A Fungus Among Us


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.


1. americanmushrooms.com/basics.htm

2. H Murad “Aging and Immune System,” www.SkinInc.com/skinscience/physiology/17664204.html

3. www.realsimple.com/realsimple/gallery/0,21863,1604162-3,00.html

4. www.mushroom-uk.com/info/did-you-know.html

(All accessed Sep 2, 2008)

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