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Mushrooms and Health

A mushroom is the reproductive structure produced by some fungi. It is somewhat like the fruit of a plant, except that the “seeds” it produces are in fact millions of microscopic spores that form in the gills or pores underneath the mushroom’s cap. The spores blow away into the wind, or are spread by other means, such as animal feeding. If they land on a suitable substrate (such as wood or soil) spores will germinate to form a network of microscopic rooting threads (mycelium) which penetrate into their new food source. Unlike the mushroom, which pops up then passes away quickly, the mycelium persists, often for many years, extracting nutrients and sending up its annual crop of mushrooms.

  • Chanterelle: the cap is a wavy golden trumpet-like shape
  • Cremini (baby bella): a young Portobello mushroom that is dark and firm
  • Enoki: long, thin white stems with small white caps that are eaten raw or cooked
  • Maitake: a head that resembles flowering leaves
  • Morel: the cap is a spongy dimpled oblong shape
  • Oyster: a fan-shaped delicate cap
  • Porcini: a reddish-brown rounded cap with a thick cylindrical stem
  • Portobello: a large brown thick cap with rich juicy flavor that work well as a meat substitute
  • Shiitake: a dark brown umbrella cap with a thin cream-colored stem

Edible mushrooms like maitake and shiitake have also been used as medicine throughout history. Other mushrooms that are too tough to eat have been used solely for medicinal purposes such as reishi. Plant chemicals and components in mushrooms may exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects, but the exact mechanism is still unclear and an area of active research. Animal and cell studies show that mushrooms can stimulate the activity of immune cells, macrophages, and free radicals that can stop the growth and spread of tumor cells and cause existing tumor cells to die. Various polysaccharides in mushrooms including beta-glucans are believed to exert these cancer-fighting properties.

To incorporate more mushrooms into the diet, try:

  • sauteing any type of mushroom with onions for a quick, tasty side dish
  • adding mushrooms to stir-fries
  • topping a salad with raw, sliced cremini or white mushrooms
  • stuffing and baking portobello mushrooms
  • adding sliced mushrooms to omelets, breakfast scrambles, pizzas, and quiches
  • sauteing shiitake mushrooms in olive oil or broth for a healthful side dish
  • removing the stems of portobello mushrooms, marinating the caps in a mixture of olive oil, onion, garlic, and vinegar for 1 hour, then grilling them for 10 minutes
  • adding grilled portobello mushrooms to sandwiches or wraps
  • To prepare dried mushrooms, leave them in water for several hours until they are soft.

Most Poisonous Mushrooms

Although only a few of the 70-80 species of poisonous mushrooms are actually fatal when ingested, many of these deadly fungi bear an unfortunate resemblance to edible species and are thus especially dangerous. Read on to learn more about these terrifyingly lethal mushrooms.

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