The Study of Medicinal Fungi

James R. Coffey By James R. Coffey, 20th Dec 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Alternative Medicine

Fungi have played an important role in Chinese culture for a recorded 4000 years--and probably longer. Historically used as a preventative and medicinal curative for numerous ailments, modern science is now finding that fungi may hold the key to curing dozens of modern-day chronic diseases we thought incurable.

Ancient origins

Fungi (yeasts, molds, mushrooms) have played an important role in Chinese culture for a recorded 4000 years, with oral tradition dating it to perhaps 7000 years.

Common Asian mushrooms such as wood ear and jelly fungus are known to have been important food sources since ancient times, with several varieties typically utilized to make wine, vinegar, soy sauce, and pickled vegetables. Though written and oral accounts refer to the healing powers of several varieties of fungi, the spores of the common puffball were probably the most widely used initially, applied externally to heal scalds, burns, and general pains of the body, while the giant agarikon fungus was widely chosen as a curative for stomach ailments. Both are said to have been greatly prized by Japanese doctors as well.


Fungi and its various medicinal applications began being listed in Chinese medicinals, particularly Shen nung Pen ts’ao king, and the Ming i pie lu, about 3000 years ago, and was even mentioned in classic Chinese literature. One family of fungi referred to as chi, has several entries in both volumes, including the green variety which is said to “brighten the eye, strengthen the liver, quiet the spirits, improves the memory, and prolongs life,” while the yellow variety is said “act on the spleen as a tonic and constructive.” Similarly a number of other varieties of fungi are listed for their purported healing properties.

Three varieties in particular, hoelen (a mushroom cultivated on the roots of the Chinese red pine trees), caterpillar, and ergot, listed in these early medicinals, is currently drawing interest from the Western medical community. Interest that has led to understanding the science of exactly why these plants are beneficial to human health, as well as a closer examination into the possibilities fungi may hold for a variety of ailments including HIV and cancer.

The science

One of the greatest findings in recent years concerning the natural curative powers of plants is scientific proof that fungi contain a number of compounds that can stimulate immune function and inhibit tumor growth in humans. Among these compounds, those termed polysaccharides, which are large, complex chains of molecules constructed of smaller unites of sugar molecules, are also found in lichens (a symbiosis of fungus and green alga), bacteria, and even from the cell walls of yeast (a carbohydrate called zymosan). These immune-activating polysaccharides are similar to those also found in more complex plants such as echinacea and astragalas (a widely used Chinese herb).

These giant polysaccharide molecules are similar to ones found in the cellular membranes of bacteria, and thus trick our immune systems into believing it is being invaded, and accordingly, mounts an immune response. While this perceived threat poses no actual danger to our bodies, this immune response triggers the increase of a number of powerful immune activities including macrophage and “killer” T-cell (white blood cell) activity.

What this means . . .

But polysaccharides are not the only active components found in fungi, nor is immune and anti-tumor activity the only influence they have. Smaller compounds such as terpenes and steroids have also been shown to resist the growth of tumors, and a number of what are called “protein-bound” polysaccharides have even shown to have antibiotic and antiviral properties, as well as the ability to lower blood pressure and reduce blood-level lipids (fats) and sugar. These properties make fungi especially useful in treating infections, flu, diabetes, various heart conditions, and according to many studies, perhaps HIV.

With the field of fungi research taking a prominent role among many scientific communities around the world, there are endless possibilities as to what curatives fungi may provide in the near future.

For more information on this subject see:
Fungi and HIV
Fungi and hepatitis
Fungi as an aphrodisiac

Primary Sources:
Medicinal Mushrooms, C. Hobbs
University of Pennsylvania/HIV studies
Mayo Clinic/studies

images via:


Chinese Red Pine Trees, Ergot, Fungi, Fungus, Fungus To Fight Flu, Fungus To Fight Infection, Health Benefits Of Bacteria, Health Benefits Of Lichen, Health Benefits Of Mold, Health Benefits Of Mushrooms, Hoelen, Medicinal Fungi, Modern Uses Of Medicinal Fungi, Molds, Mushrooms, Mushrooms And Aids, Mushrooms And Hiv, Mushrooms And Immunity Building, Mushrooms For Health, Natural Curatives, Polysaccharides, Steroids, Terpenes, Yeasts

Meet the author

author avatar James R. Coffey
I am founder and head writer for James R. Coffey Writing Services and Resource Center @ where I offer a variety of writing and research services including article composition, ghostwriting, editing...(more)

Share this page

moderator Mark Gordon Brown moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Jerry Walch
20th Dec 2010 (#)

Good job my friend. A very informative and interesting read.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Carol
20th Dec 2010 (#)

very helpful, many thanks

Reply to this comment

author avatar James R. Coffey
20th Dec 2010 (#)

Thanks, all!

Reply to this comment

author avatar Denise O
20th Dec 2010 (#)

Well done James. I ind this topic very interesting.
I hope it goes on to help all those that suffer from such awful diseases.
Thank you for sharing.:)

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?