Tag: medicinal mushrooms

Chaga – remember to be sustainable

It’s interesting to revisit this blog from a couple of years ago as I think things are starting to change. There does seem to be more awareness of sustainability, how to source herbs (and mushrooms safely).

If you’re in the UK I highly recommend checking out the work done by the UK Herb grower network and if you’re in the US the Sustainable Herbs Project.

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If you’ve ever read any of my blogs you will know I have a real passion for medicinal mushrooms, especially British ones.

Just as we need to protect our medicinal plants from over harvesting, the same goes for our medicinal mushrooms. Chaga has become a ‘wonder treatment’ for just about everything and it’s being added to smoothies left right and centre. This is extremely wrong and irresponsible.

1. Chaga needs to be extracted in hot water for it to extract it’s medicinal properties, so unless your smoothie is heated to over boiling point for at least 15 minutes you aren’t getting any benefit from it.

2. Chaga is black and course mushroom when ground and powdered, so if your chaga isn’t either a dark brown to black and course, it’s highly likely it’s not chaga!

3. Chaga is rare (growing on birch trees usually in Scotland or further north), it takes skill to harvest it sustainably.

Here’s a picture of real chaga powder on the left (dark and course), and on the right is a sample of chaga powder from a well known high street health food shop. I will allow you to draw your own conclusions about that!

Chaga is becoming endangered and imported specimens from the USA, Canada and Eastern Europe are often contaminated. Chaga a fantastic restorative medicine and is a great treatment for things like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and people recovering from chemotherapy. That said, it should be harvested correctly and from a sustainable source.

There is growing research for the use of chaga which is only exacerbating the problems with supply. In laboratory studies recently, an extract of the medicinal mushroom Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) was found to protect liver cells.

If you have chaga powder in your kitchen or medicine cupboard, check the quality of it, it should be a black and course powder. If it’s not, it’s not chaga!

As of yet I have not found a sustainable source of chaga, but my hunt continues.

The wonders of medicinal mushrooms

On Saturday I had a fantastic opportunity to learn about medicinal mushrooms from one of the UK’s leading experts, Jesper Launder, a mycologist and medical herbalist.

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The day began in the classroom in the middle of the Forest of Dean and a room full of herbalists and mushroom enthusiasts were already excited just by looking at the display in front of us (pictured right).

We were soon put to work foraging for mushrooms in the surrounding area. We found some fantastic species, many medicinal, some edible and some poisonous.

The first medicinal species that we concentrated on was turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), which we were very lucky to find  and several closely related species. Turkey tail is being used clinically to

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combat the side effects of chemotherapy.

In the afternoon session we all set to make learning how to process the medicinal mushrooms and make them into medicines (always my favourite bit). Turkey tail is certainly a precious medicine as the steps to make it into a medicine are extensive! Firstly you dry the mushroom, then break it up into large pieces. Then the dried mushroom is ground to a coarse powder. The powder is then mixed with the appropriate amount of water for the dosage required and boiled for 8 hours. The mixture is then strained and mixed with 90% alcohol in the appropriate amounts for the dosage required. Phew!

The second medicinal mushroom we focused on was chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a rare birch wood fungus. Unfortunately we didn’t find any on our foraging walk but Jesper had brought some with him for us to try. Chaga is currently being used specifically for brain tumours but it is also used for inflammatory skin conditions.

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The third medicinal mushroom we studied was artist’s bracket (Ganoderma applanatum) (pictured left). A much more common species and one related to reishi. Artist’s bracket has many uses including fire lighting and making paper. Medicinally it has antiviral effects and boosts the immune system.

There were many more species to learn and taste and we could have easily spent several days walking in the woods and discovering the delights of British fungi.

I will certainly be incorporating medicinal mushrooms into my clinic, and my confidence in identifying mushrooms has definitely grown so you will probably find I’m talking about them at my next year’s herb walks.