Health Benefits of Mushrooms

Did you know that mushrooms are super healthy for us? Aside from being a good source of vitamins and minerals, mushrooms are also rich in immune boosting proteins and carbohydrates.

Mushrooms are one of my favourite foods to wildcraft. As a young child, I used to go with my grandmother and harvest the mushrooms growing on our farm. Then we would return and make mushroom soup or mushroom pies. I can still fondly remember those lovely outings on cool autumn days.

So be on the lookout for wild mushrooms during Autumn. At the moment as we are getting some rain followed by sunshine, which is the perfect weather for mushrooms to sprout. Use a field guide of course if you are gathering wild mushrooms, as not all mushrooms are edible! Of the 10,000 species that grow worldwide only around 50-100 are dangerous.  While I have always loved mushrooming and have had many successful outings and harvests, I have to admit that I once learnt the hard way regarding poisonous mushrooms.

oyster glowing

Poisonous oyster mushroom

I found what I thought were regular oyster mushrooms growing in a mountain ash forest in Victoria. After coming back to Melbourne and cooking them up into a lovely mushroom sauce, I was met soon after with nausea, violent stomach pain and vomiting which lasted a few hours!  When I double checked my field guide and looked at the mushroom in the dark, I noticed that it glowed green – which was the definitive sign that it was the poisonous cousin of the tame oyster mushroom. Happily I lived to tell the tale and now I am a little more cautious when it comes to foraging in the wild!

A much safer, and no less fun way of harvesting mushrooms is to grow your own with mushroom boxes, which is a fun and easy gardening project – and ones the kids will love too. While most mushrooms consumed are the button variety, other mushrooms are more potent in terms of their health benefits. Some of the ones that have been well studied for anticancer and immune boosting properties are the Chinese varieties shitake, reishi, maitake, ganoderma and cordyceps. A lesser known Brazilian mushroom, (Agaricus blazei murrill syn Agaricus subrufescens), was discovered by researchers near Sao Paulo and was known by the locals as the “Mushroom of God.”

Agaricus subrufescens, the "Mushrooms of God"

Agaricus subrufescens, the “Mushroom of God”

It was observed that the locals of this area were extraordinarily healthy and had a very low incidence of disease, which they attributed to this magical mushroom. Scientists found this mushroom to be the most potent of all the well known medicinal mushrooms. It boasts the highest amounts of immune boosting polysaccharides and it also has a potent antitumour action.  A range of cancers have successfully been treated in European cancer clinics by using this potent mushroom, from breast and stomach cancer to leukaemia.

So including mushrooms in your diet can be a health promoting activity, but try to be adventurous and try some of the more exotic types easily available, at larger foodstores and Asian grocers such as shitake and the mixed oyster and wood fungus.