In the past few years, enterprising consumers have turned to alternative health and medicine remedies to improve their overall wellness. While holistic health remedies may have been limited by geography in the past, the Internet and the ease of travel and communication these days has allowed people around the world to benefit from folk remedies previously restricted by small parts of it. These health remedies include solutions from Alaska and Siberia, two of the coldest regions in the world.
Native peoples in Alaska and Siberia have a long tradition of harvesting medicinal mushrooms for various purposes. Here is a guide to medicinal mushrooms found in these regions.
Fly agaric mushrooms, also known as Amanita muscaria, are a species of mushroom that grows in deciduous and conifer forests. They are distinguished by their caps, which are large, red, and covered in white spots. Originally native to northern Eurasia, fly agaric mushrooms have been spread to North America and other continents due to international trade.
Fly agaric mushrooms are poisonous and consuming them can be fatal for some users; 95 percent of recorded mushroom poisoning cases are the result of fly agaric consumption. Despite this, fly agaric mushrooms have a long history of being used for various purposes. Before eaten, they are parboiled twice and drained with water in order to lower their toxicity.
Fly agarics are most commonly consumed as a drug due to their hallucinogenic effects. Indigenous peoples in Siberia historically used the mushrooms as part of religious rituals, and some historians have theorized that the Vikings also used them to enter a state of berserker rage when fighting. Fly agarics have also sometimes been used as a food source.
Known by the scientific name of Hericium erinaceus, lion’s mane is a medicinal mushroom known for its nootropic effects. It appears as a series of long, white spikes resembling a beard, hence why it is sometimes known as bearded tooth or satyr’s beard. It naturally grows on birch trees and is common in Alaska, Siberia, and other regions of northern Eurasia.
Lion’s mane is full of hericenones and erinacines, compounds that help improve brain function and regenerate nerves, making it an increasingly popular treatment for Alzheimer’s. Lion’s mane has also been shown to improve memory, protect against ulcers, and prevent the formation of cancer cells. It can be cooked, eaten raw, used to brew tea, or taken as an extract, and it is known for its lobster-like taste.
Reishi is a polyphore mushroom that is also known as lingzhi. A staple of Chinese and Japanese medicine, reishi naturally grows in Siberia, northern China, and northern Japan. It traditionally grows at the foot of maple trees, but most reishi is now cultivated instead of being harvested in the wild due to overharvesting. It is known for its gray appearance and its extremely hard exterior, and can embed itself in trees so strongly that it can regrow even after being entirely removed.
Reishi is traditionally consumed raw or cooked, and is a common addition to soups in the far north. It can also be made into a tincture. Reishi has been shown to reduce stress, stimulate the immune system through the production of lymptocytes, and reduce inflammation.
Perhaps the most famous medicinal mushroom of Alaska and Siberia is chaga. Chaga naturally grows on birch trees and is noted for its dark, hard exterior, superficially resembling tree burls. While chaga grows across a wide range of Asia, Europe, and North America, it has traditionally only been used medicinally in Alaska and Siberia because chaga found in warmer climates lacks nutritional value.
Chaga has traditionally been consumed as a tea, though it can also be made into a tincture or eaten raw in a pinch. It has been demonstrated to strengthen the immune system against disease, as well as combat cancer, reduce inflammation, and aid digestion.
As a corollary to this, lion’s mane, reishi, and chaga are often consumed together and have synergistic, overlapping effects. For example, both reishi and chaga are capable of strengthening the immune system, while lion’s mane and chaga both have strong anti-cancer properties due to their high antioxidant content. Feel free to experiment with different types of mushrooms to see what works for you.
While many Americans may seem put off by the idea of medicinal mushrooms, they’re a proven solution to many health problems. Native Alaskans and Siberians have been using medicinal mushrooms such as chaga and reishi for generations to combat disease and improve their quality of life. Whether you’re looking to guard against the flu, protect yourself against cancer, improve your memory, or a number of other goals, the folk remedies of Alaska and Siberia can help you enhance your health and live the best life that you can.