Mushrooms have a peculiar place in cooking and herbal medicine. Commonly they are not thought of as a vegetable, or a main dish, they are also generally not considered a spice. Most common white mushrooms have a bland flavor that is sought after for its ability to add a richness and character to other foods. In Chinese herbal medicine, special attention is paid to the white mushrooms and the usefulness of that bland flavor.
Chinese philosophy places a very high value on the "empty" things of the world. The value of a pot or container is not seen as the container itself, but rather the valuable empty space that it occupies and the potential of how that space may be used. Bland white mushrooms are important because of their lack of strong flavors. The bland nature is seen as important in regulating the other flavors and how other flavors affect the body. There are of course strong pungent mushrooms, but rarely are they white. The common button, straw and oyster mushrooms share similar functions to the Chinese mushrooms Fu ling, Zhu ling, and Bai mu er. All of these mushrooms are similar in their ability to help the body regulate fluids (particularly urine) in the body. They are also classified as tonifying the functions of the digestion. This is a fancy way of saying that mushrooms help regulate how the body uses other foods.
The ability to regulate fluids within the body is very important in urinary problems as well as cardiac problems. Some mushrooms are used as the main ingredient for herbal formulas designed to change "damp" conditions. These are hard to define in Western biomedical terms. They tend to be conditions that are marked by a heavy feeling in the body, sluggish energy, cloudy thinking and fixed heavy feeling pain in the joints. Herbal formulas for clearing damp by the use of mushrooms are said to "drain" damp out of the body. It is the unique bland flavor enhancing quality of mushrooms that make that possible.
The more colorful and flavorful mushrooms retain some of these qualities making them important for more specific situations. Often they are employed to help change some function in the body, where changes in fluid dynamics and the function of the digestion is crucial for those changes. Mushrooms can be very important regardless if it is used medicinally or as with cooking, adds that special quality, without which the meal would seem incomplete.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066