Let’s imagine you’re walking through the forest. I like birch and hemlock forests, so let’s go there.
You’ve got a field guide in your backpack, a foraging basket, and several freshly-harvested oyster mushrooms to occupy the basket. As you’re strolling down the path, you fail to notice a low-lying birch root along the ground. Another step forward and your minimalist shoe catches the root, propelling not only your body into the air, but your prized oysters as well. Never mind the oysters for now… let’s inspect that nice-looking wound on your knee (thanks, rock).
It’s a small wound … nothing serious. You wash it, bandage it, and continue your trek through the forest. At home, calendula ointment and honey take care of the rest.
That seems like a wise strategy … something I would surely do. In fact, there are several remedies that can help to accelerate the wound-healing process. Self-heal, plantain, comfrey, vitamin E, aloe vera, and birch bark are all popular ingredients one can find in the first-aid section of most health food retailers.
But I don’t see any mushrooms …
“Mushrooms?” You ask.
“Why yes, mushrooms,” I reply.
You see, while we don’t hear much about it, mushrooms have indeed been shown to facilitate the wound-healing process. No, it’s not as simple as harvesting a mushroom from the ground and rubbing it onto your skin until the injury heals. Maybe that works. Anything’s possible.
It appears to be a bit more complex than that though. Through various mechanisms, several members of the fungal community have demonstrated wound-healing properties in numerous scientific studies.
Which mushrooms are they, and how can we apply this information should we find ourselves stumbling over forested roots?
I’m glad you asked …
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Also known as lingzhi, the reishi mushroom is highly revered in Chinese medicine. It is one of the most beautiful mushrooms, donning hues of lacquered red, orange, and yellow, and can be found growing as an annual polypore on hardwoods, especially oaks.
Among reishi’s medicinal effects is its ability to facilitate the wound-healing process. Several studies corroborate this. For example, in a study involving wound-inflicted rats, an aqueous, freeze-dried extract of the reishi mushroom enhanced healing activity of the wounds and increased collagen accumulation at the sites of injury (1). Other animal studies have attributed the wound-healing effects of the reishi mushroom to its polysaccharides and protein fractions, which may offer therapeutic potential, researchers suggest, in the cases of peptic ulcers, injuries to the liver (i.e. surgery), and diabetic wounds (2, 3, 4, 5).
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Also known as the pom-pom mushroom, lion’s mane is one of the most delectable mushrooms in the fungal kingdom, resembling crab meat in taste and texture. Lion’s mane has been well researched for its role in improving cognitive health, producing neuro-regenerative effects in numerous studies (6, 7 8), and additional research suggests that this mushroom accelerates the wound-healing process (9).
In one particular study, rats were experimentally wounded and given varying topical treatments. Compared to the rats given distilled water topically, the rats whose wounds were dressed with a lion’s mane water-extract healed faster, showed less scar width at wound enclosure, contained fewer macrophages (inflammatory cells) at sites of injury, and had wounds that contained more collagen for the growth of new blood vessels. Another study found that polysaccharides within the lion’s mane mushroom were responsible for enhanced skin antioxidant enzymes and increased collagen protein levels (10).
Not bad for one of the finest looking mushrooms of the forest.
Aqueous extracts, which are able to concentrate water-soluble polysaccharides, are easy to create simply by simmering the lion’s mane fungus in hot water for about 2 hours. Strain the decoction, then bottle the remaining liquid.
Of course, the aforementioned studies were performed on rats, and it’s difficult to fully extrapolate their findings to humans. Therefore, I will let you deduce your own conclusions based on the incredible results I have summarized …
Cauliflower mushroom (Sparassis crispa)
From midsummer through autumn, a large, rounded mushroom with numerous folded branches can be found growing near the bases of oak and coniferous trees. This is the cauliflower mushroom – an edible mushroom with hardly a poisonous lookalike, and one that helps to heal wounds.
In a recent study, the cauliflower mushroom (pictured at the head of this article) was evaluated for its role in exfoliating and replacing the cells that comprise the outermost layer of skin (stratum corneum). Compared to rats not receiving the mushroom, the rats that were fed dried cauliflower mushroom demonstrated faster skin-renewal time. Levels of newly synthesized collagen had also increased in the rats fed cauliflower mushroom (11).
In a follow up randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted by the same researchers, human participants were split into two groups: those receiving 160 mg of dried cauliflower mushroom powder with olive oil, and those receiving placebo. Compared to the placebo group, the participants orally administered cauliflower mushroom demonstrated improvements in the integrity of the skin barrier. The researchers attributed these findings to compounds known as beta-glucans, which, in addition to improving skin health, have also been shown to demonstrate a suppressive effect on tumor growth and metastasis (12).
Like reishi, the cauliflower mushroom has also been shown to accelerate wound closure in diabetic rats, which may hold promise in the treatment of diabetes in humans. Again, beta-glucans may play a starring role in the wound-healing process, as they were shown in yet another study to directly increase the synthesis of collagen (13).
White button mushroom, Portobello, Crimini (Agaricus bisporus)
It’s a mind-blowing day when one discovers that all three mushrooms – white button mushroom, portobello, and crimini – are all cultivars of the same species, Agaricus bisporus.
And I hope that today is another mind-blowing day when you discover that this versatile mushroom has been researched for its wound-healing properties.
Studies have shown that Agaricus bisporus:
- possesses beneficial effects on skin during regeneration after injury (14).
- helps to control the scarring process (15).
- facilitates the wound-healing processes involved in ocular (eye) related injuries (16).
Agaricus bisporus, though widely available in the produce department, has yet to find its way into the first-aid section of most grocery stores. Unfortunately, ingesting white button mushrooms … or portobellos … or crimini mushrooms … may not fully heal an injury overnight. However, the limited evidence that is currently available does indeed warrant additional research which (hopefully) may lead to future clinical applications.
Medicinal mushroom enthusiasts may recognize this species through its role in supporting the immune system. Research also suggests that Agaricus blazei may promote wound healing, particularly in the instances of burns.
In a study published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, rats who were experimentally burned and fed carbohydrates from the Agaricus blazei mushroom recovered faster than rats who received no treatment (17). The composition of the isolated carbohydrates were found to contain the compounds glucose, mannose, and arabinose. All three compounds are soluble in water, thus facilitating the easy production of personal Agaricus blazei medicine. And while the aforementioned study was performed on rats, perhaps future research will include humans as participants and uncover similar results.
Now, back to our opening scenario …
You cut your knee on a rock, wash the wound, bandage it, and continue your trek through the forest. At home, a mushroom ointment – containing reishi, lion’s mane, cauliflower mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, and Agaricus blazei – takes care of the rest. And in a short while, the wound is fully healed …
… well, the last part may tap into wishful thinking, I admit. Fungi haven’t made their way into mainstream first-aid products just yet (although a select few companies do currently sell mushroom salves). With all the research available on this subject, however, perhaps it won’t be too long before we see their incorporation into popular wound-healing products.
What do you think? Would you consider applying a mushroom extract to a wound of yours? The research does seem promising. I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!
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