Mushrooms: Let Medicine Be Thy Food
Categories: Food & Nutrition Health & Healing
Did you know that September is National Mushroom Month? Although this holiday doesn’t correspond to a mushroom season—since fungi don’t depend on sunlight, they can grow in the right conditions throughout the year—the timing still feels appropriate. With summer perennials preparing for colder months and autumn crops beginning to ripen, our diets should be shifting away from fruits and incorporating more vegetables in their place. And what complements fall vegetables better than delicious and healthful mushrooms?
There are countless types of mushrooms, many of which offer incredible health benefits, and including these fungi in your diet, even a couple times a week, can have an effect, says Robert Rogers, author of The Fungal Pharmacy: The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms & Lichens of North America:
Let food be your medicine,” says Rogers, paraphrasing Hippocrates, who famously advised: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” These days, the average person has heard the first half of this statement, but may not know the quote in its entirety. David Wolfe discusses this in Chaga: King of Medicinal Mushrooms, pointing out the importance of the saying:
This famous dictum—from the founder of Western medicine who championed treating the body as a whole and not just treating its parts—is frequently referenced and observed, cited and reflected upon but in only half its glory. The first phrase, “Let food be thy medicine,” is well known and understood by many, yet the second half of this age-old prescription contains what I perceive as the greater insight of our times. Eating medicine as food appears to be a literal statement. If we read Hippocrates literally, he is clearly telling us: eat herbal medicines regularly as food.
For thousands of years, the Shaolin monks (famous Buddhist warriors) and the Daoists of China gathered a wealth of information, wisdom, and knowledge about the medicinal properties of herbs, mushrooms, and other plants. And though they found many herbs wonderful as occasional foods, these same herbs were often inappropriate for consistent, daily use as food. However, the ancient Shaolin community recognized a distinction whereby the superior, “tonic” herbs were different and could be eaten regularly as food. A tonic is “tonifying,” meaning that it is an overall health and wellness booster that helps restore, tone, and enliven body systems.
From my research, I find that the most powerful of these tonic herbs are the medicinal mushrooms (of which chaga is one), and they fall into a class I call “superherbs.” Due to their naturally high nutritional and medicinal content, proven history, and whole-herb synergy, these superherbs have real potential for healing and invigorating us. I’m talking about more than sprinkling dried oregano on spaghetti. We can gain exponentially greater benefit from superherbs when we know how to incorporate them into our diet on a regular basis.
National Mushroom Month, when the summer fruits have started fading and the autumn harvest waits around the corner, is a good time to think about mushrooms and the wide range of health benefits they offer. This month, take some time to learn about the specific benefits of each type, and how to find and identify different species near you.
David Wolfe’s podcast about chaga and other medicinal mushrooms.
David L. Spahr’s book Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada.