Mycology, the study of mushrooms, is bringing new admirers to the ‘fungus among us.” Already being used for a variety of medical reasons around the world, the humble toadstool may be thrust into the spotlight soon as a successful, alternative treatment for some stubborn imbalances.
Mushrooms are valued by vegetarians due to their high nutritional value.They are able to produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Mushrooms contain B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sodium, and zinc.
Medicinal mushrooms have thousands of compounds and nutrients that are health-strengthening. Eastern medicine, especially traditional Chinese practices, has used mushrooms for centuries. In the U.S., studies were conducted in the early ’60s for possible ways to modulate the immune system and to inhibit cancerous tumor growth with extracts.
Mushroom hunting is popular, but it is not safe. Some edible mushrooms are almost identical to poison ones. It takes an expert to tell the difference. Also, mushrooms behave like a sponge and easily absorb toxins from soil and air. However, mushrooms are easily considered a ‘health food.’
Without the process of photosynthesis, some mushrooms obtain nutrients by breaking down organic matter or by feeding from higher plants. Another sector attacks living plants to consume them. Edible and poisonous varieties are found near roots of oak, pine and fir trees.
Mushrooms were used ritually by the natives of Mesoamerica for thousands of years. They were widely consumed in religious ceremonies by cultures throughout the Americas. Cave paintings in Spain depict ritualized ingestion dating back as far as 9000 years. Psilocybin use was suppressed until Western psychiatry rediscovered it after World War II.
The controversial area of research is the use of psilocybin, a naturally occurring chemical in certain mushrooms. Psilocybin has been shown to be effective in treating addiction to alcohol and cigarettes.
New studies show the hallucinogenic drug might relieve anxiety and depression in some cancer patients. Mood raising effects that lasted at least several weeks after consuming the fungus were reported in some studies.
While fungus has fascinated people for centuries, it may finally be coming into a new era where its healing powers and unknown qualities are being discovered. The mushroom might very well hold the key to some long ago locked mysteries and diseases.
Medicinal use of mushrooms has been going on for thousands of years with good reason: they are effective. It is time for more focused research exploring additional uses and powers of this delicate gift from nature.