Did you know that there are over 14,000 varieties of mushrooms? Of course, not all of them are edible, but about 3,000 are, and of those, 700 have known medicinal uses.
Humans have treasured these widely varied fungi for many thousands of years. Asian cultures have long used mushrooms as a food source, and as a key ingredient in folk remedies.
The ancient Greeks believed mushrooms made their warriors stronger, and used them for nourishment in battles. The Romans prized mushrooms as a delicacy, and believed they were a gift from on high. Food tasters weren’t just employed to foil assassination plots involving poisoned wine. They were also kept around to try mysterious new mushrooms that the emperor was hesitant to sample.
Even if you’re a pretty adventurous gourmand, you are probably only familiar with a tiny fraction of the myriad of edible mushrooms that exist. That’s because of the 3,000 edible species extant, only about twenty of them are produced commercially.
Some wild edible varieties are extremely difficult to cultivate, and others do not keep or transport well. So, unless you’re an experienced mycophagist (one who collects wild mushrooms), your options are somewhat limited.
But, that’s OK, because the varieties of mushrooms that can be bought at the local market are tasty, and many have health benefits. Let’s take a look at them.
We’re all familiar with these. White mushrooms include the button, portobello, and cremini varieties. These types of mushrooms contain a wealth of B-vitamins and antioxidants. They are also known to boost the body’s immune system, helping it fight off flu and other infections. Plus, they contain high levels of selenium, which may help boost metabolic rates, and help stave off prostate cancer.
Not only are these tasty mushrooms full of vitamin D, but they’re also rich in lentinan, a compound that boosts the immune system, helping it defeat invading pathogens. Lentanin also has anti-carcinogenic properties.
These sought-after epicurean treasures have more than just a subtle, delicious flavor. These little golden trumpets are also chock full of potassium, and vitamins C and D. What’s more, they are known to help the body ward off microbes, bacteria, and fungus.
Also known as “Hen of the Woods,” the maitake mushroom has been used as a food source and medicine for centuries. These mushrooms cause the body to step up its production of immune-boosting proteins. They also increase digestive health, fight cancer, and may lower blood pressure, as well.
By now, you’re probably looking at mushrooms in a whole new light. These tasty fungi aren’t just delicious. They’re also extremely healthy. Eat up!
[Photo Credit: eatright]