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Medicinal Mushrooms You May Not Know About

In the world of medicinal mushrooms, there are those that get discussed frequently, like reishi, or lion's mane. But what about puffballs and corn smut? In this article published on Reality Sandwich, Richard Mandelbaum, clinical herbalist and founding director of the ArborVitae School of Traditional Herbalism, shines the spotlight on four lesser known mushrooms and their medicinal benefits: Puffball, Birch polypore, huitlacoche (or corn smut), and oyster mushroom.

About corn smut, Richard writes:

Ustilago maydis is a parasitic fungus on corn (maize) that generally infects the ovaries of the corn transforming the kernels into enlarged, grayish bloated-looking fruiting bodies.  It is considered a pest to be eradicated by U.S. farmers, where it is known by the name corn smut.  In contrast Ustilago has a long history in Mexico as a delicacy, although in no way an elite or gourmet food – it is widely prepared and sold by street vendors for example, and I have personally had some of the most delicious dishes of it at roadside stands on rural Mexican dirt roads.  Its Aztec name, huitlacoche or cuitlacoche, still used today, is variously and confusingly translated as “degenerate corn”, “sleeping corn”, “black excrement”, or “raven’s excrement”.[xii]

Huitlacoche, now sometimes called Mexican truffle in a modern-day rebranding effort, is so delicious that I have celebrated upon finding it in my garden.  It is high in glutamic acid imparting the savory or umami flavor, and its flavor has been described on occasion as having a hint of vanilla.  It is also arguably more nutritious than the corn it grows on.  Nutritionally it contains almost all the essential and non-essential amino acids (and is in fact one of the foods found to highest in lysine in particular), antioxidant constituents, B vitamins and folates, and niacin.  Somewhat surprisingly Ustilago contains significant levels of essential fatty acids, such as oleic and linoleic acid, which may be due to the higher fat content found in corn than other substrates fungi tend to grow on.  For most likely the same reason, huitlacoche is also high in sugar content, more even than the corn it parasitizes.  Huitlacoche is also higher in dietary fiber than most edible mushrooms such as oyster mushrooms and boletes.[xiii]

On the other hand, some of the chemistry in Ustilago closely resembles other fungi, such as the medically active beta-glucans that have proven immunomodulating and anti-cancer activity.[xiv]

Ustilago has some clear traditional medicinal indications within Native North American as well as indigenous Mexican tradition.  This includes use in midwifery to induce contractions when needed, an action that has been attributed to the presence of ustilagine “which is similar in its properties to ergotamine obtained from ergots (Claviceps purpurea).”[xv]  Used for this purpose, Maximino Martinez describes it as superior to ergot (known in Mexico as cuernecillo de centeno), because it does not result in irregular contractions.[xvi]  This is consistent with the prominent Eclectic physician Finely Ellingwood’s clinical observations from a century ago.  He writes thatUstilago, which he calls Corn Ergot, is “not so irritating in its influence, for, while possessing power, it works in a smooth, even and pleasant, but positive manner. It produces uterine contractions of a perfectly regular, intermittent and safe character, thus possessing a great advantage over the rye ergot.”  He goes on to write that it presents no danger to the newborn infant when used for this purpose, and that it is also highly effective in cases of post-partum hemorrhage and uterine hemorrhage, and metrorrhagia.[xvii]

Felter and Lloyd also cite the clinical use of Ustilago for passive bleeding from the lungs and bowels, to relieve “false pains” in the final months of pregnancy, and impaired cerebral circulation with dizziness, blurred vision, headache on the top of the head, and unsteadiness.  They also cite its usefulness as a general uterine tonic in cases of dysmenorrhea and other menstrual irregularities, and ovarian irritation.  (It should also be noted that Felter and Lloyd also cite some adverse effects from Ustilago, but this is generally not shared in other sources, and may be a result of using very concentrated doses.  In food-like doses it is quite safe.)[xviii] 

Historically it has been used to promote healthy digestion, and is now being investigated in Mexico for efficacy in treating hyperlipidemia and for improving cognitive function,[xix] and “is also valued as a homeopathic remedy, being used, in accordance with the medical descriptions, primarily for diseases of the female reproductive organs.”[xx]

Hobbs also cites usages for alopecia, dry scalp, and urticaria, and as a mild laxative and curative for gastric ulcers .[xxi]
Read the full article here.