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A Fungus Among Us

Cathy Christensen November 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

My father is one of those rare individuals who is truly self-sufficient, a good person to have around in an emergency. A farmer, Vietnam veteran and an agriculturalist, my dad can grow anything. He sets up bizarre greenhouse contraptions around the house during the winter months, nurturing vegetables and fruits from tiny seeds, coaxing them to thrive—and they do.

This ingenuity also spills over into his mushroom hunts. I remember Mom—who grew up in urban Indianapolis—bravely cleaning, breading and frying his spoils, and, after I got over the weirdness of the fact that my dad hunts mushrooms, I tried one of the crispy delights. To this day, I crave the earthy, salty flavor of the wild mushrooms dad gathered that just melted in my mouth.

And although I have yet to encounter the same flavor anywhere else, mushrooms of many kinds are prevalent in gourmet and everyday recipes, and are now becoming commonplace in skin care treatments and products, as well.

In the kitchen

Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of certain fungi, meaning they are the equivalent of the apples, not the tree. Fungi themselves are not actually plants, but are related to molds, mildews, rusts and yeasts.1 Although that doesn’t sound terribly appetizing, mushrooms are an important food source and potent medicinal for many cultures. There are approximately 10,000 mushroom species, 200 of which have been identified as having curative properties, and the most well-known include reishi, shiitake and maitake, which have immune-enhancing benefits.2 If you are a mushroom hunter like my dad however, be sure to educate yourself about which ones are safe to consume and which are poisonous.

These succulent morsels are a great addition to many dishes, such as the Portabella Mushroom Sandwiches offered by The Heartland Spa in Gilman, Illinois. The Portabella mushroom is also featured in the Grilled Portabella Mushroom Wrap at Sundara Inn + Spa in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; and Munro House B&B and Spa in Jonesville, Missouri, makes a seasonal Harvest Pumpkin Mushroom Soup. At the Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, mushrooms are showcased in the Mushroom Enchiladas with Avocado/Tomatillo Salsa entrée; and don’t miss the recipe for Lentil and Shiitake Roll-ups with Tomatillo Lime & Roasted Corn Salsa from Executive Chef Chad Luethje of Miraval Tucson in Catalina, Arizona.

In the spa

Recently, the skin care benefits of mushrooms have been getting more and more attention from spas and products. The extracts of several Japanese mushrooms have been shown to reduce inflammation, resulting in anti-aging benefits such as restored collagen and fewer fine lines, and this reduction of inflammation keeps cells vital and suppresses irritation so other active ingredients can work effectively.

The current star of the mushroom family when it comes to skin care is the shiitake mushroom that contains antioxidants, chemical exfoliation properties and kojic acid, which lighten age spots and discoloration.3

At Genesis Salon & Spa in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada, the 90-minute Radiant Skin Facial features shiitake mushroom extract to help resurface skin; and a mushroom and maiden fern wrap encourages lymphatic improvement during the Sauna Body Ritual offered by Immerse Spa at the MGM Grand Detroit in Detroit. At the various Bliss spa locations, such as those in San Francisco and London, The Eyes Have It service features a Japanese mushroom enzyme peel to help diminish wrinkles; and at the many Exhale Spa locations, such as those in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, the True facial treatment features a mushroom enzyme mask to lift away dull and tired skin. The new Drift Spa and Hammam at Palms Place in Las Vegas offers the Renew facial that combines mushroom and pumpkin to exfoliate, and the Firming Facial at Oasis Day Spa’s three New York locations features a toning mushroom mask.

Products gracing the retail areas of spas are using this powerful fungus for its multiple benefits too, and they include Sircuit Agent from Sircuit Cosmeceuticals, which uses mushroom to tighten pores; and Aloette’s Pure Radiance Bioactive Mist, which contains kombuchka mushroom to help brighten the complexion. Perricone MD Cosmeceuticals’ Maitake Supplements contain the maitake mushroom to help prevent and correct slow metabolism, high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels and bad cholesterol; and the Purification Mask from Temple Spa features mushroom extract as a main ingredient because it increases elasticity and slows down the effects of aging. Additionally, Actifirm’s Renovation Mushroom Mask can be used after microdermabrasion, as well as chemical and enzyme peels, to calm and hydrate skin while increasing cell turnover.

