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Monday, November 15, 2010

To Your Health Series: Types of Medicinal Mushrooms

In a previous article, this author discussed the discovery of mushrooms and their health benefits that dates back thousands of years.  For centuries, certain cultures have used mushrooms for their large range of medicinal capacity.  Certain mushrooms have powerful immune boosting enhancers, antibacterial and antibiotic properties, anti toxins to support the liver and kidneys, adaptogenic properties to alleviate and assist in coping with environmental stressors, as well as natural cancer fighting properties.  Although many of these properties are found in vegetables, mushrooms show an accelerated amount.  Many believe this is due to the way the mushroom grows on the trees.

How to Prepare Mushrooms For Medicinal Use

Preparing these mushrooms and even preserving them is not difficult in the least.  In fact, multiple medicinal sources suggest that teas or infusions made of mushrooms are the best way to treat a person medicinally.  The hot water breaks the polysaccharides out of the undigestible cell walls so that it’s immune properties are released and made available.  However, many mushrooms can be dehydrated and stored much like the food we dehydrate.  When shiitake mushrooms are cooked or dehydrated their nutritional properties improve.

5 Popular Types of Medicinal Mushrooms

Due to the fact that there are over 220 anti-tumor and 42 anti-viral agents that have been isolated from fungi, studies on mushrooms and their effect on the human body have been ongoing since the 1960’s.  Natural News states that there are over 150 species of medicinal mushrooms found to inhibit the growth of different kinds of tumors, especially cancers from the stomach, esophagus, and lungs, but there are certain mushrooms that seem to stand out, as far as cancer fighting abilities go.
Button mushrooms contain an impressive amount of copper, which helps to create red blood cells.  According to sources at LiveStrong, copper provides the body with protection from free radicals, helps the body absorb iron, and assists the body in the formation of bone and the clotting of blood.  One cup of cooked button mushrooms supplies the body with 16% of the daily value of iron, important for blood and energy, and 12% of the daily percentage of Vitamin C.”
Although this type of mushroom does not contain the beneficial polysaccharides that were discussed in the previous article, button mushrooms are loaded with aromatase inhibitors, a natural occurring cancer fighting agent that is specifically helpful in fighting breast cancer.  Women who do a regimen of taking button mushrooms and drinking green tea can reduce their risk of breast cancer significantly.  According to a study conducted in China, women who ate 10 grams of button mushrooms were two thirds less likely to develop breast cancer.  Button mushrooms also have anti viral and anti bacterial agents present in them as well.
Button mushrooms can be cooked, eaten raw or made into a tea.  For more information on button mushrooms, click here.
The Chaga mushroom has been isolated for it’s cancer fighting abilities.  This type of fungus grows mainly on birch trees, but can occansionally be found on ironwood, elm, alder and beech trees.  This mushroom is actually a fungal parasite that draws its nutrients out of living trees, rather than from the ground. The chaga musroom has a charred looking appearance that grows around the wound areas of the above stated trees.  According to sources, the chaga mushroom has one of the highest amounts of antioxidants that an be consumed.  Chaga mushrooms treat ailments and disorders such as an immuno stimulant, used as an anti-inflammatory, treating stomach diseases, intestinal worms, liver and heart ailments, cancers such as breast, liver, uterine and gastric, hypertension, diabetes, anti-tumor activity, and reduces symptoms of HIV/AIDS.
Chaga can be made into a tea by soaking the fungi in water for four hours to soften it, and then placed in boiled water.  For more intricate details, as well as how to make a chaga extract, click here.
Cordyceps  are used to strengthen the body and mind at a fundamental level.  This mushroom is also called the Chinese Caterpillar Fungus because it grows in the larva of the ghost moth.  It has been used to medicinally treat humans and animals with different types of cancers and health issues including lymphoma, and acts as an immuno stimulant, and possesses antioxidant properties.  In addition, cordyceps have a dilating effect on bronchials and act as a cough suppressant, thus minimizing the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory disorders while making breathing easier.  Due to the increase in blood flow this mushroom creates, it would make an ideal dietary supplement to increase endurance levels.  Many endurance runners make a tea  to increase their energy levels while training.  Research is currently going on to see if this mushrooms has an effect on those with diabetes and liver related problems.  Click here for more information.
This mushroom can be dried to make a powder or can made into a tea. Or the dried mushroom can be put into soups or dishes for additional nutrition.
Reishi mushrooms are known in Eastern medicine as the Immortal Mushroom and the Resurrection plant.  For over 4,000 years this mushroom has been used for it’s health benefits, longevity, resistance from diseases, energy and memory enhancements.  Reishi has been known to treat a variety of medicinal problems including treatments for cancer, hepatitis,prevents the death of lymphatic cells, lowers blood pressure, heart disease and arthritis and increases daily energy levels.
Since this type of mushroom is very woody and inedible when fresh, the traditional way of preparing reishi for medicinal purposes is to prepare a tea.  Additionally, some like to dry the mushroom out and grind is up to make a coffee-like tea with or use in soups and dishes.  There are also capsules available in health stores as well. 
Here are two ways to make reishi tea:
  • Soak/Brew Method - Place 1 ounce of dried mushrooms in 8 cups of water and allow to soak overnight.  In the morning, boil the water.  Stain the mushrooms out of the liquid.  Honey or agave nectar can be added to sweeten the drink.
  • Extended Brew Method – Place 1 ounce of dried mushrooms in 11 cups of water and allow to boil for two hours.  Stain the mushrooms out of the liquid.  Honey or agave nectar can be added to sweeten the drink.
Shiitake mushrooms are the most researched of all the mushrooms.  It can be used both medicinally and for culinary purposes.  Medicinally speaking, shiitake mushrooms have antihistamine properties that can assist in allergy related discomfort.  This mushroom type also assists in treating high blood pressure, has cancer fighting agents (particularly for those that suffer from stomach cancers), anti-tumor agents. antifungal and 42 different anti-viral agents.  Shiitake also has eight different types of amino acids (in better proportions than milk, eggs and soybeans) and is a good source of Vitamin A, B, B12, D and niacin.  Readers may also be particularly interested in this mushroom type used as an antibiotic.  (Source)  Shiitake mushrooms have been used for high cholesterol, diseases of the liver (such as hepatitis B and cirrhosis), general immune support, and diabetes (for high cholesterol).
A tea can be made from fresh mushrooms, dried or dehydrated mushrooms, or a mushroom powder can be used.  Interesting, it has been found that when shiitake mushrooms are cooked or even dehydrated, the nutritional amounts increase.
This article is for informational purposes only.  If a person is considering using mushrooms as a medicinal source, contact a doctor for further advice.  Additionally, women who are pregnant should talk to their doctors before taking an alternative medicine source.  Some mushrooms are poisonous.  If you cannot identify them, do not take the chance in eating them.  A Field Guide to Mushrooms is an excellent and practical guide to mushrooms.

