Mushrooms contain some of the most potent natural medicines on the planet. Of the 140,000 species of mushroom-forming fungi, about 100 of them have been studied for their health-promoting benefits. Of those, about a half dozen really stand out for their ability to deliver a tremendous boost to your immune system.
Mushrooms are excellent sources of antioxidants in general as they contain polyphenols and selenium, but they also contain antioxidants that are unique to mushrooms. One such antioxidant is, which scientists are now beginning to recognize as a master antioxidant.
A study in the journal Nature1 discusses the importance of ergothioneine, describing it as "an unusual sulfur-containing derivative of the amino acid histidine," which appears to have a very specific role in protecting your DNA from oxidative damage.
Mushrooms also contain a number of unique nutrients that many do not get enough of in their diet. One is copper, which is one of the few metallic elements accompanied by amino and fatty acids that are essential to human health. Since your body can't synthesize copper, your diet must supply it regularly. Copper deficiency can be a factor in the development of coronary heart disease.
Buy Organic or Grow Your Own
It's important to make sure your mushrooms have been organically grown, as they absorb and concentrate whatever they grow in, for better or worse. This is what gives mushrooms their potency. Mushrooms are known to concentrate heavy metals, as well as air and water pollutants, so healthy growing conditions is a critical factor.
Most conventional mushroom producers use pesticides. The ability to control your growing conditions is just one reason to consider cultivating your own mushrooms.2,3,4 While the growing of mushrooms is a bit different from growing other fruits and vegetables, just about anyone can do it.
What You Need to Grow Mushrooms
To grow mushrooms, you'll need a few tools and supplies you may not already have, even if you're a seasoned gardener. These include:
• Mushroom spores, available as plug spawn and sawdust spawn. The latter is a ball mycelium grown in moist sawdust. Plug spawn is mycelium that has grown into small pieces (plugs) of hardwood. Mycelium is the fungal equivalent of the root system of a plant, which you need to get the mushrooms started.
While plug spawn is easier to use, requires no special tools and is less prone to drying out, sawdust spawn is less expensive and grows faster. Popular mushroom varieties include shiitake,5 oyster, lion's mane, phoenix oyster, wine caps, pioppini (black poplar), reishi, chicken of the woods, maitake and nameko
• Fresh hardwood logs. Oak and maple are preferable, and the thicker the bark the better. For shiitake, red oak and white oak are preferable. Each log should be 3 to 4 feet long and about 3 to 8 inches in diameter.
• A spawn inoculation tool, if using sawdust spawn
• Cheese wax or beeswax, wax dauber, thermometer and a small melting pot
Most mushroom supply companies6 will sell everything you need, including logs. If you use your own logs, make sure they're fresh and moist. You don't want to use logs that have started to dry out. Make sure the bark is intact all the way around, to prevent unwanted fungi to contaminate your spawn.
Also check them to make sure there aren't any other organisms growing on them. Mother Earth News recommends cutting your logs about two weeks before you intend to inoculate them, to allow them to age but not dry out. Ideally, start inoculating your logs in early spring.