Medicinal Mushrooms: Are they any good?

My grandmother used to collect mushrooms that grew out of the ground. She would cook it and I had a chance to eat it. That was when I was a young boy. I also learned that we just cannot collect and eat any mushroom from the wild — it could be poisonous and some people die because of eating the poisonous mushrooms. That was all that I knew about mushroom.

When I grew up and was teaching in the University, I made many visits to Japan. There I used to see people selling mushrooms by the roadside around the railway station. I was told this was expensive but delicious to eat. I did not buy it even though I cooked my own meals while in Japan.

After my retirement from the university, my wife and I visited China. On one of our visits, we went to the northwestern part of Fujian province. On the first night at Wuyishan we ate many kinds of mushroom for dinner. I was amazed how delicious these mushrooms were. As a botanist, I was even more amazed at the many species of mushrooms that they had to offer. In the shops, they sell many, many types of dried mushrooms. I was impressed and up to this day I said to myself, if I can, I would like to go back to Wuyishan again to take a closer look at these mushrooms.

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Last year, 2014, I crossed path with mushrooms again when my daughter brought home two books on mushroom; Medicinal Mushrooms by Christopher Hobbs and Healing Mushrooms by Georges Halpern.  Well, this time I was hooked! I spent many months reading about mushrooms and their medical benefits.

While surfing the internet, I stumbled into a website by Dr. Alla Kiroshka from New Zealand,  She has a very interesting personal experience to share with us.

Alla was born in Moldova, one of the ex-Soviet Union republics. In 1983, Alla became a qualified Medical Doctor (M.D.) specialising in Facial-Reconstructive Surgery. Dr. Alla wrote:  

Despite my love for surgery and my skill in the operating room, fate had other plans for me. After a good few years of being in practice, I developed an allergic condition that prevented me from continuing my career as a surgeon. 

Though I had access to the very best medical doctors and resources, traditional medicine failed me. No one could pinpoint what exactly I was allergic to and none of the usual treatments were working. 

I became so ill that I spent most of my days in bed. I had tremendous difficulty walking and talking. It got to the point that I was finding it very hard to breathe. I could feel my life slowly slipping away from me. 

Then, a family friend – professor of medicine in China – learned of my condition and suggested that I try some medicinal mushrooms since traditional allergy treatments were not working for me. He recommended three varieties of medicinal mushrooms – Reishi, Maitake and Shiitake. 

Unfortunately, these products were not available in the Soviet Union, and it was not possible to obtain them via the usual channels. So, our family friend devised an innovative way to get them to me. 

One day I received a package from him in the mail. It was a 500-page medical reference book. When I opened it, what I initially assumed to be dust flew out of the pages. However, I quickly realised that this was no ordinary ‘dust’ – it was the powdered version of the recommended mushrooms. No instructions had come with the powdered medicinal mushrooms. So, I devised my own dosages and began taking them. 

Within 2 or 3 days, I started seeing small improvements – my appetite and strength were returning. By day 10, I was up and about. The results I was experiencing were nothing short of miraculous! Each day the symptoms were diminishing and eventually were totally gone. 

Today, many years later, medicinal mushrooms are a regular part of my health regimen. The benefits are so great that I have no desire to stop taking them. 

From Being Healed to Helping Others:  Rather than return to the operating theatre, I decided to pursue another lifelong dream of mine – having my own business. In 1990, I started one of the first privately owned medical enterprises (i.e. clinics) in Moldova. I began my research on medicinal mushrooms. Unfortunately, political restrictions continued to prevent me from being able to import them and share them with others. 

 I immigrated to South Africa, where I lived for over 15 years in magnificent Cape Town at the foot of Table Mountain. It was there that I was finally able to realize my desire to help others experience the healing effects of medicinal mushrooms. After a visit to New Zealand in 2006, I fell in love with this beautiful country. So, in 2007, I moved there with my family …. opened Organic Health Centre in Christchurch where I offered health consultations and sold my line of medicinal mushrooms.

In life, I like to believe what others say or write about. But I would not swallow everything blindly. So for the past many days while writing this article, I have been eating many kinds of mushrooms! I made my own mushroom mix (powder) and added them into the fruit juice or soup for my breakfast. I cannot claim that they heal me of anything (because I am healthy!) but one thing I know they don’t kill me like what my grandmother told me some sixty years ago! Some patients are also taking them. Are they any good? We will know the answer very soon!

