and triglycerides, thus reducing risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • According to The Medicinal Benefits of Mushrooms by William H. Lee, R.Ph., Ph.D., Reishi increases vitality, improves coronary arteries, inhibits platelet aggregation, normalizes blood pressure, relieves stress and asthma and prevents and treats certain types of cancer and other degenerative diseases. The beta-glucans found in Reishi support the body's immune system in fighting cancer cells and countering the effects of aging.
  • According to Kenneth Jones in Shiitake: The Healing Mushroom , these mushrooms provide benefits for ulcers, high or low blood pressure, liver problems, allergies and autoimmune diseases. Shiitake (Lentinus Edodes) is the second most commonly produced mushroom in the world because of having both medicinal and food value. When eaten, it yields 26% protein by dry weight, carbohydrates, fiber, linoleic acid, vitamins B2, C and D, ergosterol and possesses abundant quantities of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and all the essential amino acids needed in our diet.
  • Crimini and Portabello (Agaricus Bisporus) are the same mushroom, the portabello being left to grow longer and larger. These mushrooms contain a variety of B complex vitamins, are an excellent source of riboflavin, pantothenic acid and niacin, are a very good source of thiamine, vitamin B6 and a good source of folate. Selenium, lysine, protein, zinc, copper , manganese and iron are more benefits of eating this mushroom.
  • Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus Ostreatus) are a fleshy, gilled mushroom growing in shelf-like fashion on wood that are good food and have promising medicinal properties. Protein quality is nearly equal to animal derived protein. Low-fat content is mostly of the good unsaturated kind. Also contained are carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins B1, B2, plus minerals, especially iron. This mushroom shows activity against cancer and high cholesterol.
So, as simple as the mysterious mushroom may appear, it turns out that these fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting bodies of a fungus are truly a miracle of life.