National Geographic : 2018 Mar
PHOTO: REBECCA HALE, NGM STAFF MUSHROOMS SOURCED FROM NORTH COVE MUSHROOMS AND SHARONDALE MUSHROOM FARM THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED TO BE USED TO TREAT ANY MEDICAL CONDITION. Mushrooms are everywhere—on forest floors, in gardens, in networks connect- ing below our feet. The largest organism on Earth is actually a honey mushroom, an underground web that covers more than 3.7 square miles in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. Yet mushrooms are poorly under- stood, and the field of medicinal mush- rooms is still in its infancy. Fungi used to be overlooked as a low-calorie, low- nutrition food, but in fact many are full of nutrients. According to biochemist and herbalist Martin Powell, many pro- duce compounds that show potential for improving treatment results for those suffering from ailments such as cancer and dementia. “Fungi are far more mysterious than plants,” says Robert Beelman, director of the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health. He led a recent study showing that two common antioxidants in some mushrooms— ergothioneine and glutathione—have the potential to help ward off diseases that come with aging, such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Some species are famous for their hallucinogenic properties. Others, like the mushrooms on these pages, not only are appreciat- ed by chefs but also show therapeutic value. Perhaps in the future, superfoods won’t be just plants but also fungi. MUSHROOMING POPULARITY By Daniel Stone EXPLORE WELLNESS CHAGA Inonotus obliquus Often consumed as a tea, the mushroom has been used to treat digestive disorders and psoriasis. A 1968 novel touted it as a cure for cancer. MAITAKE Grifola frondosa A culinary and clinical mushroom, it may help reduce blood sugar and boost immunity. CHESTNUT Pholiota adiposa Consumption of chestnut- mushroom extract may offer protection from buildup of fat in blood, or high cholesterol. LION’S MANE Hericium erinaceus By helping the brain promote nerve growth, it could be a supplementary treatment for neurodegenerative disorders. BEAR’S HEAD TOOTH Hericium americanum Some research links this mushroom, as well as others in the Hericium genus, to boosts in cognitive health. REISHI Ganoderma lucidum Known in China as the mushroom of immortality, it has traditionally been used to prolong life and is used to treat allergies and arthritis.