JCM ReviewChinese medicine scholar and ex-biochemist Martin Powell has researched medicinal mushrooms for many years and is probably the UK’s best-placed authority to bring practitioners up to speed on this fascinating subject. Medicinal Mushrooms fills the significant gap in our knowledge base that exists because current Chinese herbal literature tends to downplay the contribution that mushrooms can make to our therapeutic armoury. For example, the remarkable Ling Zhi (Ganoderma), so beloved of Song dynasty Daoist hermits, tends to be perceived as a folk herb rather than a full member of the Bencao. It does not appear in commonly-taught classical herb prescriptions – a situation that is set to change now that pharmacology shows that it deserves a more central place. Dong Chong Xia Cao (Cordyceps) is easily neglected on cost grounds, until we realise that relatively cheap new biotech forms are available. Other key mushroom products such as Yun Zhi (Coriolus) tend to occupy a mental blind-spot because of poor coverage in our main Bencao reference texts. I hope that Powell’s book will change this situation, as it is easily the most accessible primer on the pharmacology, applications and Chinese medical uses of the top 20 or so mycological medicinals.
The first impression of this book is of good production values: quality paper, clear text and tables, sharp bright colour photos and so on - all indicative of a reader-oriented perspective. The writer and publishers want you to enjoy this book. Structure-wise it is well thought-out too; the text opens with a helpful overview of the fundamental material to be covered in the whole book. This is followed by a mercifully concise overview of mushroom biochemistry. Powell succeeds in balancing accessibility and readability alongside a continual narrative that references the evidence-base. The hypercritical might be suspicious at the ever-rosy science gloss, but at least the material is referenced - thereby offering sticklers their opportunity to check the facts. Given more space I have no doubt that Powell could present a much more detailed scientific background, but that would be more-or-less unreadable for most of us. Overall the style is more refined than a simple assembling of data; doubtless the fact that the author has taught this material for so long gives a particular clarity and focus to Medicinal Mushrooms. His ability to provide readers with an informative experience whilst avoiding tedious detail makes for a refreshing experience.
Medicinal Mushrooms meets the needs of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine practitioners, especially those who like their reading liberally spiced with research evidence but wish to avoid total immersion in gratuitous scientific esoterica. This is not a book for the Chinese medicine chauvinist: there are no abstruse classical quotes, no oriental iconography or poetry, or deep excursions into the effects of these substances on the shen, hun and po. Instead Medicinal Mushrooms is pitched at a more general complementary medicine readership, something that Powell achieves by quarantining to an appendix most of the material requiring knowledge of Chinese medicine. Personally, I would have welcomed just a touch more Oriental flavour.
Going shopping after reading this book I found myself buying two packs of shitake mushrooms. I even caught myself staring affectionately at the oyster mushrooms with their lovely loose, soft and milky gills. Another bonus is that when we know a little more about the virtues of mushrooms, new possibilities open up for mushroom-based dietary advice to patients. We will be able to explain why shiitake mushrooms are better than button mushrooms, for example. Incidentally, on the subject of diet, I liked the no-nonsense way that Powell dismissed the ‘candida lobby’s’ unquestioned phobia for all things mycological. Altogether I have learned a lot from reading Medicinal Mushrooms. Previously mushrooms came to mind mostly for cancer-patient care and immune dysfunction - especially in cases involving unregulated inflammatory processes. Certainly, in my clinical work I have seen some remarkable things happen using these substances, but now many new additional clinical horizons have opened up. Reading Powell’s work has made a big difference to my mycological understanding, my knowledge of the science of these substances and how they can be applied. How lucky we are to have so many stars in our firmament. Warmly recommended.
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