Month: December 2014

5 Mushrooms That Can Heal Wounds

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Credit: James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster

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.

  • Agaricus blazei

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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Adam Haritan

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Winter Mushroom Hunting – 8 Species To Collect For Food And Medicine

latefalloystersnowwildfoodismI’ll admit:  My enthusiasm for mushroom hunting wanes ever so slightly in the winter months.  Of course, the anticipation to locate, identify, and harvest select members of the fungal community never perishes, though its intensity remains somewhat tempered compared to the escalating excitement I experience during the late spring, summer, and autumn forays.

You see, winters in western Pennsylvania are cold.  Last year, a record was set when the temperature dropped to -9°F (okay, I suppose it could be worse, though this is indeed cold for Pennsylvania!).  Compound this variable with the seasonal ice, snow, and numerous sunless days, and it’s not hard to see why many foragers in the Northeastern United States hang up their mushroom baskets for the season.  It’s not that we, as human mycophiles, cannot tolerate these wintery conditions (polar plunging is a favorite pastime of mine); rather, the fungi themselves – at least the ones considered prized edibles – generally require slightly different circumstances in order to produce fruiting bodies.

Fair enough.  Nature knows best, and who could ever argue with that?

But wait!  “Fewer” does not imply “none.” The hillsides, fields, woodlands, trees, fallen logs, and stumps may not necessarily be teeming with an over-abundance of salient mushroom fruiting bodies in the winter months, yet mushrooms can certainly still be found.  In fact, quite a few can be harvested, not just for identification, but for the table as well.

Below, I describe 8 species that can be found here in western Pennsylvania (and generally the Northeastern United States) during the winter months.  Of course, many more exist, and if you are interested in locating and identifying these, I’d love for you to join me on a winter plant and mushroom ID hike (see LearnYourLand for more information).

For now though, here are 8 reasons why you should dust that ol’ mushroom basket off and throw on an extra layer (or two).

Update: I recently filmed a winter mushroom hunting video, featuring several fungi not described in this post.  Check it out in addition to reading the rest of the article!

Now onto the list:

  • Late fall oyster (Panellus serotinus)

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The late fall oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus) is a cold-weather fungus traditionally eaten in Japan, where it is known as Mukitake.  It has a wide distribution in the United States, and is very common in Pennsylvania.  It’s a tough mushroom, one that requires slow, long cooking for best texture and flavor.  Still, to get wild nutrition and medicine into your body, the late fall oyster mushroom can easily satisfy that need.

Speaking of medicine, research has shown that Panellus serotinus possesses anti-tumor and immuno-modulating activities, like many medicinal mushrooms (1).  This is primarily due to its concentration of beta-glucans, which can easily be extracted through prolonged hot water decoctions (teas, soups).  The late fall oyster mushroom, as shown in animal studies, also displays protection against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and dyslipidemia (2).

Not bad for a log-decomposer who doesn’t ask for much.

Look for this mushroom on dead hardwood logs and branches in the autumn and early winter months.  Colors vary – I’ve seen blends of grey, orange, yellow, and green.  Look-alikes include the mock oyster (Phyllotopsis nidulans), though its cap is mostly orange, and its smell is rather unpleasant.  Panellus serotinus also resembles the classic oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), though the latter rarely contains shades of yellow/orange, can be much bigger, and is a choice edible anyway.

To learn more, check out this video featuring identification and medicinal benefits:

  • Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)

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Oh hey, oyster mushroom.  We were just talking about you (see 2 paragraphs up).

This popular mushroom is fairly common, and while it didn’t quite make my immediate list of 5 easy-to-identify edible mushrooms, it would most likely be ranked #6 in ease of identification.  Characteristics of the oyster mushroom generally include a smooth white (sometimes gray) cap, white gills, white to pale-lilac spore print, broad growth in clusters, and a substrate that usually includes hardwood logs (rarely conifers) and stumps.

