Medicinal Mushrooms; an interview with
Benn Kamm
Botanical Preservation Corps

 

A Google search for Medicinal Mushrooms turns up over One Million sites.  These mushrooms are very well researched in helping heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  To help us make some sense of the abundance of information, we speak with Ben Kamm.  Ben directs the Botanical Preservation Corps with the help of his family.  The BPC is dedicated to furthering human relations with the harmonious resonant constituents of the botanical realm.  Their work is profound and we are pleased to be able to speak with Benn.

BHP:  Tell us a little about yourself, and how you became interested in ethnobotany and in mushrooms in particular.

Ben: I have always had a lifelong interest in plants, and human-plant interactions. The way plants affect the body and mind and all that. Their key role in human evolution. I am self- educated.  I don’t have any formal training but this has been a lifelong passion.

I have got passion for growing things as well.  I have learned so much just through the process of growing plants, and mushrooms, and observing them out in nature.  I've also done some intense study through reading, travel and talking with those individuals considered experts.

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BHP:  How long have you had the Botanical Preservation Corps (BPC)?

Ben: BPC was founded by my ethnobotanist friend Rob Montgomery, in the early 90’s, originally to provide field training for amateur ethnobotonists.  I met Rob originally at one of his field courses in 1994 down in Mexico.  We became good friends, and I worked for him off and on of the years.   Then about 4-years ago he moved up to Canada, and I fully took up the business. 

I have been in the process of reformulating it, and bringing it back to life. In one form or another BPC has been around, since the late 1980's.

BHP:.  And, you changed it more towards…

Ben:  I have focused more on a variety of whole herbs rather than extracts, and we are definitely paying more attention to the source of the herbs. We are commited to supplying organic and sustainably wild crafted herbs that actually benefit the areas from which they are coming, and the people that are growing or harvesting them.

BHP:  So, that must be an interesting process for you finding sustainably grown products and things….

BenYeah, well definitely there is enough interest in herbs now, and a greater economic incentive for mindful management and harvesting, so there is this movement towards sustainability.   , so it is, to a degree, the positive side of capitalism at work here that can help move things more in that way.  There are many organically grown herbs available today that you could not find an organic source for just a few years ago.

BHP:  Benn, tell us a little bit about mushrooms and specifically regarding breast health.  How are mushrooms used to help with the immune function? To help prevent disease, and also in some cases I think treating disease?

Benn:  Mushrooms have been used pretty much in all cultures since antiquity for health and wellbeing.  Mushrooms are an integral part of any healthy ecosystem, they help recycle nutrients, they form symbiosis with many plant and tree roots which help them uptake nutrients.

Mushroom mycelium is kind of the web that helps holds many soils together, aiding the flourishing of plantlife and boosting the immunity of an ecosystem. So you can look at them a little bit analogous to that within the human body.

They can help maintain overall body function and really immune function. Mushrooms are now being utilized for bio-remediation. We’re finding that they can actually help down break, breakdown a spectrum of toxins in the environment.  They can act as filters for bacteria, and virus and silt in the water to help clean up water, and all these sorts of things.  So, in the human body, they have very similar actions overall. 

The most well known substances in mushrooms are called polysaccharides. Most of the research is focused on these complex sugar molecules, and there is really a broad spectrum of polysaccharides from mushroom-to-mushroom. Other compounds, such as terpenoids, are also found in many of the medicinal fungi. These substances act by boosting immune function, some of them act specifically on certain bacteria and viruses, exert anti-tumor properties, anti-cancer properties, lower cholesterol, again it just varies from species to species to specific actions. 

And it also varies with what form of the mushroom is being used as medicine. There’s the vegetative part of the mushroom is known as mycelium, and that’s really the part that usually is not seen, it usually grows under the ground, or through wood or decomposing matter, it’s sort of a web-like structure.   It’s the mycelium that does the actual breakdown of substances in the environment. Then the mushroom itself is really like the fruit of the mycelium.

And, they found that the mycelium and the fruit body often have a different biochemical makeup. In certain cases the mycelium is more required for certain health promoting conditions or the mushroom, and they are also finding that combining the two or using products that contain both very often have a greater fortifying action on immunity.

BHP:  Is the mycelium like the roots of the mushroom?