A mushrooming trend

Although these earthy gems have been around for a speculated 90 million years,4 their benefits are still coming to light. It is an exciting time as consumers and professionals alike realize that though many ingredients may seem unusual for topical applications—just as those wild mushrooms seemed unusual in the middle of our dinner table—they still have a plethora of wellness and beauty secrets to reveal.



2. H Murad “Aging and Immune System,”



(All accessed Sep 2, 2008)

Related Content



Quick Facts: Mushrooms

  • Ancient Egyptians believed mushrooms paved the way to immortality, and ancient Romans believed they were a food of the gods and gave mushrooms to warriors at special feasts to increase their strength.4
  • A 14th century Chinese medical text claims shiitake mushrooms can be used to activate chi, the body’s natural life force.4
  • France led the formal cultivation of mushrooms and grew them in special caves near Paris set aside for this type of agriculture.4
  • Europe’s biggest mushroom was found in a Swiss national park in 2004—it is a 1,000-year-old fungus that covers an area roughly equivalent to 100 football fields.4
  • Some mushrooms are bioluminescent, and the jack-o’-lantern mushroom can produce enough light to read by.4

Recipe: Lentil and Shiitake Roll-ups with Tomatillo Lime and Roasted Corn Salsa

From Executive Chef Chad Luethje at Miraval Tucson in Catalina, ArizonaLentil and Shitake Roll-ups with Tomatillo Lime and Roasted Corn Salsa

Makes 6 servings, 285 calories, 9.5 grams of fat per serving

Tomatillo Lime and Roasted Corn Salsa ingredients:

1⁄4 habanero pepper, stemmed and minced

1⁄2 scallion, chopped

1 onion, chopped

6 tomatillos, chopped

1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

1⁄2 cup nopales, cooked and cut in large dice

1⁄2 cup roasted fresh corn

Juice of one lime

1. Place all of the ingredients, except the lime, roasted corn and nopales, in a food processor and pulse until chunky.

2. Add the corn, nopales and lime juice, season to taste and set aside until ready to use.

Roll-up ingredients:

1⁄2 onion, julienned

2 cloves garlic, minced

1⁄2 cup lentils

1⁄2 cup potatoes, diced

1 cup shiitake mushroom, stemmed and sliced

2 cups fresh spinach, trimmed and washed

4 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

1⁄4 teaspoon of chili flakes

1⁄2 cup of feta cheese

6 flour tortillas

2 cups of tomatillo salsa

6 springs of cilantro for garnish

6 radishes, washed and trimmed

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

2. Make the salsa as the recipe indicates.

3. In a sauté pan sprayed lightly with vegetable spray, sauté onion for five minutes, stirring.

4. Add the potatoes, mushrooms and garlic, and cook 10 minutes, stirring.

5. Add the lentils and stock, and cook an additional 25 minutes.

6. Remove the pan from the stove and fold in the spinach, oregano and chili flakes, together with the lentils. If necessary, drain off excess liquid in a strainer or colander. The veggie mix should be moist, but not too wet or it will make the tortilla soggy.

7. Add the feta and fold into the mix well.

8. On the stove, heat a dry sauté pan over low heat and warm each tortilla. Cover the hot tortillas with a cloth napkin, tea towel or just place them in a plastic bag so they don’t dry out. Tortillas are easier to work with when they have been warmed.

9. Place two tablespoons of the lentil veggie mix in the lower part of each tortilla and roll them up. Carefully place your tortilla roll ups seam side down in a lightly sprayed oven-proof dish. Bake on the center rack in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until the tortilla roll-ups are crispy and golden brown. Serve with Tomatillo Lime and Roasted Corn Salsa.

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