Mushroom for Health and FunJul 30, 2023 08:00PM ● By Linda Conroy
As a big fan of cooking and eating mushrooms, I remember long hikes during last year’s spring morel mushroom hunt, the puffball mushrooms we found in our neighbor's field last summer and how abundant the chanterelle mushrooms were in the woods. We ate mushrooms often, and I am confident our immune systems were thanking us.
I have long been an avid wild harvester, preferring to find my food in the woods or fields rather than the grocery store. Mushrooms made me nervous for a long time. Prior to moving from the west coast to the Midwest, I was comfortable harvesting only two types of mushrooms, and even then I was very careful, as one should be. Today I am happy to say that I enjoy harvesting 20-plus mushroom varieties, and each year I add to my repertoire.
I have long been aware of the immune-boosting benefits of eating mushrooms and know that they contain a wide spectrum of nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin K, copper, potassium, selenium and other trace minerals. So I was not surprised when I recently read an article in the Acres USA farming magazine that research is being conducted on their vitamin D content. Similar to humans, mushrooms need to be exposed to light in order to synthesize vitamin D.
This is an important factor, as most commercial button mushrooms are grown in the dark, so unless they have been exposed to light, they will not convert the necessary compounds. Wild mushrooms, particularly those exposed to sunlight, are ideal for promoting health, although it should be noted that sitting mushrooms at home in a sunny window for a day or two before eating them will enhance their vitamin D content.
This information is inspiring because I am continually trying to find ways to increase the nutrient density of my food. There has been a lot of attention in recent years paid to studies indicating that vitamin D is an important nutrient for maintaining health and many providers of health care are encouraging their patients to ingest vitamin D supplements. As with nutrients in general, I prefer to introduce them through food, not capsules or pills. I really do trust that with information and creativity, we can assimilate the nutrients we need through our food.
So while I will continue to eat whatever mushroom is presented to me, I am more committed than ever to eating wild or homegrown mushrooms on a regular basis. If you decide to harvest your own mushrooms, be sure to consult a reliable field guide or spend time with someone knowledgeable about mushrooms. A good book is Start Mushrooming, by Stan Tekiela, and in many areas you can find a local mycological society that will offer forays and other learning opportunities. Also, growing mushrooms outside your doorstep is a good way to have them readily available and to learn to recognize them when you do see them in the wild environment.
Incorporating mushrooms into your diet is fun and easy. Add them to soups, stews, stir fry vegetables, omelet, quiche and even stuffed. Use your imagination. I suspect you can think of many other ideas, as well.
Shiitake mushrooms are one of my favorites for eating. They are easy to grow and increasingly easy to find at farmers markets and natural grocery stores. Below is a recipe for a simple mushroom pate that I love to serve as an appetizer or for a light lunch.
Shiitake Mushroom Pate
2 Tbsp oil or fat (I like lard, but olive oil will work)
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (I prefer shiitakes and/or maitakes as they contribute a deep umami (savory) flavor. If it is morel season, they add a nice flavor. However, any mushroom will work)
2 whole shallots, scallions or onions peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme (dried will work if you do not have fresh)
¼ cup wine (a dry wine is ideal. I often add one of my homemade herbal wines. Dandelion is one of my favorites)
1 Tbsp tamari (add more to taste)
¼ cup of cultured cream or yogurt (I like piima cream, but any cultured cream or yogurt will work)
Warm oil/fat in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms, shallots and garlic and stir to combine, cooking until mushrooms begin to sweat.
Add fresh thyme and wine and stir to combine. Let cook until mushrooms are nice and soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add tamari and stir again to combine.
Transfer mixture to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a rough purée forms. Add cream to the food processor. Pulse until a creamy purée forms, season with more tamari, if needed.
Transfer to a bowl and serve with baguette, crackers and cheese.
Linda Conroy is an herbalist, community organizer, founder of Moonwise Herbs and founder and organizer of the annual Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference and Mycelium Mysteries Women’s Mushroom Conference. For more information, visit MoonwiseHerbs.com and MidwestWomensHerbal.com
Staying well, getting enough sleep and exercise, and eating well are important for physical and mental health. Herbs & mushrooms to our daily routine can be an effective way to support it. Read More »