Mycophobia of the West will only hurt us in the end. When you tell someone you are going mushroom hunting, a common reaction is, “Be careful!” This may even be a more common exclamation to someone going mushroom hunting, than someone going out animal hunting with a gun. This fear of the mushrooms is valid in some cases, as there are “deadly” mushrooms out there, but it has created a culture that is afraid to use mushrooms for medicine, and this leads to a lack of much needed research.
In Eastern countries, mushrooms have been prized as food and medicine for thousands of years. These are also countries that have emphasis on preventative medicine built into their culture. The saying goes, “Taking medicine when you are already sick is like digging a well when you are already thirsty.” This is the antithesis of the West’s approach to disease. Most research of the medicinal value of the mushrooms is coming from Asian countries and although there is a crossover in species between geographic location, there is little research on the medicinal polypores of the West. Getting ready to teach a class and collecting information about medicinal mushrooms local to the Pacific Northwest, I am disheartened by the lack of research being done in the United States. And the research that is done elsewhere, in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Asia is not being properly relayed to the public in the U.S. Consequently, most people are completely unaware of these powerful medicinals. Being that the US culture is one of chronic stress and synthesized consumables (food-like substances), these mushrooms are our greatest allies.
More people are taking Reishi and Chaga mushrooms these days, and for good reason, but neither of these mushrooms are found very close to where these people are living. For example, people will buy Reishi and Chaga mushrooms at a store, yet they will ignore the polypores in their local forest. One reason the local medicinal mushrooms are so powerful as medicine is because they have the secondary metabolites to fight off the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that threaten the animals in the same area. The Red Belted Polypore, an underutilized and very common polypore, grows in the dankest of places, exposed to many pathogenic microbiota. This same mushroom found in Europe will show similarities in polysaccharide and triterpene content, but it is my thought that the secondary metabolites specific to certain bacteria and viruses will be different. Like two humans that grow up in different cities; One human will have been exposed to certain pathogens and possibly built up immunity to them. Alternatively, a human in the other city is exposed to different pathogens, and will not have built up immunity to the pathogens exposed to the first human. For this reason, it could be true that using the medicinal mushrooms that grow in your region, rather than using a mushroom grown on sorghum in a lab and/or in a far away country, could have a medicinal advantage.
It is my hope that through sharing well researched information on this blog, that there will be a little less mycophobia in the world, and people will start to see the fungi and plants as allies.