In an interview on National Public Radio, world-renown medicinal mushroom expert Paul Stamets recounts his discovery of the healing properties of agarikon, a mushroom growing on 500-year-old trees in the old growth rainforests of the northwestern United States.
Scientists have known for some time that mushrooms are not plants. Far from it. They are more closely related to animals and humans then they are to the vegetables we eat. Because of that, they are often at risk from the same bacteria and other "bugs" that cause diseases in humans. Being well aware of this fact, Stamets asked himself how agarikon - a perennial mushroom living for up to 50 years - managed to fight off diseases so well in the perpetually wet rainforests. It must possess a potent immune system, he concluded, with potential anti-bacterial and anti-viral compounds that may act as antibiotics for 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.
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.
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.
A former second in command at the FDA, Mr. Norris is hopeful that he and Paul Stamets will be able to sell hundreds of millions of doses of this agarikon extract to the American, German and British armies' defense stock-piles.
That may still be a few years into the future, though. Paul Stamets new mushroom related anti-viral medicine first has to stand up to exhaustive testing, and then eventually be approved for release by the FDA.
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.