Let me quote what I have read.

In the introduction of his book, Christopher Hobbs wrote:

Mushrooms have been valued throughout the world as both food and medicine for thousands of years. Throughout the world, many people enjoy hunting for wild mushrooms, delighting in the variety of shapes, sizes and colours … In Japan, pushcart vendors on the streets still sell medicinal mushrooms to the average citizen who uses them to maintain health and protmote longevity. Some Japanese people have even been said to travel hundreds of miles in order to collect wild mushrooms. Likewise, for over 3,000 years the Chinese have used and revered many fungi (mushrooms) for their health giving properties, especially tonics for the immune system.

Georges Halpern, M.D., Ph.D. wrote in his book:

Many claims are made for medicinal mushrooms. Sometimes out of sheer enthusiasm and sometimes for commercial motives, authors make exagerated claims. A few of these claims border on the outlandish ….Throughout this book, I present scientific studies on medicinal mushrooms, their immune-modulating capabilities and their curative properties. Most of these studies were done in the East — in China, Korea and Japan. Western science has been slow to catch up to the benefits of medicinal mushrooms…. Some in the West have been quick to criticize scientific data from the East, but I believe that this criticism is unwarranted. No medicinal mushroom is cure-all and no mushroom can make the body unassailable to disease. What mushrooms can do is stimulate the immune response, giving a powerful boost to the functions of the body that are already in place for preventing and fighting disease. 

Mushrooms are excellent for your health ….Mushrooms can make you healthy in many different ways, but they do so chiefly by awakening the immune system and making it more alert…Mushrooms can promote good health by strengthening the immune system. Problems in the immune system come in two varieties. When the immune system is underactive, it make you susceptible to infections, cancer and other illness. When it is overactive, it may create allergies and autoimmune reactions. Autoimmune means the immune system is over stimulated and mistakenly attacks the body…. As more research has been conducted on medicinal mushrooms, it has become evident that some of them are immunoregulators, substances that can quiet or activate the immune system, depending on the particular circumstances.

In his book, Dr. Halpen presented fascinating facts and stories about healing mushrooms;

  1. Maitake or dancing mushroom. traditionally used in Japan as a tonic to boost the immune system and increase vitality … supposed to prevent cancer and high blood pressure…. ability to lower cholesterol levels. Beta-glucan from maitake may haveuse as an alternative therapy for prostate cancer. Maitake can help protect the liver against the effects of bad nutrition.
  2. Shiitake or forest mushroom. The Japanese Health & Welfare Ministry approved Lentinan (from shiitake) for treating many kinds of cancer. Lentinan triggers the production of T cells and natural killer cells. Lentinan is the third most widely prescribed anticancer drug in the world. LEM from shiitake is believed to be helpful against hepatitis B.
  3. Reishi or Lingzhi. This is the king of herbal medicines! Reishi is considered a tonic … used to treat a variety of ailments, including chronic fatigue syndrome and diabetes. It is believe to detoxify the liver and help cure hepatitis. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is used to treat asthma, gastric ulcers, insomnia, arthritis and bronchitis. In Chinese art, reishi is a symbol of good health and long life. Chinese women take reishi for beutification of the skin. In Japan it finds its way into hair loss formulas.  Reishi inhibits angiogenesis (development and growth of blood vessels that feed the cancer) and is used for prostate cancer.
  4. Cordyceps. The wonders of Cordyceps have been known in China for at least 1,000 years …. a national medicinal treasure … used to increase energy and vitality. It is used to treat liver diseases, cancer, angina pectoris, cardiac arrhythmias, bronchial problems, anemia, jaundice, infertility and sexual dysfunction.
  5. Agaricus or Mushroom of the God. This mushroom is from Brazil. In clinical studies, it seems that Agaricus polysaccharides can inhibit tumors from growing besides stimulating the white blood cells to kill malignant cells. Preliminary findings also show that Agaricus has a potential in treating inflammatory and allergic conditions.
  6. Trametes or Turkey Tails. The Japanese have long used this mushroom as a folk remedy for cancer. In Japan this is made into an anticancer drugs called Krestin.The drug is almost always prescribed to cancer patients who have had a tumour removed and are undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It is often prescribed for colon, lung, stomach and oesphageal cancer. In TCM it is used to treat lung infections, excess phlegm and hepatitis.
  7. Hericium or Lion’s Mane or Monkey Mushroom. In TCM it is prescribed for stomach disorders, ulcers and gastrointestinal ailments. Polyscaccharides from this mushroom may help against stomach, oesophageal and skin cancer. Extract of this mushroom has been shown to stimulate the immune system which in turn helped to control and reduce the burden of sarcoma tumour.
  8. Chaga. This is a mushroom from Poland, Siberia and North America. Chaga is a Russian folk remedy for cancers, including inoperable breast cancer, lip cancer, gastric, parotid gland, pulmonary, stomach, skin and rectal cancers and Hodgkin’s disease. Russians also use Chaga to treat ulcers and gastritis.