BenWell, it can be seen like that, but it’s really like the whole body of the fungus itself, the actual mushroom we usually see is really just the fruit body, the reproductive organ via the spores. They have recorded this huge mycelium patch in eastern Oregon that seems to be one vast fungus covering 2,400 acres!

BHP:  Really!?

BenSo it’s just in certain seasons or when the mycelium has digested a certain amount of matter, that is when the actual mushroom itself is produced and spores, which are like the seeds, are released.

BHP:  Do we understand how the mushrooms breakdown toxins in the environment or in the body?

BenYes, in the environment it's mostly through enzymatic action.  I'd refer anyone more interested in the specifics to Paul Stamets,  who’s spearheading a lot of the work especially on bio-remediation - using mushrooms to clean up toxins in environment. In several of his books he has some pretty clear explanations of what is going on there. And,…

BHP:  They are using it with oil spills, aren’t they?

BenYeah, they've found that some mycelium breaks down hydrocarbons and pretty much just digest them and makes them inert, they have been successful with all kinds of environmental toxic problems. The only thing they don’t really seem to be able to do is in cases of radiation contamination, and to some degree with heavy metals.

Certain mushrooms can absorb and take up heavy metals, but they can’t actually break them down, so once they fruit the mushrooms would have to be removed and dealth with, and things cleaned up that way.  But, otherwise myceliums have been found to break down dioxins, pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, chemical warfare agents,and to some degree pharmaceutical contamination. So, yeah really a wide spectrum of things.   So, yeah really a wide spectrum of things.

BHP:  Interesting, well that’s hopeful for those, who are attracting all these environmental contaminants that are in our inner bodies.

Ben:  Yeah.

BHP:  Interesting, and do you know any research that has been done to find out if it’s decontaminating our bodies?

Benn:  Yeah, there is some research.  A lot of what the mushrooms do is just really giving a boost to the immune system and enhancing our natural process to flush these things out.

BHP:  The detoxification.

Benn:  Yeah or breaking it down.

BHP: And then, also which ones are best in terms of what type of mushrooms are for studies around breast health and breast cancer?  What are the main mushrooms?

Ben:  You know, the main mushrooms that I know have been studied, the published studies that directly co-relate to like breast cancer and what not would be the Maitake, The Turkey Tail, which is actually a really common mushroom in the temperate forests across the world, and the Shitake, which is one of the more common edible mushrooms available these days. 

Turkey Tail and Shiitake are the sources of 2 of the world's leading cancer drugs, Krestin and Lentinan. And, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other species that are beneficial towards that I just know that those are the main mushrooms that are actually published  in studies, specifically towards breast cancer, and breast health.

BHP:  And it was interesting to know that the preparation of how you take these mushrooms its very important.  Eating mushrooms in the salad isn’t necessarily as helpful as we once thought.

Ben:  Right.  First of all the cell walls that make up the structure of the mushrooms, is made up of chitin, which we have no enzymes in our body to digest.  So, eating a raw mushroom, unless you chewed it really, really, really well...  Our digestive juices and the enzymes in our body can’t really break up the structure of the mushroom that well and so can’t release the nutrients and the chemistries within them that we want for health.

BHP:  So, it would just act as fiber, so to speak?

Benn:  Yeah.  The process of cooking the mushrooms helps break those cell walls down and it makes them highly bio-available with all the nutrients and phyto- chemicals in them.  Actually if you are going the eat mushrooms for their health benefit, it is best to cook them or get a prepared product that is already been cooked.  A good deal of supplements on the markets are steam sterilized for the different preparations before drying and that frees up the substances in them.

BHP:  And at BPC you sell mushroom powders.  We were a little hesitant to be honest, but we are putting these powders on all my cooked foods. We love it!

Ben:  Yeah.  They actually all taste surprisingly good. I think because of the high polysaccharide content.   In the drying in the cooking process they do caramelize slightly and it only has a slightly sweet taste.

BHP:  Is there a blood sugar issue?

Ben:  No.  Some of these mushrooms actually help balance blood sugar.

BHP:  Is there anything in particular you should look for if you are trying to say what would be a good mushroom product?

Ben:  Well supplement wise, more and more of what’s on the market as far as supplements are a combination of the whole mushroom and the mycelium (the vegetative growth).  Basically, the folks that are actually growing these for the nutricutical industry,  are usually growing them on rice bran or brown rice.   

