Green plants have not only been a source of food, but have also been used for preventative and therapeutic medicines in the West for centuries. Although mushrooms have been used for healing in the Orient for thousands of years, in the West we tend to be more cautious of fungi, and do not recognize them as being a significant source of medicinal or nutritional substances.
All mushrooms, however, contain compounds called polysaccharides- large chains of molecules made up of many smaller sugar molecules. Polysaccharides have both anti-tumor and immune-stimulating properties. Medicinal mushrooms also contain compounds called terpenes and steroids, some of which also promote anti-tumor activity. They have also been demonstrated to enhance protein synthesis, help the liver detoxify, stimulate and regulate the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and have anti-thrombotic activity. Some of the most widely recognized and used medicinal mushrooms today are Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi and Hime-Matsutke,
The Shiitake Mushroom
Shiitake, often referred to, as 'the nice smelling mushroom', is the second most widely grown mushroom in the world. It is an excellent source of nutrients, higher in amino acids than peanuts, soybeans, corn and kidney beans. It also contains thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, dietary fiber, enzymes and ergosterol, which can be converted by sunlight into vitamin D.
Shiitake's anti-cancer properties
Western scientists are currently interested in extracting a substance called lentinan from the Shiitake mushroom. This substance is a polysaccharide and is under investigation, not just for its anti-tumor properties, but also for its cholesterol lowering and blood pressure lowering effects. In Japan, a highly purified form of lentinan is already approved as an anti-cancer drug, and is used in conjunction with chemotherapy. It has also been shown to be helpful in reducing the chromosomal damage caused by anti-cancer drugs. Lentinula edodes mycelium (LEM) is another active compound which is contained in shitake. Preliminary studies reveal that LEM may also be beneficial in the treatment and prevention of cancer.
The usual dose of the mushrooms in food or soups is 6-16 grams a day. The concentrate, LEM, is dosed at 1-3 grams a day, and the tincture of this extract is 2-4 ml a day.
People taking blood-thinning medications should consult their physician before consuming shiitake on a regular basis, as it has been shown that these mushrooms have blood-thinning properties.
The Maitake Mushroom
Maitake mushrooms have been prized in Japanese herbology for hundreds of years for strengthening the body and improving overall health. In the United States the National Cancer Institute has