Oysters are choice edible mushrooms.  They can be buggy though, and if this is true for your harvest, soak them in a bit of saltwater first before cooking (not usually a problem in the winter months).  While they are included on this winter mushroom identification list, oysters can be found year round on stumps, logs, or trees.  Always remember your spot, as they tend to reappear in the same place year after year.

To learn more about oyster mushrooms, check out this video in which I discuss identification, medicinal benefits, and more.

  • Brick caps (Hypholoma sublateritium)

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Brick caps are edible mushrooms that improve in taste as the year progresses.  They can usually be found in the autumn months through winter, though they become less bitter generally after the first frost.

This is not necessarily a beginner’s mushroom.  Brick caps resemble sulfur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare), poisonous mushrooms that grow within the same season (I found sulfur tufts not too far from where this picture was taken).

Both species grow in clusters on decaying wood and produce purple-brown spore prints, though brick caps have reddish caps (paler at the margins) with grayish-purplish brown gills, and sulfur tufts usually have greenish yellow caps with greenish yellow gills (becoming darker with age).

Beyond edibility, brick caps are quite medicinal.  A compound known as clavaric acid has been isolated from this species (3).  Clavaric acid has been shown to act as an effective FPTase inhibitor, which in non-medical speak translates to “a compound that may impede cancer proliferation.”  Research suggests that these inhibitors, of which clavaric acid is one, may be effective particularly against colorectal, pancreatic, and lung cancers (4).

If you’d like to learn more about brick caps, check out this recent video I created while hiking in the woods one day.  Another winter species (not described in this article) is also discussed in the video, so you may want to hit the play button to find out what it is…

  • Velvet foot (Flammulina velutipes)

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There is no doubt that this species enjoys cold weather temperatures, as velvet foot can usually be found from October through early spring.  A cultivated version is popular in East Asian cooking, though its appearance differs somewhat from the velvet foot found in the wild.  Regardless, both are edible.

Velvet foot (also known as enoki, enokitake, golden needle) can be recognized by its slimy orangish-brown cap, white gills, velvety-brown stalk, and growth in clusters on deciduous logs (usually elm).  It produces a white spore print, which helps to distinguish this species from a toxic look-alike, the deadly Galerina (Galerina marginata).  The deadly Galerina produces a rusty brown spore print and dons a ring on its non-velvety stem.  The seasons for both Flammulina velutipes and Galerina marginata overlap somewhat, though with an understanding of these key differences, discernment should be easy.

A choice edible, velvet foot is also medicinal.  Studies have shown that certain biologically active compounds derived from this mushroom (fiber and polysaccharides) help to reduce blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol (5).  Velvet foot also possesses immunomodulatory compounds, which have been shown in studies to inhibit lung cancer cell migration and proliferation (6).

  • Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

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Because I have yet to create the “Top 5 Sclerotia To Harvest In Winter” article, chaga will have to be included here.  It’s true, the chaga fungus pictured above is not necessarily a “mushroom” in the truest sense of the word, but rather a sclerotium – a compacted, hardened mass of mycelia.

Additionally, and like the oyster mushroom, chaga is not strictly a winter mushroom.  Rather, it can be found year round, though it has been my experience that it is easier to find during the winter months for two reasons:  1) vegetation is minimal (leaves, tall grasses, shrubs, forbs), and 2) the dark colors of this fungus contrast nicely against the winter snow.  Both of these reasons make spotting chaga, especially from a distance, much easier in winter.

Be aware that if you plan to harvest chaga in colder temperatures (below freezing), the fungus may be frozen to the tree.  If using a metal tool (for example, an ax), be careful not to strike the tree, and only harvest the actual chaga fungus itself.  While I have included it on this list of winter mushrooms, I actually find it a bit easier to harvest during the warmer temperatures, as I can use my bare hands to aid in removal from the tree.  Therefore any unnecessary damage to the host tree is kept at a minimum.

Chaga, a medicinal fungus used for centuries in traditional Siberian medicine, typically inhabits the circumpolar boreal forests of the world.  While it grows almost exclusively on birch trees, it has also been spotted on elm, ash, beech, and ironwood trees.