And, they grow them just to the beginning of when they are forming mushrooms.  And then, they will dry that out and turn that into a product.  And, that’s really what you want to look for, sometimes the product will say dried mushroom mycelium. Sometimes it will say something like optimized mycelium biomass. Some times it will actually designate that it’s a combination of both the fruit body and the mycelium.  And, that’s really what you want because, that has the best of both worlds. 

It has the substances that are both in the mycelium and in the fruit body.  The things that you want to kind of look out for to some degree is, especially if you are taking it as a supplement, you don’t usually want just a dried whole mushroom.  Because very often, they are not sterilized or heated to begin with, so, you can’t really break get a whole lot out of them just swallowed in a capsule.  But, again most of the stuff on the market these days has been cultivated in the US, and is a blend of the mycelium and the fruit body.

BHP:  And, the research that’s been done on mushrooms is it happening here in the US or is a lot of that research coming from Asia?

Ben:  Both.  There is a fair amount of work being done in the US, and there is also a lot of work donein Japan and China.  Its because they have a much longer history of using medicinal mushrooms.  But there is a fair amount of work being done here and in Europe.

BHP:  And, for to see some of that research where would we look, would that be Paul Stamets work or…?

Ben:  A lot of it’s in journals or other scientific publications that usually aren’t that easy to track down for the average folks.  But, Paul Stamets has a number of books that have good compilation of the general studies that have been done and also references to the original studies.   (If you wanted to look up the original studies.)

There is this one volume called MycoMedicinals. It covers a few dozen species of different medicinal mushrooms and just gives general background and history of traditional uses of the mushrooms, and then also current scientific studies relating to the mushrooms.  It’s a really good volume, for anybody that is interested in this topic. 

He also has a recent book out that I definitely recommend especially for anybody that has a backyard garden.  It covers how to easily grow edible and medicinal species in your backyard and also how to use them specifically for recycling nutrients in your garden to aid plant growth. It has sections on how to help clean up any kind of environmental problems, if you have contaminated water somewhere on your land.  If you have areas that have oil or pretty much anything along those lines. How to help erosion in areas and all kinds of stuff like that.  It also has a good general overview of medicinal properties of each of the mushrooms.   That book is Mycelium Running, How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.

BHP:  And that is Paul Stamets.  And do you guys sell those books?

Ben:  Yeah.  We offer both those books and there is another book that I would recommend. It’s by Andrew Miller, Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies For Modern Ailments.   It is also a little bit more recent publication.  It has a very good overview of a dozen most popular well-studied medicinal mushrooms. 

BHP:  Are there other things we should know?

Ben:  One thing that also relates to the medicinal mushroom is the Peruvian Purple corn, which is really rich in antioxidant anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is the pigment in blueberries which give them their health properties.  The corn is such a dark purple it’s almost black, really high in antioxidants.  It’s really good for overall immune and health.

BHP:  So, when you grow the mushrooms on the Purple corn, you find that antioxidant property in the mushroom?

Ben:  Yeah.  So, the folks that we are working with that are growing the medicinal mushrooms, have started growing certain species on the Peruvian Purple corn and they find that when its grown on the Purple corn it both takes up some of the antioxidants into the mycellium.  So the end product that you are getting has a higher antioxidant value.  It has the antioxidant value of the Purple corn as well as the mushrooms.  Their initial analysis also show that it increases the polysaccharide content in the mushrooms as well.

BHP:  Oh wow!

Ben:  So you are kind of getting a super product.

BHP:  Now wait, some commercial mushrooms are grown on manure…

Ben:  Right.

BHP:  What implication are there?

Ben:  Yeah, some of the button mushrooms are still grown on a mixture that contains often some sterilized manure.  And yeah, I guess it would be of interest to the readers of this, that overall I would encourage limited consumption or avoiding consumption altogether of the white button mushrooms and portabellas overall for couple of different reasons. 

I mean first of all, you should always buy organic mushrooms because, inorganic mushrooms are often sprayed for mites or fungus gnats and a mushroom being kind of like a big sponge will readily take up toxins that are sprayed on it And, the other reason is that they found in the last number of years is that certain strains of these mushrooms, it’s not all the edible buttons but only certain strains contain a substance that is chemically very similar to rocket fuel, that is a carcinogen

The industry could selectively choose to find specific strains that do not contain this and just grow those ones out and cultivate just those that don't produce this carcinogen, which would help protect public health.  But this is fairly recent , there has really been no movement towards doing that.  So, in eating the button mushrooms you really don’t know what you are getting.  you may or may not be eating something dangerous So, yeah this is something to be careful of.

