Mushrooms have been recognized for their healing properties by Western Medicine since the 5th century, when the "father of medicine", Greek physician, Hippocrates (who fittingly also said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”) spoke of their abilities. In Eastern traditions, the use and scope of medicinal mushrooms is even more established.
In the West, mushrooms haven’t always been appreciated. Some people immediately associate them with the mind-altering properties of “magic mushrooms”, some with poisonous varieties that have caused liver failure or death and some think of the environment of decay where mushrooms thrive and think, 'Oh Gross’. As with any species, the world of mushrooms is vast, varied and full of beautiful treasures.
I had never thought much about mushrooms, until the day, over 15 years ago, at the Burning Man Festival, I stumbled upon a lecture being held at the “Earth Guardians” camp and entered the world of Paul Stamets. Paul is one of the Giants in the world of mycology (the study of Fungi). In the presentation, I watched while he shared his passion and knowledge of mushrooms. He also told a deeply moving story of the mushroom Coriolus Versicolor, commonly known as “Turkey Tail”. He had been working with Bastyr University School of Naturopathy in Seattle, using this mushroom to treat a terminal illness and the short version is, it may have played a contributing role in saving his mother’s life.
He went on to describe this intricate “internet of” mycelium, essentially the root system of mushrooms that literally spreads across this planet, helping not only mushrooms, but also trees and plants to communicate and coordinate underground. From the ability to neutralize radiation from nuclear disasters, to breaking down oil from contamination spills, showing antiviral potential in the department of defense sponsored efforts to find a treatment for SARS, the mythology and pharmacology in mushrooms is mighty.
Since that day, I have developed a deep appreciation and respect for mushrooms and have used them consistently as medicines. Tea’s and capsules are my personally preferred forms.
I also continue to learn about ways in which mushrooms can help us save the world, from restoring balance in our eco system and in our inner systems, from new frontiers in research with psilocybin assisted psychotherapy for severe depression and playing a role in breaking the torturous cycle of cluster headaches.
Notably, we see several mushroom species act as immune modulators when dealing with viral invaders and chronic illnesses and as natural insect repellants. As discoveries continue and this list grows we will keep you posted.
I highly recommend watching Fantastic Fungi, a beautiful documentary featuring Paul Stamets and his colleagues.