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Mushrooms: Immunity-boosters and delicious ingredients

Every fall, the rush for elderberry begins — elderberry syrup, elderberry gummies and elderberry pancakes. Don’t get me wrong, I love elderberries and I use them a lot in breakfast foods (throw some in your oatmeal this fall), baked goods (try some in your next loaf of zucchini bread)and I freeze dry them for use in many teas. However, I avoid elderberry syrup because of the sugar, and reach instead for mushrooms to support and boost immunity.

I’m not talking about the basic grocery store variety of mushroom — nor am I referring to psychedelic (hallucinogenic) mushrooms. Some of my favorite mushrooms for immunity are trametes versicolor (turkey tail), ganoderma lucidum (reishi), lentinus edodes (shiitake) and Cordyceps spp (cordyceps.)

Turkey tail is abundant in Wisconsin woods, and is delicious sauteed or in soups. Studies demonstrate immunomodulatory, potentially, anticancer, antiinflammatory and neuroregenerative effects of substances isolated from turkey tail mushrooms.

Reishi is sometimes called “queen of the mushrooms” or the “mushroom of immortality” because of its revitalizing effect on the entire body. Studies have shown it is able to boost the body’s innate immune system, helping it to operate at its full potential.

Shiitakes are considered a superfood, due to their heavy load of amino acids, minerals, enzymes and vitamins. One of the polysaccharides found in shiitakes stimulates and activates different white blood cells that fight off infection.

Sautéed or powdered?

Cordyceps are enriched with various nutrients, such as proteins, fats, essential amino acids, volatile oils, carotenoids, phenolic compounds, flavonoids, minerals, vitamins, as well as various types of carbohydrates. They are energizing, have anti-inflammatory properties and are thought to boost immune function — especially in the face of immune-suppressing chemotherapy.

One of my favorite ways to use these mushrooms is in foods. I use the below recipe for medicinal mushroom soup stock all year long, but especially in fall and winter seasons.

I can already hear people saying “I don’t like mushrooms”, or “mushrooms are slimy”— and while I happen to love to eat them, it is perfectly ok if you don’t, because you can use mushrooms in a way that you won’t even realize you’re ingesting fungi. Unlike herbs, which start to lose effectiveness when powdered or ground, mushroom powders have been shown to maintain efficacy for long periods of time. Powders can be added to smoothies, soups — even your morning cup of coffee — without substantially changing the flavor. We can also use a tincture or extract, which is a method of extracting the beneficial compounds within the mushrooms into an alcohol/water base.

So — take your mushrooms, fight off illnesses!

Recipe: Medicinal mushroom soup stock

Makes 4–6 cups (960–1440 ml)

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz (12-18 g) dried reishi mushrooms (pieces or slices)
  • 1 oz (12-18 g) dried maitake mushrooms (pieces or slices) 
  • 1 oz (12-18 g) dried shiitake mushrooms (pieces or slices) 
  • 2 tbsp (9 g) dried astragalus root
  • 2 tbsp (22 g) dried burdock root
  • 1 whole garlic bulb, cloves peeled and smashed
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery ribs with leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup (66 g) kale or kale ribs, roughly chopped
  • 3 qt (3 L) water
  • Optional additions
  • 2 tbsp (15 g) codonopsis root
  • 2–4 tbsp (5–10 g) dried nettle
  • ¼ cup (6 g) dried milky oat tops
  • 2 tbsp (7 g) dried rosemary 
  • 2 tbsp (7 g) dried thyme 
  • 2 tbsp (5 g) dried oregano
  • 1–2 tbsp (9–18 g) grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp (6 g) dried turmeric
  • 2 carrots

Instructions

Place everything in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and cook at a nice steady simmer for at least four hours and up to six hours. You will most likely need to add more water to the pot as the water reduces, but ultimately you are looking to yield about six cups of stock after four hours of simmering.

When the stock is done cooking, strain well and store in labeled jars. You can then use the stock as a base for any recipe calling for broth or stock. The fresh stock will keep for five days in the fridge, and up to 12 months in the freezer.

I like to freeze my stock in 1-pint and 1-quart jars. I fill hot sterile jars about three-fourths of the way with the stock and then let them cool on the counter. Once cool, I place them in the freezer without a top. Once they’re frozen, I place a cover on the jars and label the lid.

You can also freeze some of the stock in ice cube trays. When frozen, remove from the tray and store in a freezer bag in the freezer. The ice cubes are great to add to tea, make into miso soup, deglaze pans and so on. Another great option is to use the stock to cook grains. n

T. Heather Herdman, PhD, RN, FAAN is a nurse, clinical herbalist and aromatherapist, who believes that a combination of traditional (herbalist, for example) and allopathic (Western) health care practices provide the strongest possibilities for health and well-being. She is the owner of Sweet Willow Wellness and Sweet Willow Herbal Co-op (De Pere). She holds nursing master’s and doctoral degrees from Boston College, and and undergraduate degree from University of South Carolina. She has authored numerous publications in peer reviewed journals, and her academic interests include clinical reasoning, spirituality, cultural health care practices, and integrative health care. Heather provides clinical herbal consults and customer blends herbal products for clients.

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