BHP:  But, the mushrooms that being used to clean up toxins, those will be not mushrooms that anybody would ever eat.

BenNo, actually some are the mushrooms people eat. The oyster mushrooms is a prime one. It’s the one that Paul Stamets has done the most work with cleaning oil contamination.

They have actually tested the mushrooms after growing them out on contaminated soil that has a high amount of oil. And they were surprised to find the toxins completely broken down and completely absent from the tissues of the mushrooms.  They have broken it down and digested it into inert substances, so the mushrooms could be safely eaten after grown on petroleum waste.

BHP: Wow but when they are sprayed with pesticides?

Ben The thing is that they are sprayed as they are fruiting, and what breaks down the toxin is the vegetative part of the mushroom, the mycelium, the part that actively moves around and digests different matter.

So, when the mushroom is fruiting and say it’s a commercial mushroom farm, and it’s sprayed with miticide on the top of it , it absorbs and holds it in it's tissue. Even though there is certain species of mushroom that may be able to digest a pesticide as the mycelium, the fruitbody can't digest these, just absorb and hold them like a sponge...

BHP:  That’s great.  Thank you for clarifying that, that’s really helpful information.  That’s great, is there anything else that we haven’t talked about?

Ben:  We do also offer a number of whole dried mushrooms, some grown in Asia, and those are a little bit more specific in their use.  Thoseyou want to cook. Depending on the species you can either make them into a tea, or add them while cooking soups or other foods. 

And, there’s few cases where the whole mushroom is preferable for certain conditions. One example would be a Tremella mushroom.  We offer the mycelium that’s grown here in California, which is really good for a wide variety of things, like all these mushrooms, it’s strong immune system booster, it’s very nutritious. 

But, the fruit body itself, the whole dried mushroom is very good specifically for lung conditions, and has a very mucilaginous quality when cooked, and it looks kind of like a cauliflower or something, almost like a piece of coral when the whole mushroom is dried. 

But, the mycelium itself does not really seems to have these mucilaginous properties that are really good for lung conditions. The mushroom is actually quite tasty when it’s cooked, and you can add it easily to like soups or stir fry or what not.

 So, you can use the whole mushroom if you have ongoing asthma or are recovering from smoking, and want to take care of chest cells and….

BHP:  Post radiation, I would think because we target the breast and that affects the lungs.

Ben:  Yeah, yeah, certainly.  So, in that case specifically it would be good to be utilizing the whole mushroom. 

BHP:  Would people, if they order mushroom from you, there some sort of instruction that comes with them?

Ben:  Well, on the web site or in the catalogue there is basic information about the general recommended amounts to be taken or some different preparations for them, and if anybody wants to learn above and beyond that I would recommend any of the books that we talked about.

To order from the Botanical Preservation Corps, go to www.botanicalpreservationcorps.com.  There you can read thru the catalog and print out an order form to send in.  Or they do accept payments thru paypal if that is more convenient.  You can order the print catalog for $2. Send it to PO box 1368 Sebstopol, CA 95473.

Their mushrooms are GREAT and we guarantee you will find the catalogue fascinating.  (This catalog entertained us for hours!!!!)

Please let them know we sent you!

Below are just a few research articles about medicinal Mushrooms.

This link is to a British  cancer research site

And click here to go to Paul Stamets site

Medicinal mushrooms as a source of antitumor and immunomodulating polysaccharides

S. Wasser

Antitumor activities of edible mushrooms by oral administration. Mori, K.; Toyomasu, T.; Nanba, H.; Kuroda, H.

Antitumor effect of virus-like particles from Lentinus edodes (Shiitake) Fungi on Ehrlich ascites carcinoma in mice. Takehara, M.; Mori, K.; Kuida, K.; Hanawa, M. A.

Antitumoric potentiality of enzyme preparations of pumpkin ascorbate oxidase and shiitake mushroom polyphenol oxidase Omura, H.; Tmita, Y.; Murakami, H.; Nakamura, Y.



 



 

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