For detailed information on how to locate and identify this incredible fungus, please check out a recent piece I created on this very subject, entitled Is This Chaga? A Key For Identifying This Remarkable Fungus (that’s a clickable link, by the way).

And for a recipe using the chaga fungus as a base for an upgraded hot chocolate, please check out this additional clickable link: Bulletproof Hot Chaga Chocolate Recipe

  • Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor)

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One particular fungus really begins to shine this time of year when hardly a mushroom wishes to poke its fruiting body from the earth.  I am referring to the aptly named turkey tail fungus.

Turkey tail is not difficult to locate, as it’s one of the most ubiquitous fungi found in our woodlands.  Look around at the logs, stumps, and fallen branches in your neck of the woods – and you may eventually discover turkey tail. 

Other species within the Trametes genus resemble turkey tail, though the latter can be distinguished by its multicolored concentric zones and whitish pores on the underside.  Look-alike fungi usually lack the brilliant colors of turkey tail, or they may be hairier (Trametes hirsuta).  Additionally, look-alikes may lack pore surfaces (genus Stereum), or their pores may be colored. 

Turkey tail is not necessarily edible (too tough), though it sure is medicinal.  One particular study found that turkey tail can improve immune system status in immuno-compromised breast cancer patients following conventional cancer treatment (7).  These findings are extremely important, as the study was not conducted on animals, nor in petri dishes, but rather on living human subjects.

A more recent human trial (again – not in animals, nor in petri dishes) found that a polysaccharide extracted from turkey tail mycelia displayed prebiotic effects in the human microbiome (stimulating the growth and maintenance of beneficial intestinal bacteria).  In the same study, participants who were instead fed Amoxicillin (an antibiotic) demonstrated detrimental shifts towards more pathogenic bacteria in their microbiome, with effects lasting up to 42 days after their final antibiotic dose (8).

Turkey tail is a pleasure to hunt in the late autumn and winter months – its cap providing stunning visuals amongst the senescing vegetation – though like oyster mushrooms and chaga, this fungus can be found year-round.

To learn more about the turkey tail fungus, check out this video:

  • Birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus)

birchpolyporewildfoodism

This is one of the most common fungi found in birch forests, and like a few other mushrooms described in this post, it can be found year-round.  Now, some sources report that it is best to harvest this fungus in the summer months into early fall, and I suspect this is because the growing season for the birch polypore generally includes these seasons.  Hence, young specimens (which are preferred for collection) are prolific during this time.  I have included the birch polypore with this list of winter mushrooms because, at least here in Pennsylvania, young fruiting bodies can indeed be found at least into January (the above photo was taken in late-December, 2013).

The birch polypore is fairly easy to recognize.  It typically has a tan cap with inrolled margins, a whitish pore surface, and a somewhat tough (though not rock-hard) texture.  Growth is almost exclusive on living or dead paper and yellow birch trees.

A multipurpose fungus, its utility extends far beyond food and medicine into the survival realms of fire making and blood coagulation.  Medicinally, birch polypore has been shown to be an important species with anticancer, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.

To receive the concentrated power within the birch polypore, you can use freshly picked young specimens, thinly sliced and boiled, as food.  Teas and tinctures can be made as well.  This fungus contains betulinic acid (9) – the same compound in chaga, derived from the birch tree, that confers several health benefits (anti-tumor, anti-cancer).

It has been my experience that the birch polypore is much more common than chaga (more frequent sightings, more fruiting bodies).  It seems that medicinal diversity is essential for great health, and cycling between chaga and birch polypore (instead of relying solely on chaga) can benefit not only the health of the boreal forests, but our personal health as well.

