I currently live in Madrid and, as in most of the Northern hemisphere, it’s mushroom season. Each autumn the allure of those tender toadstools entices countless inhabitants of the city to make their way out to the Sierra with baskets and knives in hand, dreaming of succulent sautes and other seasonal dishes. For me mushroom season conjures up images of tasty food, but also a strong and healthy immune system allowing one to handle flu season with grace.
Each week I pick up a box of organic vegetables from a farming couple who happened to make an outing last week.They were collecting boletus edulis, or porcini mushrooms, but also had shiitake for sale. As Gabi, the husband, began to wax about the magic of mushrooms; their versatility and flavor in culinary uses, the joy of collecting them and eventually their medicinal properties, I remembered an incredible mycology-oriented treatment I had been blessed last year.
If you’ve read my first post or the About section of this blog, you know my immune system wasn’t functioning well last year. In September my WBC had already dipped to 2.7. On November 14th, 2013 I received a concerned call from the laboratory saying I needed to see a doctor the following day. I had a blood test that day that showed my white blood cell count was far too low, with a WBC of 1.78, lymphocytes measuring 837/µL and neutrophils measuring 748/µL. I followed their advice and went in the next day for another test, the results were similar: WBC 1.79, lymphocytes 639/µL, and neutrophils 915/µL. The low range values expected are 1000/µL and 1800/µL respectively for lymphocytes and neutrophils. The doctors warned me that if I had a fever I should get to a hospital immediately and that if my numbers had been closer to 500/µL it would have been wise to check into a hospital. The dangers of neutropenia or worse loomed in my head as I made my way home with plenty of warnings and fear, but little practical advice on what to do or how to heal.
“Let food be they medicine, and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
Being no doctor, it was difficult to say how accurate their statements were, but it was alarming to say the least. Fortunately, a friend had told me about an MD turned homeopath/TCM practitioner who was kind and reasonably priced. Immediately I made an appointment. After an hour and a half interview about my constitution, emotional states, medical history, and current woes I was sent home with a homeopathic remedy and a supplement made of maitake, reishi, and shiitake mushrooms. Being trained in TCM, she was well aware of the ancient wisdom regarding the power of mushrooms to boost the immune system. Dr. Eliaz, an expert in integrative medicine, sheds more light on this here in an article from the Rodale Institute. In just one month both my lymphocytes and neutrophils were back up to acceptable levels.
After a year of taking a holistic approach towards health my energy levels are up and going into autumn my immune system is in much improved shape. I am grateful to actually be able to hike and spend time in nature this year, observing the fall fungus take root in the renewed moisture of the woods. Rather than worrying about my health, it is a blessing to have the clarity of mind to think about all of the possible mushroom recipes out there instead.
This post is anecdotal in nature and is not intended to be used as medical advice or suggest specific treatments or methods. Please do not attempt to use mushrooms medicinally without consulting a medical professional first.