Interviewed on NPR, world leading medicinal mushroom specialist Paul Stamets relates how he came to discover the healing properties of agarikon, an increasingly rare wood conk that has all but vanished from Europe and now grows almost exclusively in the old growth rainforests of the northwestern United States.
Knowing that mushrooms are susceptible to many of the same microbes as humans, how could it be, he asked himself, that this perennial wood conk managed to stay healthy for 50 years in the dripping wet rain forest without rotting? It must have a powerful immune system, he concluded, with potentially powerful medicinal compounds that could benefit humans.
Agarikon in the wild looks somewhat like a beehive on the trunk of some of the giant, ancient trees of the old-growth forests of the American northwest. (See picture of Paul Stamets with one of these wood conks by clicking on the agarikon-link on this page.) Be aware that this is an endangered species, which should be left unharmed in the wild. But be sure to bring your digital camera so you can prove to your mushroom club friends that you saw it.
It should be noted that the agarikon Paul Stamets uses is not harvested in the wild. He grows his own, and uses it for the extract he produces. A sample of that extract was submitted to the Defense Department, to be tested at a top security laboratory in Fort Dietrich, Maryland. The Defense Department's BIO Shield Program at that location searches for cures to biological warfare agents such as smallpox and anthrax.
Within this BIO Shield Program, tens of thousands of natural and manmade compounds have been tested for use against biological warfare pathogens. Drug discovery supervisor John Seacrest was happy to report on the radio show that the agarikon extract provided by Stamets had indeed been one of the few substances tested that had proved effective against smallpox related viruses.
Following this discovery, Paul Stamets now has a patent pending on a mushroom-derived anti-viral drug. One of his financial backers, Boston-based investor John Norris, bases his support in part on the fact that, as he says, not everyone is able or willing to be vaccinated against diseases such as smallpox.
As a former second at the FDA, John Norris should know enough about the field of medicine. And obviously, his belief in Paul Stamets agarikon extract is strong enough to put his money where his mouth is. His goal is that they may someday sell this agarikon extract for the defense stock-piles of NATO armies, with doses numbering in the hundreds of millions.
That may, however, still be a few years in the making. First the product needs to go through further exhaustive lab trials as well as gain FDA approval.
Note: This article is intended for informational purposes only. Never use any herb or mushroom medicinally except as advised by a licensed medical practitioner.
Reference: NPR Morning Edition, Smallpox Defense May Be Found in Mushrooms by Tom Banse, August 4, 2005.