Below is a summary of what people say are the benefits of these mushrooms. Ask me if these mushrooms really have all the “magic” cures? I must admit, I don’t know. But I take the position that if you don’t try you will end up not knowing. If you don’t want to know, you will forever remain “under the coconut shell.”  If these mushrooms are not harmful or don’t kill you, then why not? I know one thing — I have been taking these mushrooms and I am still alive to write this article!

Documented to help in the following Cordyceps Reishi Maitake Agaricus
Anti-aging / longevity Yes Yes
Anti-inflammatory, decrease susceptibility to colds / flu Yes Yes
Anti-oxidant Yes Yes Yes
Circulatory problem Yes
Detoxification – chemical and heavy metal Yes
Diabetes Yes Yes Yes
Digestive problems Yes
Energy and vitality, endurance and stamina Yes Yes
Heart function Yes
Hepatitis  and Cirrhosis Yes Yes
Immune system – improves, modulates and regulate Yes Yes Yes Yes
Improve memory Yes
Insomnia / restful sleep Yes Yes
Kidney disease / function Yes
Liver –  detox and regeneration Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lower blood pressure Yes Yes Yes
Lower cholesterol Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lung: asthma & respiratory problems Yes Yes
Muscle strength Yes
Nerve function Yes
Osteoporosis Yes
Radiotherapy side effects Yes
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) Yes
Sexual function for men Yes
Stomach disorder, ulcer, gastrointestinal (GI), Yes
Stress – emotional and physical, fatigue Yes Yes Yes
Weight loss / obesity Yes
For cancer Hepatitis, liver cirrhosis. Tumours, anti-angiogenesis, side effects of radiation, skin, liver Prostate, bladder, liver, adjunct to chemo. Liver, tumors, induce apoptosis, anti-angiogenesis, preventive.


Documented to help in the following Chaga Lion’s Mane Shiitake Turkey Tail
Acid reflex, IBS Yes
Allergy Yes
Alzheimer’s disease Yes
Anti-aging / longevity Yes
Anti-inflammatory, decrease susceptibility to colds / flu Yes Yes
Anti-oxidant Yes
Detoxification  – chemical and heavy metal Yes
Diabetes Yes Yes
Edema – water retention Yes
Energy and vitality, endurance and stamina Yes
Gum disease Yes
Hair loss Yes
Heart function Yes
Hepatitis  and Cirrhosis Yes Yes
Hormonal imbalance (menopause) Yes
Immune system – improves, modulates and regulate Yes Yes Yes
Improve memory Yes
Insomnia / restful sleep Yes
Kidney disease / function Yes
Kidney stone Yes
Liver –  detox and regeneration Yes
Lower blood pressure Yes Yes
Lower cholesterol Yes Yes Yes
Lung : asthma & respiratory problems Yes Yes
Lymph node- – swelling Yes
Muscle strength Yes
Nail – brittle, crack Yes
Nerve function – calm Yes
Pain – muscle, joints Yes
Psoriasis Yes
Radiotherapy side effects
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) Yes
Skin injury / rashes Yes
Stomach disorder, ulcer, gastrointestinal (GI) Yes Yes
Stress – emotional and physical, fatigue Yes
Varicose veiin Yes
Weight loss / obesity Yes
For cancer Breast, uterus, ovary, cervix, prostate, lung, stomach, liver. bone, lymphatic, rectum, skin, melanoma, leukemia,  brain, spleen, thymus, parotid gland. Stomach, oesophagus, skin and sarcoma Anti-cancer drug in Japan. Production of T and natural killer cells. Product: LEM and lentinan Breast, stomach and oesophagus.Product: PSK (krestin) and  PSP.