History of Mushrooms as Medicine - Part 3
The Shiitake mushroom is vastly popular as a dietary choice in China and Japan. In Japan, the creme de la crème of shiitake crop is called donko. In China, it is known as shanku and dongo. The Chinese were the first to use the shiitake mushroom for nutrition and healing. According to a Chinese legend, around 5,000 years ago, a deity, Shennong bestowed the world with natural treasures including medicinal mushrooms. This laid the foundation for the conceptual framework of Chinese medicine based on super foods and acupuncture.
Tapestries and Chinese manuscripts depict deities holding several species of medicinal mushroom, including the shiitake, which finds applications in Chinese culture as an aphrodisiac and a promoter of youthfulness and virility.
After the Chinese discovered the shiitake while scourging the extensive forest that covers the Chinese subcontinent, the Japanese developed a convenient method to cultivate mushrooms. Called the ‘soak and strike’ method, it involved inoculating a tree log with collected spores, and leaving them out in a moist atmosphere. The logs are cut from a tree and placed horizontally, followed by an injection of spores. In fact, this method was synonymous with a development of a male child into a man. Logs inoculated during a child’s birth would mature with him until he reaches manhood, when he would then inherit the ‘fortune’ in his backyard. Thus, the shiitake was a prized possession, and people went to the extent of robbing them from one another, leading to what was known as a ‘shiitake war’.
In 1969, the pharmaceutical Lentinan was extracted from shiitake and has since become commonly used as an adjuvant for the treatment of certain cancers in Japan and China.
Today, Japan accounts for 80% of worldwide shiitake production, but the shiitake is also grown in several other parts of the world, including the United States. It has been incorporated in several ways to cooking over time, and in Japanese restaurants, it forms quite the supplement to a sushi roll or even a hot bowl of Bok Choy soup.
So the next time you feel under-nourished and in need of healing, trust the mythical power of the shiitake mushroom!
Called the "Gift from God" or the "King of Herbs," the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) has been respected for thousands of years throughout Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern United States, North Carolina mountains and Canada. A birch fungus, Chaga grows on living trunks of mature birch trees in cold climates.
Otzi the Iceman, a well-preserved mummy found in an ice sheet in 1991 by hikers in the mountains between Australia and Italy, lived around 5,300 year ago and actually carried Chaga in his pouch for fire transportation purposes. Although Otzi has not been identified as part of a specific group of indigenous peoples, the Khanty people of Western Siberia are historically known as the first known users of the Chaga for this purpose.
The Khanty people used Chaga in a variety of ways. They drank it to aid in digestion, and recorded it made them feel fuller and helped during detox periods. The Khanty people also interestingly smoked ground Chaga believing that it improved lung health, which is not scientifically supported (we do not suggest inhalation of charred Chaga!). They also used Chaga as a natural soap combined with lard and ash; they recorded that it helped soothe the skin. Chaga soon spread around what is known as modern day Russia, being utilized by hunters and foragers to increase their capacity to work, and promote endurance.
In the 12th century, Czar Vladmir Monamakh attributed the disappearance of his lip tumors to a decoction of Chaga - one of the more shocking historical examples!
Fast forward to the 16th century, when Chaga was dubbed the 'King of the Herbs' in the Shen Nung Pen Tsao Ching, the earliest Chinese pharmacopoeia. Chaga has been historically widely used throughout Asia for hundreds of years.
In the 1950’s the Moscow Medical Institute began conducting clinical trials of Chaga Mushroom. It was soon accepted for use in medical clinics all around Russia, and it was agreed upon by researchers that Chaga helped support immune function.
In 1955, Chaga was recognized as a medical treatment in Russia by the Russian Medical Academy of Science.
In 1968, The Cancer Ward by Russian Nobel Prize laureate and novelist, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn made the historically hidden and inaccessible knowledge of the benefits of Chaga available to the Western world.
The medicinal properties of Chaga span centuries and across continents. Today its use in promoting health is backed by a long list of peer-reviewed scientific research.
Once known as the “Mountain Priest”, Lion’s Mane has been a part of Asian culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine long before it was introduced to the west. Historically, it was reserved for royalty and cherished for its cognitive power by Buddhist monks, who often use Lion’s Mane mushrooms to enhance brain function and heighten their focus during meditation.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this powerful mushroom supports all five internal organs – liver, spleen, lung, heart, and kidney. The Lion’s Mane mushroom is also hailed in Traditional Chinese Medicine to combat the deficiency of Qi, or “life force”.
While Lion’s Mane was once only foraged from the wild, the Chinese began cultivating it in 1988. It is now widely grown indoors on a substrate, such as hardwood sawdust, as demand for this medicinal mushroom has exploded.
Although functional mushroom products have long been used in traditional medicine, the ability to identify beneficial properties and then extract the active ingredient started with the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928. Since that time, many potential antibiotics were discovered and the potential for various fungi to synthesize biologically active molecules, useful in various clinical therapies, has been under research.