5 spot: Five Friendly Fungi

What to do on these long, cold winter nights? It’s halfway through January, and I’ve already finished reading all the novels on my shelves. I pledged to cut way down on screen time this year, so I am left with my old college textbooks, and the other night, I pulled out Microbiology. The subject is turning out to be as enthralling as any detective story! My favorite little critters: the fungi. Encompassing mushrooms, yeasts, and molds, the fungi are amazing! Here are five ways to consort with and consider our fabulous fungal friends, while you await the return of the light.

 1.     Reishi are just one of many mushroom species that improve animals’ health. Human beings have used mushrooms medicinally for millennia, as evidenced in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, the Classic of Chinese Herbal Medicine, written between 250 and 200 BCE. Since then, we have found many close associations between various fungi and the human systems they fortify. Reishi mushrooms support the immune and cardiovascular systems; Chaga acts as antioxidant support. Turkey Tail provides immune support, and Lion’s Mane benefits the brain and provides nervous system support. You can find these and other mushrooms prepared for medicinal use, in the Co-op’s Wellness Department. One of the companies I like best is Host Defense.

2.     You can also drink your fungus of choice. I’ve become quite fond of Rebbl Herbs Reishi Chocolate drink, which I happened upon in the refrigerators at the back of the Co-op last winter. I drank one every day and I did not get sick all winter. Plus it was delicious, cold or hot. Also, fermented beverages harness the magic transformational power of yeasts (as well as bacteria), and include the obvious beer, wine, kefir, and kombucha tea, which deserve an article or two all to themselves.

3.     Edible mushrooms have many devotees. The Co-op’s produce aisle stocks species that are growing seasonally. Sautéed with garlic and olive oil or butter, or added to soup, the earthy treats are a healthful mouthful. After the snows melt, join an expedition or take a class with the Palouse Mycological Association (mycology.wsu.edu/mushroom/, or find them on Facebook.) When foraging, ONLY EAT MUSHROOMS IDENTIFIED AS EDIBLE BY A KNOWLEGABLE EXPERT! There are poisonous species that must be avoided.

4.     Yeasts are fungi too! Who knew?! Bread, beer, cheese. Human beings have been existing in commensal community with yeasts for millennia.

5.     OK, molds. Though many molds synthesize medicinally-useful substances, molds are not cool when found growing in your refrigerator or under your fingernails. Dr. Liu, who taught me most of what I know about Chinese herbs, said of the category, Herbs that Expel Parasites, “Chinese medicine is Taoist medicine. We don’t kill parasites, we just show them to the exit door.” Few unfriendly fungi attempt to take up residence in our interior spaces, and those who do mostly do so in hair, skin, or nails. To help them find the exit door, try applying a preparation of tea tree oil, or grapefruit seed extract. Apply topically to problem areas and bye bye, fungus! The same holds true for their refrigerator cousins.

It’s always good to consider relationships among living organisms. Fungi do so much for us, selflessly sharing their life force. As we look toward spring, I’m going to start thinking about what I can do to thank the friendly fungi I coexist with.

Naomi Brownson has a Master’s degree in Oriental medicine, which includes in depth training in the use of herbal medicine. The content of this article is meant for informational purposes only: when considering taking herbs, consult a trained herbalist, and ask your western medical healthcare provider if herbs are safe when combined with any medication you may be taking.