Mushrooms: Food of Royalty
By Katherine Smith
Special to The Pilot
The folklore of mushrooms spans back more than 4,600 years to Egypt. The Egyptians believed mushrooms to be the food of royalty; that mushrooms could produce superhuman strength and help the soul on its afterlife journey.
The reality of mushrooms is that, until recently, most people understood that they had health benefits, but did not understand why or to what extent.
"People generations ago used a lot of things that we've lost," Susan Allen, a Deep Gap mushroom farmer, says. "So we have to reinvestigate that medicinal healing."
Susan and David Allen grow six varieties of oyster -mushrooms, lobster, shiitake, lion's mane, turkey tail, -portobello wine caps, morel and reishi -mushrooms. The Allens have a farm -exemplary of large-scale mushroom growing, -located at 5713 Elk Creek Road in Deep Gap.
They sell their -mushrooms through New River Organic Growers at $1 per ounce. Dried, they sell for $2 per ounce, because it takes about three pounds of picked mushrooms to produce one pound of dried. The reishi mushrooms have a special price of $20 per ounce.
The Allens purchased their 2,200 mature logs from another Deep Gap farmer, Pony Morrell.
In addition to the logs, the Allens have containers full of mushroom spores, bought from fieldforest.com. Once the spores are inoculated, the Allens plan to have a total of 3,000 logs.
Susan, a finance and management major from Southeastern Louisiana University, and her husband, David, a lifetime electronics engineer, decided to take on mushroom growing as a -retirement project. They cashed in their 401(k) to buy the equipment, and with the Field & Forest Guide as a handbook, they are learning as they go.
Mushrooms are happiest in warm, wet climates, Susan Allen says. So the finicky mountain weather is master of their harvest. A cold week of 45 degrees had the Allens working 10 hours every day, and harvesting only 15 pounds of mushrooms by the end of the week. But a week prior, steady 70 degree temperatures and rain gave them 85 pounds.
Many farmers grow mushrooms in their basement, where the temperature and light can be regulated. But Susan Allen stresses the importance of Vitamin D in outdoor mushrooms, one of the many nutrients missing from store-bought mushrooms.
Reishi's Growing Importance
Of all the mushrooms that the Allens grow, the reishi mushroom is their pride. It is called the "god herb" in Chinese, and its history is preserved in Japanese myth and on tapestries in the Forgotten City.
Researchers are cautiously excited about the reishi mushroom, mostly due to its proven soothing of ailments like -chronic hepatitis, insomnia and asthma. Most significantly, reishi has had -electrifying possibilities for cancer -prevention, cancer cure and arthritis.
Reishi's impact on cancer is of growing importance, as according to the American Cancer Society pamphlet "Cancer Facts & Figures 2012," men have about a 50 percent lifetime risk of developing cancer, and women have about a 33 percent lifetime risk.
Polysaccharides are long bonds of carbohydrates molecules, usually responsible for cell structure, like cellulose and chitin. But reishi has immuno-stimulating polysaccharides, particularly Beta-D-Glucans.
These potent polysaccharides in reishi were demonstrated to indirectly prevent oncogenesis (the creation of cancer) and tumor metastasis (the transfer of the -disease) in a study report by Daniel Sliva, Ph.D., an associate member at the Indiana University Cancer Center. Instead of killing the cancer cells, the polysaccharides activated the immune response of tested mice to stimulate natural killer cells, T cells and B cells (the two main types of lymphocytes, the white blood cells that protect the body from infection). It also stimulated macrophage-dependent immune system responses (responses that are typically stimulated by inflammation, but left dormant in cancer).
More so, the reishi has hopeful -implications for cancer therapy. Glycosphingolipids (fatty substances essential to the central nervous system) are types of cerebrosides (lipid compounds found in brain and nerve tissue). Two types of glycosphingolipids were found in reishi mushrooms during the same study. When applied, they inhibited DNA polymerases, the instigators of -cancer. They inhibited DNA replication.
"Anything we take into our body can become a part of our body's cell," Allen says. "The byproduct becomes -resident, and strengthens your immune system before you get sick."
And because mushrooms grow from a fading life source, they learn the composition of life through their host.
Susan Allen uses her blender to grind the mushroom into a powder, shreds it to make a tea and puts it in her mashed potatoes. She says the raw dried mushroom has helped alleviate the pain caused by her multiple sclerosis.
"I'm concerned with the pill-pushing," Susan Allen says. "If you can grind it up yourself, why not make it accessible to people that way?"
Reishi mushrooms have a burnt sunset color and grow in a fat heart shape. They can grow up to the size of a dinner plate, but a healthy outdoor organic reishi is -typically three inches in diameter. They are mature when the outermost white ring is as thin as a fingernail. Reishi-growing logs lay flat on the ground, about halfway deep in a small trench of soil.
By reducing blood fat, bad cholesterol and lowering blood pressure, reishi -mushrooms are also anti-inflammatory - a useful treatment for arthritis. A 1993 American study, a 2003 Indian study and a 2006 Chinese study of reishi all stress the significant anti-inflammatory qualities of the mushroom.
In a 2007 study published by the University of Hong Kong, the peptide polysaccharides in reishi significantly reduced rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts (the unique cell type that distinguishes rheumatoid arthritis from other inflammatory conditions of the joints).
The scientific results are promising and practical. Susan Allen says that the -mushroom has strengthened both her and her husband, despite her multiple sclerosis and his arthritis.
To order mushrooms from the Allens, email Susan Allen at Susan.email@example.com.
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