That Healthy Fungi, Mushrooms

By Susan Guillory

Mushrooms are often referred to as vegetables, but did you know that technically they are a fungus? They grow from spores rather than seeds and are parasites that feed off of decaying vegetable matter like tree stumps. Ancient cultures have long understood the medicinal qualities of mushrooms, and they are now popular in our Western dishes for their savory taste, due to the naturally occurring flavoring agent, monosodium glutamate.

A Dutch friend of mine had a spa in the Caribbean for many years, and when she saw my mushroom supply from the farmer’s market she taught me about the amazing ingredients of these fungi, many of which are used in skin care products. She explained that several varieties contain kojic acid that tightens the skin, and there are anti-oxidants like l-ergothioneine in shiitakes that are often used in exfoliates. Some even have anti-inflammatory properties that calm the redness of rosacea.

One of the most exciting features of this species however, is that they are the only plant-based source of Vitamin D. When exposed to sunlight the sterol and ergosterol in them converts to this vitamin. There are even portable kits for growing your own mushrooms, so take them to the beach with the kids on the next sunny day (“Don’t forget the mushrooms with the towels!”).

These fungi make for delicious consumption as well as providing your body with reported anti-cancer and tumor properties called lymphokines which stimulate the defense system.

Enoki Salad

Buy this variety in a package and make certain they are white and dry. Do not remove the hard bottom part until you are ready to prepare. These do not need to be washed. Make a combination of your favorite summer salad items (Asian vegetable varieties work particularly well with this). For a pop of color, radicchio works well but not necessarily tomatoes. Once you have made your salad, Place enokis at the very  top. They are also a great finger food and an attractive healthy addition to sandwiches. In the winter they are look great in soups and make for a fun conversation piece.


Shiitakes with Farmer’s Market Green Beans
Serves 4

10 medium shiitakes
½ pound green beans
1 medium red onion
2 T vegetable oil
Soy sauce to taste

Remove stems of shiitakes and save for making a stock (it adds a great depth of flavor) and use a soft mushroom brush or a damp towel to clean any dirt off of them. If you wash them they become very soggy and add too much liquid to the prepared dish. Cut mushrooms in long strips to match the size of the green beans. Cut onions in the same shape. Snap off hard end of string beans (I like to leave the “tail” for a more interesting presentation). Heat oil in sauté pan then sweat onions in the oil for 3 minutes at low heat (do not allow oil to smoke as that releases free radicals), then add green beans and stir well, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and soy sauce, again stir well, cover and cook until desired consistency, not less than 7 minutes.


Soothing Shiitake tea

4 shiitake mushrooms with the bottoms of the stems trimmed
2 cups water

Let water come to a simmer, add mushrooms and let steep for one hour without heat. Can also be served chilled for a refreshing summer treat. 


Great info on fungi and cool recipes.