Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Pharmacy in Your Backyard

Probably one of the first acts of biotechnology our long-ago ancestors practiced was learning which mushrooms would kill you, and which were good to eat.  Then they learned that some of these mushrooms were just more than tasty, they cured illnesses.  The first medicine men were biotechnologists.  They learned to use the medicinal qualities of local plants to the advantage of the tribe.

Medicine men were revered in their societies, they were groomed from an early age to learn the plants that cured, killed, or fed the people who relied on their knowledge.

Picking and eating wild mushrooms is a scary proposition for most people.  If you just go through the woods and eat random mushrooms, you may end up seeing pink elephants...or dead.  Luckily, there are many mushrooms that have no known 'lookalikes' and are considered safe.  Most of these have tremendous health benefits as well.

Here are two types of mushrooms I just picked near my house.  The white, coral-looking fungi is known as Lion's Mane and the brownish ones are called Hawk's Wings.

Lion's Mane and Hawk's Wings

Wild Mushrooms, Moose Steak, Rice

After picking, brush off the dirt and leaves, slice in half with a sharp knife and look for rotten spots or bugs that may have burrowed in.  You quickly learn to pick young, fresh specimens and leave the older, mushy ones alone.  I like to either eat immediately or soak overnight in a bowl of lightly salted water to keep them fresh and encourage any bugs to vacate the premises.  Cook them simply, but thoroughly.  Lightly sauteed in butter is my favorite.  Wild mushrooms should not be eaten raw!

The mushrooms were delicious!  But were they food...or medicine?

You know I love my PubMed.  PubMed is my medicine man.  Here's what he tells me about these amazing side-dishes:

Hawk's Wing, aka Sarcodon imbricatum: 
"Antioxidant activities were evaluated in terms of total antioxidant activity, reducing power, metal chelating ability, inhibition of linoleic acid peroxidation, superoxide, peroxide and hydrogen peroxide scavenging effects...The contents of total phenolic, flavonoid, anthocyanin, ascorbic acid, β-carotene and lycopene of Sarcodon imbricatum were determined and found to be noteworthy." PMID 2900068
"Terphenyls are aromatic hydrocarbons consisting of a chain of three benzene rings. From a structural point of view three different isomers are possible, in which the terminal rings are ortho-, meta-, or para-substituents of the central ring. Most of the natural terphenyls are p-terphenyl derivatives. In recent years, some terphenyls have been reported to exhibit significant biological activity, e.g., potent immunosuppressant, neuroprotective, antithrombotic, anticoagulant, specific 5-lipoxygenase inhibitory, and cytotoxic activities (Liu, 2007)" From pdf
Lion's Mane, aka Hericium erinaceus, is discussed in dozens (if not hundreds) of PubMed studies as a cure for everything from Alzheimer's to cancer...

"Hericium is a genus of mushrooms (fungus) in the Hericiaceae family. Hericium erinaceus (HE) has been used for the treatment of digestive diseases for over 2000 years in China. HE possesses many beneficial functions such as anticancer, antiulcer, antiinflammation and antimicrobial effects, immunomodulation and other activities. The aim of the studies was to evaluate the anticancer efficacy of two extracts (HTJ5 and HTJ5A) from the culture broth of HE against three gastrointestinal cancers such as liver, colorectal and gastric cancers in both of in vitro of cancer cell lines and in vivo of tumor xenografts and discover the active compounds.         
CONCLUSION: HE extracts (HTJ5 and HTJ5A) are active against liver cancer HepG2 and Huh-7, colon cancer HT-29 and gastric cancer NCI-87 cells in vitro and tumor xenografts bearing in SCID mice in vivo. They are more effective and less toxic compared to 5-FU in all four in vivo tumor models. The compounds have the potential for development into anticancer agents for the treatment of gastrointestinal cancer used alone and/or in combination with clinical used chemotherapeutic drugs. " PMID 24631140
"Hericium erinaceus is a famous tonic in oriental medicine. The gastroprotective effects of aqueous extract of H. erinaceus against ethanol-induced ulcers in Sprague Dawley rats were investigated. The possible involvements of lipid peroxidation, superoxide dismutase, and catalase were also investigated. Acute toxicity study was performed. The effects of aqueous extract of H. erinaceus on the ulcer areas, ulcer inhibition, gastric wall mucus, gross and histological gastric lesions, antioxidant levels, and malondialdehyde (MDA) contents were evaluated in ethanol-induced ulcer in vivo. In acute toxicity study, a high dose of 5 g/kg did not manifest any toxicological signs in rats. The extract promoted ulcer protection as ascertained by a significant reduction of the ulcer area. Furthermore, it exhibited a significant protection activity against gastric mucosal injury by preventing the depletion of antioxidant enzymes. The level of MDA was also limited in rat stomach tissues when compared with the ulcer control group. Immunohistochemistry showed upregulation of HSP70 protein and downregulation of BAX protein in rats pretreated with the extract. The aqueous extract of H. erinaceus protected gastric mucosa in our in vivo model. It is speculated that the bioactive compounds present in the extract may play a major role in gastroprotective activity."  PMID 24302966
I can guarantee that somewhere near you grows some amazing mushrooms just like these that I had for dinner tonight. These powerful, medicinal mushrooms are REAL FOOD. Please don't eat a mushroom you can't 100% positively identify.  Seek out groups of people, known as mycologists, in your area who know the local 'shroom scene.  Many local county extension services off mushroom collecting seminars, or there may be someone you can pay to take you out and show you what's what and when they are in peak season.

Hunting wild mushrooms is an awesome outdoor activity for everyone.  There is little danger of over-harvesting most species as they re-grow each year.  It may be difficult to find a spot that hasn't been picked-over, but a little patience and perseverance (and luck) go a long ways.  Check your local farmer's markets as well.

Walking through the woods is an excellent way to relieve stress and acquire some novel microbes as well as a healthy dinner.  

1 comment:

  1. Those are wonderful looking mushrooms.
    Last weekend, we got so many ceps that dehydrator was not enough so we had to use oven and sauna and they burned (hubby just kept picking even though I warned him about crowding the dehydrator;).
    About the o/n salt water, how much salt and could they survive 2 days in fridge in that salt water and then dehydrate? Of course, we could just fry them and freeze or make salted mushrooms but the taste is not as good.