Food as Medicine: Wild Mushrooms in Your Supermarket

I have to admit, my job as a natural-medicine writer comes with some pretty cool perks. Just the other day, I got a carton full of gourmet mushrooms from a Japanese company that’s now cultivating three wild mushroom varieties at its new, fully organic facility in San Marcos, California.


wild-mushroom
I have to admit, my job as a natural-medicine writer comes with some pretty cool perks. Just the other day, I got a carton full of gourmet mushrooms from a Japanese company thats now cultivating three wild mushroom varieties at its new, fully organic facility in San Marcos, California.

The mushrooms included maitake, king trumpet, brown beech, and white beech. They arrived, fresh and firm, in cellophane, portion-size packages, from Hokto Kinoko—a supplier that sells directly to Whole Foods and other grocery stores.

I used the shipment to concoct a mushroom entree that wowed my husband and son. Little did they know they were chowing down on a meal loaded with cancer-fighting, cholesterol- and glucose-lowering, immune-enhancing, and antiplaque properties. Here's a rundown of each variety we tested.

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
This mushroom has a rich earthy flavor and a delicate texture; its delectable sauteed or stir-fried. Medical researchers have been investigating its benefits since at least the 1960s, and herbalists I know recommend it to strengthen the immune system, especially as a supplement taken during cold and flu season.

My go-to herbalist, author and American Herbalist Guild member David Winston of Broadway, New Jersey, says in his book, Herbal Therapy and Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach, that animal and test-tube studies are convincing enough to recommend eating maitake regularly as part of a treatment plan for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and even hepatitis B. (Placebo-controlled studies in people have yet to be conducted.)

A 4-ounce, 30-calorie serving packs a whopping 1,250 IU of vitamin D (which you're probably not getting enough of), and a bit of fiber, plus it's a good source of niacin. Now that I know I can find maitake at a market near me—and because it no longer costs a kings ransom—Ill be tossing it into my shopping cart a few times a week.

King trumpet (Pleurotus eryngii)
This larger mushroom with a meaty white stem and beige cap was also in my sample package. A species of oyster mushroom, known in Japan as eringi, it made a yummy addition to the saute I cooked up. Like other mushrooms, its loaded with antioxidants and is amazingly low in calories (20 per 4 ounces).

White and brown beech mushrooms (Hypsizygus marmoreus)
These cute little 'shrooms come bunched together but can be easily separated to toss into the pan. Flavorwise, they have the typical mushroomy flavor, and I love the eye appeal of the tiny little caps.

A Japanese study conducted last year concluded that mice fed with maitake, king trumpet, or beech mushrooms had lower levels of atherosclerosis, the inflammatory process that causes plaque deposits to build up in arteries, than mice fed regular diets. The mushroom diets lowered the mices triglyceride levels, the blood fat that contributes to atherosclerosis (or what my grandma called “hardening of the arteries"). Of the three mushrooms tested, the tiny beech mushroom offered the strongest artery protection.

A tip for longer life: Sub mushrooms for meat
Ive always enjoyed eating mushrooms—including more exotic but familiar varieties like crimini, portobello, and shiitake (which all have similar benefits to wild mushrooms)—and I especially love how they add a meaty texture and flavor that lets you reduce the amount of animal protein you might ordinarily toss into a stir-fry or saute. Now, a new study makes that an even more compelling reason to cook with these veggies.

You may have seen headlines last week about the study conducted by National Cancer Institute, which examined lifestyle questionnaires submitted by 500,000 people who were then tracked for 10 years. The researchers concluded that people who ate the most red and processed meat had higher death rates from cancer and heart disease than people who ate less red meat.

Armed with that news, Im making mushrooms more of a main ingredient from now on—starting with some of these delicious recipes. And as it warms up outside, Im going to experiment with them on the grill—king trumpet kababs, anyone?
Sara Altshul
Last Updated: September 23, 2010

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