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The Fungal Pharmacy: Medicinal Mushrooms of Western Canada
The Fungal Pharmacy: Medicinal Mushrooms of Western Canada by Robert Rogers. Prairie Deva Press, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; 2006. Paperback; 234 pages. ISBN: 978-13581-4. $39.95 (CDN).

In the last 15 years, a number of books have been published that cover the general topic of medicinal mushrooms.1-7 The Fungal Pharmacy is fairly unique among these in that it focuses on medicinal mushroom species within a specific geographical area—Western Canada. I am aware of only one other book that has this kind of focus, Icons of Medicinal Fungi from China.8 Actually, coverage of The Fungal Pharmacy is not limited to Western Canada because many of these species can also be found in the boreal forests of Europe, Asia, and other parts of North America.

The Fungal Pharmacy begins with a short historical perspective on how mushrooms have been used throughout history and culture, from ancient Greece and Rome to the Far East and beyond. Rogers has researched the unique properties of various fungi used during ancient times in these parts of the world and incorporated their contributions into the text. The main section of the book is devoted to providing information on the medicinal properties of approximately 300 mushroom species.

The Fungal Pharmacy explores the diverse use of mushrooms, including their inspiration of some musical compositions, use in biological fuel cells, and medical research on fungi that exhibit in vivo and in vitro activity on bacteria, viruses, and pathogenic fungi. The range of topics covered in this book is extensive and includes a number of both edible and poisonous species with potential for present and future research. For example, mycoremediation helps to reduce toxic materials at disposal facilities, decontaminate and minimize road and farm runoff, create buffer zones, reduce agricultural waste, reduce pollution in watersheds, reduce forest fire potential, and clean up contaminated pathogenic bacteria such as Escherichia coli. The author pays special attention to cleaning the considerable amount of contamination produced by the Athabasca Tar Sands in northern Alberta, one of the largest petroleum deposits in the world.

The book delves into mythology as well as medicine. The chapter on Amanita muscaria (Pluteaceae), for example, is filled with Celtic, Egyptian, and First Nation mythology to evoke the imagination, and it is guaranteed to surprise the reader with medicinal uses for various neuro-muscular and psychosomatic conditions.

The author’s main interest is the polypores, and this is evident throughout the book with extensive chapters on Amadou or German Tinder (Fomes fomentarius, Polyporaceae), Quinine Conk or Agarikon (Fomitopsis officinalis, Fomitopsidaceae), Red Belted Conk (F. pinicola, Fomitopsidaceae), Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum, Ganodermataceae), Varnished Conk (G. tsugae, Ganodermataceae), Chaga (Inonotus obliquus, Hymenochaetaceae), White Gilled Polypore (Lenzites betulina, Polyporaceae), and Razor Strop or Birch Conk (Piptoporus betulinus, Fomitopsidaceae). The author, with over 35 years experience as a medicinal herbalist, lives on the edge of the boreal forest and mentions that millions of tons of these medicinal conks are available for harvest from public lands. He explains that the northern part of Canada has a number of economically marginalized communities that could benefit from cooperative collection and extraction of these medicinal mushrooms.

Rogers’ appreciation of the people of the First Nations’ medicine also shows through his numerous descriptions of traditional use of fungi. For example, he mentions that chaga is the true tinder conk, as it needs no preparation as a fire starter. The author supplies two recipes for chaga, one from Russia and the other from a Cree healer from the Flying Dust First Nation. Both accounts include a slow decoction and fermentation to extract valuable sugars using water and heat. Currently, an 8:1 extract is produced commercially in the region for medicinal formulations.

False tinder conk (Fomes fomentarius, Polyporaceae) is prepared by cutting it into strips, soaking it in saltpeter, and then drying it. Rogers mentions the long-time use of this conk by the Cree of Alberta, who call the polypore waskaskwitoy. The hoof-shaped conk is dried and hollowed out, then packed with hot embers and repacked. This can be transported for several days, and upon reaching the destination, the waskaskwitoy can be fanned into flame. They also threw the conks onto nighttime fires. The glow and smolder kept wild animals at bay, and a morning fire could easily be started. The dry powder was also sprinkled on frostbite.

In the chapter on diamond willow fungus (Haploporus odorus, Polyporaceae), Rogers describes the work of Dr. R. Blanchette from the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. First Nations people carved the fungus into tennis ball shapes that were worn around the neck or on robes and blankets. The bracket polypore is closely related to Trametes suaveolens (Polyporaceae) and has an anise/coumarin odor when burned. This special incense of the Cree and other native tribes of Western Canada is smudged or smoldered to guard and protect against unseen forces, and it is used during blessings and during cleansing and empowerment ceremonies. The author shares his own personal experience and mentions the brightening effect of the smoke on dream states.

A number of user-friendly charts at the back of the book list medicinal properties of various mushrooms including anti-viral, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial activity, and immune function. The charts also summarize species that show laboratory and clinical application for various diseases including diabetes, hypertension, hepatitis, and auto-immune conditions.

Several medicinal mushrooms given less attention in other publications are covered in The Fungal Pharmacy. For example, Rogers points out that smoky polypore (Bjerkandera fumosa, Hapalopilaceae) has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for uterine cancer. Concealed polypore (Cryptoporus volvatus, Polyporaceae) contains constituents with anti-cancer activity and inhibits leukotriene B4, which is related to the reduction of inflammation in asthma and related respiratory conditions. Yellow bird’s nest (Crucibulum leave, Nidulariaceae) yields a range of compounds that possess aldose reductase, a compound that might aid eye health and the possible prevention of glaucoma and cataract formation. Under stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus, Phallaceae), Rogers devotes a small section to the related Dictyophora genus. He mentions one Hawaiian species that grows on hot lava flows for one to four hours. It emits a strong odor rich in sex pheromones that can be perceived by the human olfactory system 30 feet away. The compound is identical to or closely mimics a compound produced in females during the sexual arousal stage, but millions of times stronger, triggering a spontaneous, intense orgasm in women. As one can imagine, the market potential is huge, and research is ongoing.

The Fungal Pharmacy is a valuable resource to mycologists, researchers, oncologists, environmentalists, ecologists, wild-crafters, scientists, and anyone else interested in medicinal mushrooms. From folklore to modern scientific analysis, this book presents inspiration and hope for increasing the health and well-being of humans and other inhabitants of our planet.

—Solomon P. Wasser, PhD Editor, International Journal of Medicinal MushroomsHaifa, Israel

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