Friday, October 21, 2011

Rain Gifts

Walking through the woods, la-di-da... Scanning the forest floor (russulas - check, LBMs-yes) finally my heart leaps when I see the apricot color splashed on the forest floor.  I drop to my knees, and feel the stem - it's thick.  I pull out my knife, cut the base, leaving the foothold and smell the sweet earthy fragrance of the chantrelle.

Follow this elevation, go right, go left, and gather until my bag is heavy, but before I leave too much of a trace.  In order to ensure the return of the fruiting bodies next fall, I like to leave more than I find.

The role of a mushroom in the eco-system is incredibly important.  It stores the sugars for the trees and plants to eat.  It also cleans the forest, as it does our bodies, of toxins.

Mesmerized by the hunt, I take off trying to stay at the same elevation, continuing to parole the area.  As my bag starts to overflow and the light begins to darken, I decide to turn around and retrace my steps back to my car, but wait, where's the trail?  Be careful, I'm not the only one that gets lost on the hunt. 

Mushrooms are often overlooked as just an accessory to a pizza or a salad.  The truth is, they are incredibly nutritious especially for those of us that live where the sun doesn't shine brightly all year long.  Once you get familiar with the wild local mushrooms, you can find that they go in about anything, pastas, stir-fries, gnocchi, chicken pot pie, on pizza, soup, but my favorite recipe is the most basic of them all:

Basic Wild Mushroom Recipe: 

I used chantrelles here, but this is the way I cook most wild mushrooms the first time to get an idea of their flavor.  Get more creative as you get to know them individually. 
1T butter
1 garlic clove, minced
~10 chantrelles
1/2 tsp sea salt

Heat butter in a skillet, add garlic, toss in chopped mushrooms, salt, and saute until soft.


Most people think that mushrooms have no nutritional value.  Well, they are just plain wrong, unless they are eating them raw. Mushrooms are jam-packed with nutrients, but we can only digest them if they have been cooked.  Not only are they nutritious, there are also quite medicinal.  

Here are some of the most notable nutrients in mushrooms:

Vitamin D:  One of my favorite facts about mushrooms is that they provide us with Vitamin D.  We typically get Vitamin D from the sun, but during the rainy season, when we aren't getting much sunlight, we can get our Vitamin D from mushrooms.   The chantrelle is the second highest food source of Vitamin D, second to that of Cod Liver oil.  Though all edible mushroms have shown to have a good amount.  In fact, our Local fella, Paul Stamets with Fungi Perfeci found that Shiitakes have more international units of Vitamin D when dried in the sun, and this level of Vitamin D is retained for 6 years. 

134 IU/ 100 g fresh; 46,000 IU/ 100 gram (dry weight) dried in the sun

Vitamin D is important for strong bones and teeth.  It's also important for mental health (commonality in people with depression have a Vit D deficiency).  Deficiency is Vitamin D can cause rickets, low bone density (osteoporosis) as well as some cancers.   

B Vitamins: This group of vitamins are vital for our immune, nervous and digestive systems. Niacin and other B vitamins are found in animal tissue but not plants, so 'shrooms can be a good source for vegetarians.

Potassium: This electrolyte controls muscle function, it's also vital for maintaining normal fluid balance and helps control blood pressure.  One serving of mushrooms contains anywhere from 400-3000 mg/serving.  In other words, way more potassium than a banana. 
Iron: An important for the building of red and white blood cells.  Necessary for muscle function and responsible for transporting oxygen in our body.  One serving of chantrelles provide us about 20% of our needed iron content for a day,

Copper: While we don't think of copper as that important of a nutrient, it's imperative for the absorption of iron, therefore it's important.  Mushrooms provided a pretty stout serving of copper.

Zinc, Manganese & Selenium are antioxidants which protect cells from damage.  And mushrooms are a great source of these antioxidants.  In fact, mushrooms are the highest food source of selenium available.

There are whole books, and lots of articles written about mushrooms removing toxins at old landfills and toxic waste sites.  Mushrooms do the same in our bodies,  they bind to toxins and help us pass them.  Similarly they help lower total body cholesterol.  

All mushrooms are known to improve immune system, support the cardiovascular system, and inhibit cancer growth.  There is current promising research for the use of shiitakes and Lion's mane for treatments of HIV, AIDS, digestive disorders, neurological disorders, and arthritis.

Check back often, because it's mushroom season, and I'll be sure to post more recipes and nutrition information as the 'shrooms grow. 


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