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.
Stamets knew that fungi (mushrooms) were more closely related to humans than to plants and therefore susceptible to many of the same pathogens (bacteria, molds, viruses). And yet the perennial agarikon mushroom managed to remain disease free in the dripping wet rainforests for up to 50 years without decaying from rot, mold, or bacteria. So therefore it followed, he figured, that it must possess a powerful immune system full of antibiotic compounds that might benefit people.
Stamets describes the agarikon conk as looking like a bee hive when viewed from the ground. Remember, they grow on the trunks of ancient tree giants, sometimes high up. (Use the agarikon-link on this page to view a picture of Paul Stamets holding an agarikon mushroom.) Please be aware that this is a threatened species and should be left alone in most cases. Just get out your digital camera if you are lucky enough to find a specimen. (Otherwise, no one may believe you.)
Paul Stamets now grows his own agarikon, which he uses for his agarikon extract. A sample of this extract was sent to the BIO Shield Program for testing at a top security lab located in Ft. Dietrich, MD. The BIO Shield Program is a division within the Defense Department created to search for remedies against biological warfare agents and bioterrorism threats - e.g. pathogens like smallpox or anthrax.
Reportedly, tens of thousands of natural as well as manmade remedies are tested through the BIO Shield Program. According to drug discovery supervisor John Seacrest, Paul Stamets agarikon extract scored one of the rare hits against viruses related to smallpox. In other words, it effectively inhibited smallpox related viruses under lab conditions.
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.
It's also worth mentioning that Mr. Norris is a former second in command in the FDA hierarchy, and he believes that through his joint venture with Paul Stamets, they could soon be selling several hundred million doses of the Stamets agarikon extract to the armies of the United States, U.K., and Germany.
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: The above article is intended for informational purposes only. Agarikon has not been approved by the FDA for use as a medicinal. Never use any herbal or mushroom-product for medicinal purposes unless advice to do so by a licensed medical practitioner.
Reference: Banse, T., NPR Morning Edition, Smallpox Defense May Be Found in Mushrooms, August 4, 2005.