The Herbal Bear - Newsletters

The Herbal Bear October/November  2006 Newsletter

In this issue

  • Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
  • What is a Mushroom?
  • The Herbal Bear Pop Quiz
  • The Herbal Bear Classes

The Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
By Ursula Basch
Herbal Bear School of Botanical Medicine

September, October and November are wonderful months for hunting mushrooms. The cooler weather together with increased rain provides the perfect growing conditions. Most people are familiar with the common white button mushroom that is sold in supermarkets. But did you know that mushrooms have a long history in the Orient for their medicinal uses? There are many mushrooms that are used medicinally. Some are commonly used in culinary preparations, others are not as common. Studies have shown that many mushroom may have numerous beneficial actions including: anti-tumor activity, antiviral activity and anti-inflammatory actions.

Here are a few mushrooms and their medicinal actions.


(Lentinula edodes) 
Used medicinally for diseases involving depressed immune function-including cancer. A vast amount of research into shiitake's medicinal properties has been completed and shows that it has the ability to fight tumors and viruses and enhance the immune system. It has also shown cholesterol lowering properties.


Grifola frondosa
Maitake means "dancing mushroom'' in Japanese. They also are known as hen-of-the-woods because the mass of mushrooms looks like a hen with ruffled feathers. Used in traditional Asian medicine for immune function enhancement, consumption of the mushroom was thought to prevent high blood pressure and cancer. There is currently a study being conducted at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on the use of Maitake for breast cancer patients.

Ganoderma lucidum
The Latin word lucidum means shiny''  and refers to the  surface of reishi's cap, which is reddish orange to black and is shiny - appearing almost varnished. Used medicinally for diseases involving depressed immune function and for cancer treatment. Research into shiitake's medicinal properties has shown that it has the ability to fight tumors and viruses and enhance the immune system. It has also shown cholesterol lowering properties.

For more information about Sloan Kettering's Clinical Trial with Maitake Mushrooms - click here.
For info about mushrooms effects on cancer - click on each of the following: Shitake, Maitake, Reishi.

What is a Mushroom?
by Ursula Basch
Herbal Bear School of Botanical Medicine 

Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of certain fungi. Most of us think of fruits such as apples and berries - which reproduce by producing seeds that can be sown and develop into new plants. Mushrooms produce spores - which act very much like seeds and are capable of producing new fungi.   Mushrooms are not plants; they are related to molds, mildews, rusts, smuts, and yeasts, and are classified in the Fungi Kingdom.

The Mushroom Is Only The Tip Of The Iceberg.

The actual organism that produces mushrooms is called mycelium. It is composed of many fungal cells that are linked together.  The mycelium typically lives in soil or wood. Sometimes you can see it if you pick up an old log that has fallen on the forest floor. It can often look like a thin white layer on the ground that you just exposed. If conditions are just right - mycelium will generate new cells which will develop into the structure we call a mushroom.

LionsMane2So you think you know what a mushroom looks like.

Well you might be surprised. Mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes. The typical umbrella shaped mushrooms, which have gills underneath their caps, like a portabella mushroom,  is only one example. Some mushrooms grow off trees, resembling a small shelf. A mushroom called the Lion's Mane forms pure white "icicles". There are mushrooms that resemble cups, sponges, and the list goes on.

Fungi have many different ecological roles

Here are just two examples -

Many fungi decompose dead organic matter such as leaves and wood. Without fungi we would be unable to walk through the woods, because the fallen trees would never decompose and eventually the forests would just turn into heaps of fallen timber. Fungi not only break down the material, they also free up the nutrients that are bound in the plant material and return it to the soil to be recycled for the next generation of plants.

Fungi also play an enormously important role in aiding plant growth. Certain fungi are mycorrhizal. Mycorrhizal fungi have a mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationship with the roots of certain plants. The fungus colonizes the plants roots. The plant provides the fungus some of its carbohydrates and in return the fungus increases the plant's absorption of water and essential minerals, which helps the plant to grow. It's a win-win situation.

Interested in learning more about mushrooms?  We can suggest a number of excellent books on the subject - click here.


chanterelle1. Can You Identify This Mushroom?
Portabella (Agaricus bisporous)
Porcini (Boletus edulis)
Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)
Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)

If you do not receive a confirmation page after clicking submit, please click here.
Answer to last month's quiz: Siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng.  It is a member of the Araliaceae family. The Latin name is Eleutherococcus senticosus.