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Mushrooms as medicine

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Fungi’s powerful healing potential

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white fungus growing on fallen wood
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What do mushrooms have to do with medicine? In actual fact, quite a lot!

Fungi have long been revered for their miraculous medicinal properties. They have been used as remedies for all manner of ailments for centuries and across the globe. Yet, surprisingly, we are still so far from knowing all there is to know about the healing properties of mushrooms. Awareness of their potential is, however, on the up...

In honour of the research that is underway into this exciting field and the headway that is being made, we’ve been posting about the health benefits of different fungi species on our Facebook page. In case you haven’t seen the series, here’s a rundown of what we’ve covered…

 

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor)

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Turkey tail fungus growing up tree trunk
Alexei Val/ iStock

The lovely mushrooms pictured here are Trametes versicolor, better known as ‘turkey tails’. Aren’t those frills beautiful? Here are a few of the medicinal benefits this fungus is believed to boast:

  • Traditionally, turkey tails have been used to relieve gout, arthritis and rheumatism.
  • Research is underway into their immune-boosting polysaccharides and their ability to help fight cancer.
  • They have been found to prolong the activity of antibiotics and even enhance the effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

 

Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus)

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Bearded tooth fungus, growing at root of a tree
Wavipicture/ iStock 

Is this fungus about to roar…? I don’t think we need to explain why Hericium erinaceus is commonly referred to as ‘lion’s mane’! It is believed to:

  • Help fight dementia and improve the production of brain cells.
  • Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects. An important property, as winter draws in...
  • Enhance the activity of our intestinal immune systems, which could help fight off the pathogens that are so common at this time of year.

An important note: unfortunately, Lion’s mane is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. That means that if you are lucky enough to come across it in the wild, you must be very careful not to touch it! Instead, report it to the Lost and Found Fungi project.

 

Razor strop fungus, birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus)

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Razor strop fungus, 𝘗𝘪𝘱𝘵𝘰𝘱𝘰𝘳𝘶𝘴 𝘣𝘦𝘵𝘶𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘶𝘴
 JohnatAPW/ iStock 

Why might you have once found this fungus in an old barber’s shop?

It may not be obvious from its soft-looking exterior, but the birch polypore is also commonly referred to as the 'razor strop fungus’, because it was once used to help sharpen part of a barber’s shaving razor!

The Piptoporus betulinus also has an impressive repertoire of medicinal properties. Here are our top three:

  • It is believed to have ‘styptic’ qualities, which means it can help staunch bleeding.
  • Birch polypore is an antiviral. Research shows it could help prevent the reproduction of HIV cells and treat all kinds of infections, from flu to yellow fever to encephalitis.
  • This mushroom may help fight tumours. It has the ability to aid in the destruction of cancer cells, without negatively affecting healthy cells.

 

The common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)

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Two puff ball fungi, growing on the ground
Dan Rieck/ iStock 

Football or fungus?

The common puffball is also referred to as ‘devils snuffbox’ and sometimes even as ‘wolf farts’!  It is very common in the UK, and you may well have tried it before... but did you realise you could have been helping your health at the same time?

Studies have shown that Lycoperdon perlatum could have several medicinal benefits. Here are a few of our favourites:

  • The common puffball used to be kept in blacksmiths' workshops because it was believed to help burns and staunch bleeding, thanks to its ‘styptic’ properties.
  • The spores of this fungus are thought to be antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal.
  • This means it could help fight all kinds of illnesses, like E. coli and salmonella.

 

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

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Chaga fungus, growing on tree trunk
iStock

Is this a mushroom? Or the burnt burl of a birch tree...?

You’d be forgiven for guessing it was charcoal, but it’s actually chaga!

Here are few of the potential medicinal properties of the Inonotus obliquus fungus:

  • The polyphenols, polysaccharides and betulinic acid in chaga are thought to give it, like many other fungi species, immune-boosting and modulating benefits.
  • Chaga is thought to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
  • In traditional medicine, chaga is used to treat allergies, inflammatory digestive disorders and even cancer.

Medicinal mushroom resources

Are you feeling as inspired and intrigued about the medicinal potential of fungi as we are?

This blog post is just a tiny spore in the vast field of medicinal mushrooms! We’ve listed a few of our favourite, reliable and trusted resources below, so you can continue with your own fungus education: 

Wild Food UK

The British Mycological Society

Field Studies Council

UK Fungus Day

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Woodland Trust

The Fungus Conservation Trust

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