To learn more about the birch polypore, check out this video:

  • Wood ear (Auricularia auricula)

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While hunting mushrooms in the early summer days, you may discover this species.  While hunting mushrooms in autumn and early winter, you may also discover this species.  The wood ear, also known as the jelly ear, is an edible mushroom found throughout the year, usually growing in clusters on logs, branches, and stumps of both coniferous and deciduous trees.  Characteristics of this mushroom include its cup-shaped, ear-like appearance, its reddish-brown color, rubbery to gelatinous texture, and a surface that usually includes minutely fine hairs.

The wood ear is indeed edible and, like many mushrooms, it also possesses numerous medicinal properties.  Studies have shown that the wood ear contains anti-viral, antioxidant, anti-tumor, and immuno-supportive compounds (10, 11, 12, 13).  Additionally, a water soluble polysaccharide from this mushroom has been shown to reduce triglyceride, LDL-cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels in animal studies (14).

Note:  The Northeastern North American version of wood ear may be Auricularia angiospermarum.

  • Blewit (Clitocybe nuda, Lepista nuda)

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Okay, I couldn’t stop at 8.  Can you blame me though?  Consider this one a bonus, and instead of explaining this beautiful mushroom through text alone, I thought I’d introduce you to the blewit mushroom through video.  If you’re interested in learning its key identifying characteristics, hit the play button!

How about that?

In case you’re just joining the party, we’re finishing up a discussion on 9 mushroom species we can harvest during the winter months (at least in the Northeastern United States) for food and medicine.

Now, this list isn’t exclusive.  Surely, there are many more for which I haven’t provided detailed analyses, including:

  • Bitter oyster (Panellus stipticus), a bioluminescent mushroom (meaning, it glows in the dark)
  • Amber jelly roll (Exidia recisa), a winter fungus typically found on willow twigs
  • Artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum), a perennial polypore
  • Red-belted polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola), a perennial polypore
  • Tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius), a perennial polypore

…and so on.

During your next winter excursion, see what kinds of cold-loving fungi can be found.  The number may be greater than you think.

Yes, I know … I opened up this article by expressing a slight ebbing to the excitement I feel for winter mushroom hunting.  Personally though, it is a rewarding activity, for even in the midst of “the great biological nap” (aka winter), a harvest – heck, even a sighting! – of just two or three fruiting mushroom bodies can seem like I’ve hit the jackpot.

Yes, this is how I feel even after finding a single mushroom during a winter walk.  Am I alone on this one?  Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!


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FREE Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms!

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Enter your name and email address below to receive notifications for new posts, and you will receive a FREE instructional guide on medicinal mushrooms, including identification, medicinal benefits, and directions on creating decoctions and dual-extracted tinctures.

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Adam Haritan

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Bulletproof Hot Chaga Chocolate Recipe

hotchagachocolatewildfoodismOne of the easiest ways to implement a medicinal strategy is to combine our medicinal plants and fungi with foods that taste great.  Take, for instance, this recipe for hot chocolate.

Instead of using Swiss Miss and tap water, we’re going to use only the finest ingredients to create a drink that’s beyond next-level good.  Try it out, and let me know what you think!

Oh yes, one more thing:  please check out the video I created down below.  In it, I discuss this particular recipe, medicinal properties of the ingredients, and more!

Bulletproof Hot Chaga Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz wild harvested chaga decoction in spring water
  • 1.5 T raw organic grass-fed butter
  • 2 T raw organic cacao powder
  • 1.5 T maple syrup
  • Pinch of raw organic vanilla powder
  • Pinch of sea salt

Directions:  Heat chaga decoction (if previously cooled) to a near-simmering temperature.  Combine all ingredients in a blender, blend for 20 seconds, and enjoy!

If you’re interested in learning how to spot this fungus in the wild, I offer simple tips and guidance here:  Is This Chaga? A Key For Identifying This Remarkable Fungus

Thanks for reading!