Fabulous Fruit Leather (Even if You Dry it Too Long)

Fruit leather is one of those dehydrating projects that may look a bit intimidating, but actually isn't too hard to do.  You'll see.  Even you can make fabulous fruit leather.  Your kids will love it and it makes a great trail, camp, or lunchbox snack.  So let's get started, shall we?

First you'll need some fruit.  Really, about any fruit will do.  Okay, probably not citrus or melons, but about anything else. It can be fresh fruit or frozen, just make sure to thaw and drain some (maybe all) of the liquid off the frozen fruits.

Prepare your fruit as you would for any other canning or freezing experience--wash, peel if necessary, and pit if necessary.  Then get your fruit in your blender or food processor.  This fruit doesn't have to be nice and perfect.  A lot of times I save the reject fruit when I'm canning and use it for fruit leather.  I did two batches this time--one straight peach and the other peach/cherry with some frozen cherries I had from last year.

When you've got your fruit in, pulverize it.  You want a nice smooth consistency with no lumps, so blend/chop the heck out of it.

The peaches weren't too sweet, so I added brown sugar to the peach batch.  If you're going to add sweetener, use brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, etc. but not granulated sugar as it tends to crystallize and make your fruit leather crunchy.

I also added some raspberry extract to the peach batch just for fun.  Feel free to experiment.  I once did peach with cinnamon in it and that was really tasty also.  I just kind of guess at the amounts.  You can always taste the fruit mush and see if you want to add more, but remember the flavors concentrate as it dries so don't get too carried away either!

The cherry batch was plenty sweet with those bing cherries, so it didn't get any additives.  Just peaches and cherries.  Thoroughly mix in anything you added.

When the fruit is all mushy, prepare your dehydrator trays.  Some dehydrators come with fruit leather sheets.  You can get fancy sheets for the Excalibur that work really well, but I'm too cheap, so I use plastic wrap.  I laid it over the mesh and then tucked it under the sides loosely.  I really should have wrapped it clear around the solid part of the tray even though that makes it a little sticky sliding in the dehydrator.  I know I've done it that way in the past and it dried nice and flat.  When the plastic wrap starts heating up it shrinks and if it's pulling on the edges of the mesh it can pull it up on the sides and you'll have to get in and un-tuck a bit so it can lay flat again like I had to do.  Not a huge problem, but kind of a hassle.

When you pour your fruit on the tray, you can do it in any shape you want.  I generally like to fill the whole tray just because I want it done quick, but you can do strips or dots or whatever makes you happy.  Spread it around so it's a little thicker at the edges.  This is because the edges will dry faster and making them thicker is supposed to slow that down a bit and make it so it all dries about the same.  I'm not sure how well this works since my edges always seem to get too dry even though I try to make the sides thicker when I pour it on the tray.

The extra of each variety got to share a tray.

Now that it's on your trays, put it in your dehydrator and start drying it.  I dried mine at 135 degrees for about 8 hours or so.  Keep checking it.  You may want to turn your trays around part way through so they will dry more evenly.

When it's done, you roll it up.  Except if the edges dried too much and they're crispy, then it won't roll well.  If you crispied your fruit leather (like I usually do), you have a couple of choices.  You can break it in chunks and have fruit shards, you can re-heat it by running the dehydrator again and see if you can get it soft enough to roll up warm, or you can leave it on the tray for a while.  If you live in a humid environment it will probably soften up enough to roll up on its own if it's left alone.  I left mine on the tray until I was doing some canning and the kitchen was all nice and moist, and voila!  It was soft and rolled up just fine.

To roll it, tuck the excess plastic wrap over the bottom edge.

Then start rolling, taking the plastic wrap with you as you go.  If you poured in strips or dots or whatever, just cut the plastic wrap in between your leathers before you roll them up.

Roll until it's all rolled up and you have a little fruit log.

You can either store it like a log or I like to cut mine into chunks about 1-1 1/2 inches wide to make it easier to eat.  Make sure to use clean scissors and you'll need to wash them afterward--they'll get sticky.

I keep them sealed in a mason jar with just the lid screwed on tight.  One of my commenters reminded me we're in a very dry area.  If you live where it's humid, the un-sealed mason jar may not work for you.  You can use a foodsaver bag or mylar bag with oxygen absorber or seal your jar with the foodsaver jar sealer attachment if you're wanting to store them longer than that or live in a humid environment.  If you leave them out, they don't last long because they're so tasty your kids won't be able to keep from eating them, but hidden in the food room they'll last probably 3-4 years before starting to taste old and stale if you didn't long term pack them.

Now that wasn't so hard, was it?  Super easy fabulous fruit leather.