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Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing, & Culture.
by Christopher Hobbs. 1995. Botanica Press. Santa Cruz, CA. Softcover. 251 pp. ISBN 1-884360-01-7

Walk into virtually any upscale restaurant these days and you are most likely to find "wild mushrooms" being offered in salads, soups, and sometimes even as an appetizer or an entree. There is little doubt that Americans are becoming fungal fanatics. Walk into any health food store and you will see some of these same mushrooms, and some others, offered in various pills and extracts for their health benefits.

Chris Hobbs, a fourth generation herbalist/botanist, author, and recently accredited acupuncturist, has compiled what is most likely the first comprehensive book dealing with the subject of medical mushrooms, i.e., those mushrooms that have been used throughout history and are now being confirmed through scientific research as offering health benefits. The author relies on numerous sources, both traditional, historical,and modern scientific in his extensive 40-page fungi bibliography. Much of the information contained in this book could be found heretofore only in obscure untranslated Chinese texts and related Chinese research journals.

The author introduces the reader to the botany of fungi, which. as many HerbalGram readers may know, are not part of the plant "kindom"; the history of Western and traditional Chinese use of fungi in visionary and hallucinogenic rites of various cults and religions; and modern medicinal uses, particularly the adaptogenic and immune-enhancing properties of such well-known mushrooms as reishi (Ganoderma spp.), shiitake (Lentinula edodes), and the increasingly popular maitake (Grifola frondosa), all of which contain numerous high molecular weight polysaccharides with well-documented immune-enhancing activity. In all, 28 major fungi are monographed in addition to the mention of additional species. Hobbs also devotes space to fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), ergot (Claviceps purpurea), Chinese winterworm (Cordyceps), and jelly fungus (Tremella fuciformis).

Each monograph includes an English explanation of the fungi's Latin name, Latin binomial synonyms, other common names, description and habitat, range, history, chemistry, pharmacology, human clinical studies, uses in traditional medicine, medical uses, preparation and dosage, related species, and notes and procurement, i.e., if the mushroom is available through hunting on public or private lands.

The text has occasional clear line drawings, 8 pages of 4-color photographs, and a number of tables: e.g., active polysaccharides from medicinal fungi; medicinal fungi of the Pen Tsao (classic Chinese medicinal text); fungi used as medicine in Europe; summary of research on shiitake; nutrient content of edible and medicinal fungi: immune effects of lentinan: in vitro and in vivo in animals and in humans; laboratory studies with maitake extract: anti-cancer effect and immuno-potentiation; and the chemistry and ethnopharmacology of psychoactive fungi.

There is a tendency for herbalists and botanists to discount or overlook medicinal fungi when writing on herbs and medicinal plants in both the popular and scientific literature. This may be due in part to the fact that fungi are not botanically plants per se. However, because of their inclusion in its primary tonic medicines and much of traditional Chinese medicine and because of recent research that points to the safe healthful benefits of a number of these often neglected materials, Hobbs's new book will no doubt stimulate increased public attention to the health benefits of these lowly organisms. The information is lucid and well-organized and constitutes a possible watershed in herbal publishing history as it will no doubt increase lay and professional consciousness of and appreciation for edible and medicinal mushrooms.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.