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Adam Haritan

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Who Knew? Purslane Seeds Are Loaded With Health Benefits … Here Are 5 Of Them

Too often when discussing the health benefits of wild plants, emphasis is placed on the obvious.  For example, the scientific literature abounds with research specifically on fruits from the Rosa genus, and it is commonly reported that some species of rose contain 20 times the vitamin C content of an orange.  But if we dig a little deeper, we soon discover that the seeds within the hips of roses also pack a nutritional punch, although in a slightly different way.  Research has demonstrated that seed oils from roses contain nutritionally and physiologically important fatty acids, including oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids, as well as several forms of vitamin E, including α-tocopherol, β-tocopherol, and γ-tocopherol (1).

Another example of the obvious … grapes.  Of course, most nutritional love is directed toward the fleshy portion of the fruits.  Browse any grocery store, and the dominating seedless varieties will corroborate this.  But many a supermarket shopper will forget, however, that the juicy, sometimes-too-sugary grape, in its natural state does indeed contain reproductive structures – which just so happen to also be quite nutritious.  Research has shown that seeds from the common grape (Vitis vinifera) contain significant levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as 8.2% protein, 14.0% fat and 38.6% fiber by dry weight (2).  Remember, these are the seeds we’re talking about … not the actual fleshly fruit.

And then there is purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – that low-lying, succulent-resembling, ubiquitous plant (a “weed” to some) that forms extensive mats amongst gardens, fields, and disturbed habitats here in western Pennsylvania.  Purslane, it is frequently reported, is the leading land-plant source of α-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid), containing between 300-400 milligrams per 100 grams of fresh material.  Purslane also contains impressive levels of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, while additionally providing gamma-linolenic acid and α-tocopherol.  Clearly, purslane is a nutritional superstar, and it sure is a wonder as to why health experts aren’t rallying more (if at all) for this pervasive plant.

Most of the research, however, focuses on the leafy portion of purslane, and I could devote an entire treatise on the health benefits attributed to its greens.  I won’t do that now.

Instead I’d like to showcase a part of the purslane plant that, while not gaining much mass attention, has been producing quite favorable results in scientific studies – and may confer health benefits to you, should you consume them.

Introducing … the health benefits of purslane seeds

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Purslane seeds within pods. Credit: Henry E. Hooper


Cholesterol and triglyceride health

Consume purslane seeds, and your cardiovascular disease risk markers may improve.  Sound too good to be true?  Researchers have seen it firsthand.

The most recent study involving purslane seeds and health was performed on obese adolescent participants, split into two groups (3).  The first group (experimental group) was given one capsule containing 500 milligrams of powdered purslane seeds, two times a day for one month.  The second group (control group) was given the same directions, though with a placebo capsule instead.  Compared to the control group, the adolescents given purslane seeds showed statistically significant improvements in LDL cholesterol (conventionally referred to as “bad cholesterol”) and triglyceride levels – both of which, when elevated, are generally associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers attributed this lipid profile-improving effect to purslane’s polyphenols and antioxidants, two classes of plant compounds which have been shown routinely to be protective of cardiovascular health (4).  While the scientific literature is a bit thin when it comes to purslane seeds and lipid markers, this particular study’s results are very promising and warrant further experimentation.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, a condition characterized by insulin resistance, is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States.  With nearly two million new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, it is important, now more than ever, to discover treatment methods that are cost-effective and safe … for example, purslane seeds.

In a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, participants with type 2 diabetes were divided into two groups (5).  The experimental group was given 5 grams of purslane seeds twice daily, while the control group was given metformin, a standard oral antidiabetic drug.  Results showed that purslane seeds were just as effective as metformin in decreasing fasting and postprandial (after meal) blood glucose, as well as insulin levels.  Additional results included a significant decrease in serum levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, body weight, and body mass index.  The researchers attributed these effects to purslane seeds’ polyunsaturated fatty acids, flavonoids, and polysaccharides.

Metformin doesn’t contain any naturally occurring polyunsaturated fatty acids, flavonoids, and polysaccharides, though its synthetic structure does rake in a pretty profit.  It is the most widely prescribed antidiabetic drug in the world (more than 40 million prescriptions are administered annually in the United States alone).  Despite tests, marketing, and hype, and like most prescriptions, metformin presents a host of side effects, including muscle pain, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and fatigue.  All the more reason to consider purslane seeds as a supplementary effective treatment for type 2 diabetes.

Abnormal uterine bleeding

Abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) is a condition characterized by heavy, irregular, or prolonged menstrual bleeding, or unscheduled non-menstrual bleeding in premenopausal women.  Quality of life can be severely affected due to pain and discomfort, and iron-deficiency anemia can result from excessive loss of blood.  While drugs and surgery seem to be the preferred treatments in the United States, Iranian medicine treats AUB with purslane seeds.  A recent study, published in Phytotherapy Research, gives this latter treatment two thumbs up (6).

To discover the effects of purslane seeds on AUB, researchers recruited ten premenopausal women with AUB who did not respond to conventional drugs, and were candidates for hysterectomy.  The women were administered 5 grams of purslane seed powder in a glass of water every 4 hours orally, 48 hours after the onset of menstruation for 3 days.  Results showed that 80% of the women reported duration and volume of their bleeding had decreased, and the patterns of their periods had normalized.  What’s more, a three-month follow up revealed that abnormal bleeding had not returned in the women who originally responded to the purslane seed treatment.

Of course, the sample size was small (ten participants), and few (if any) additional studies exist on this subject.  The results are promising, however, as both traditional (Iranian) and modern medicine have reported success using purslane seeds to treat AUB.

Today, the standard treatment for abnormal uterine bleeding includes the levonorgestrel intra-uterine system, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antifibrinolytics, progestogens, oral contraceptives, danazol (a prescription drug), and hysterectomy.  Purslane seeds, too, seem to be effective, though how much money can realistically be made from a plant that grows through cracks in sidewalks?

Liver cancer

The previous studies were all performed on human participants.  While no research analyzing the effects between purslane seeds and liver cancer exists on actual human participants, we do have supportive evidence using human cellular cultures.

A recent study found that an extract of purslane seeds reduced cell viability of hepatocellular carcinoma cells … cells that are responsible for the most common type of liver cancer (7).  Parsley seeds (Petroselinum sativum), too, displayed similar anti-cancer properties against the same cells in this particular study.

The 5-year survival rate for individuals with any stage of liver cancer is 15% … quite an astoundingly low percentage.  Current conventional treatments include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy – treatments which are all well-known to present serious side effects.  Purslane seeds may not save the world from any form of liver cancer, though they ought to be considered viable candidates, as research suggests, when evaluating potential therapeutic options.

Protection against chemotherapy side-effects

As mentioned in the last paragraph, chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that is routinely associated with damaging side effects.  Doxorubicin, a chemotherapeutic drug used to treat cancers of the uterus, ovaries, breast, and lung, is known to cause unwanted toxicities of the heart, kidneys, liver, and testicles.

Purslane seeds to the rescue

Research has shown that an ethanolic (alcoholic) extract of purslane seeds and shoots demonstrated protection against doxorubicin-induced damage in adult male rats, all while improving liver function, increasing antioxidant activity, and decreasing oxidation of lipids (8).  The researchers concluded that supplementation with purslane shoot and seed extracts may provide a cushion against the toxicity caused by doxorubicin … without producing any harmful side-effects.

Further experimentation is warranted in this field, as research on human participants is limited.  Using the information we have so far, we can currently hypothesize that purslane seed administration may indeed be an effective (and safe) supplemental option in human cancer treatment.

And there we have it:  5 documented health benefits of purslane … seeds.  Of course, many more benefits exist, as purslane seeds contain important nutrients, including α-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid), vitamin E, and antioxidants.  If you’ve made it down this far in the post (thanks, I appreciate that!), it should be quite apparent:  when we neglect to consume purslane seeds, we are missing out on critical nutrition and medicine.

Easy fix, though … on your next jaunt through your favorite purslane patch, and if the season is right, spend a few moments (or several) harvesting the seeds.  Simple, really.

Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!


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Thank you!
Adam Haritan

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