The zhu ling mushroom is a rare edible mushroom with the scientific name Polyporus umbellatus. Zhu ling only grows around the roots of old beech or oak trees. A distinctive feature of this species is the large number of small caps; a single body can consist of hundreds of them. They have a light brown color and are located in stalks with many branches.
Zhu ling mushrooms consist of a large main stem, which forms many smaller branches. The total size of the fruiting body is between 10 and 40 cm. Most of it is made up of the white central stalk, with a height from 2.5 to 8 cm and a diameter of 2 to 4 cm. Smaller branches spread out from it and either end up in caps or branch further into even smaller ones. The caps are centrally connected to stems and have a circular shape, with a diameter between 1 and 5 cm. Young caps are symmetrical but later become less regular on the edges. Their color is usually white but can also be yellow or pale brown.
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Polyporus umbellatus is a polypore species, just like its scientific name suggests, because the tubes on the lower part of the cap look like pores. They descend on the stem and are initially white, becoming yellow at maturity. The white flesh doesn't have a strong smell or taste and has a firm texture. Spore prints are white as well, with very small cylindrical spores no longer than 8 to 10 microns and not wider than 2.5 to 3.5 microns. They are transparent with a smooth surface under the microscope.
The species is a parasite and causes a visible white rot on the wood or roots of hardwood trees. Zhu ling has an extended geographical range, yet is rarely found.
An underground sclerotium acts like a tuber and produces the fruiting bodies. It consists of one or more dark clusters of fungal tissue that have a white inner flesh. The sclerotium can grow quite large and it survives during the winter, so the mushrooms will grow again every year in the same location.
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Christiaan Hendrik Persoon was the first to discover the sizeable polypore in 1801, naming it with the scientific designation Boletus umbellatus. It was moved to the Polyporus genus in 1821, by Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries in his book Systema Mycologicum. He also gave it the scientific name Polyporus umbellatus, which is still used today.
Zhu ling mushroom has a large fruiting body that is similar in shape to a saddle. The area under the caps is covered by large pores. Despite the different appearance, the zhu ling mushroom is part of the same family as the poria fungus and the shiitake mushroom. Zhu ling is found in dense forests of hardwood trees in regions with wet climates and can be easily identified due to its bulbous and fan-like form. It has a neutral or slightly sweet taste and commonly found either raw or as a powder in Chinese pharmacies and many healthy food outlets around the world.
Zhu ling mushroom has many uses. It is considered a gourmet ingredient that can improve a number of exotic recipes, as well as an ancient medicine in Asia. The presence of the species in forests is considered to be a sign of a healthy ecosystem. While Polyporus umbellatus is very popular in China today, it has been known and used by many ancient cultures. It is thought to provide a significant boost to the immune system, which has promoted modern scientists to start many studies on the medical benefits of this species and its chemical composition. Like some other mushrooms, zhu ling was found to include many bioactive compounds that show great promise in research and might be very valuable against the worst diseases of the modern world.
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Zhu ling is classified as a medicinal mushroom, due to some compounds in its composition. These have strong anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects, while providing an overall boost to the immune system. It is also known to have hepato-protective effects and consuming it can keep your liver in top condition.
Chinese traditional medicine has used the species as an ingredient for a very long time. Asian herbalists mostly employed it as a diuretic and antiseptic agent in the treatment of edema and urinary infections. It was also believed to cure some forms of cancer, a claim that was verified by modern scientists. Other traditional uses include the treatment of malaria but also as a general antiseptic agent. In China, zhu ling is also popular as a natural cure for serious liver conditions like hepatitis B or cirrhosis. Since it can improve the activity of the immune system and has no side effects, it can be used by people during chemotherapy recovery, after lung cancer for example. It can be consumed in food or taken as capsules or even brewed as a tea.
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Since it is a strong diuretic with antiseptic effects, the zhu ling mushroom can clear the urinary tract and eliminate urethral blockages, while removing all sorts of toxins that can start infections in the area. In Asian medicine, zhu ling is used to treat urinary incontinence or dribbling and is even given to pregnant women in such cases. However, the dosage must be small and carefully calculated.
Consuming zhu ling mushroom also benefits the digestive system, especially as a treatment for diarrhea. It makes the stool harder and more solid by absorbing some of the excess water from your intestines. The same effect is good for people who suffer from swollen feet or edema. The zhu ling can get rid of some of the excess water, which is then eliminated through urine, providing relief from these symptoms.
Zhu ling mushroom is a traditional cure for liver issues but can be equally effective in the treatment of kidney diseases. It is also known to improve the lymphatic function.
Zhu ling is an effective anti-inflammatory, which makes it a good choice for the treatment of joint conditions. Consuming this mushroom in moderate amounts can prevent various types of infections by improving the reaction of the body's immune system.
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Like some other mushrooms, this species can slow down the growth of cancer tumours. Its diuretic properties have also attracted considerable interest from modern scientists, who found it to be effective even in cases of nephritis or kidney stones, when other cures no longer work.
In herbal medicine, zhu ling is often employed for its ability to remove the excess water that can accumulate in parts of the body. This can be caused by several infectious diseases but also as a result of poor diets that fail to supply enough proteins.
Zhu ling is actually recommended for a good balance of fluids in the body. It provides several benefits that contribute to it, such as the diuretic effects and the control of sodium and potassium levels. As a result, it can reduce high blood pressure and also prevent kidney diseases.
In modern Chinese medicine, polysaccharide extracts of this mushroom have been officially licensed as a therapy for cancer. They are used as a secondary treatment during chemotherapy. Researchers have identified in their composition several steroids that are toxic for cancer cells.
Wu Ling San is a famous traditional herbal diuretic formula of Chinese medicine that includes Polyporus umbellatus as an ingredient. Triterpenes, ergosterol and d-mannitol are some of the diuretic compounds that have been isolated from the fruiting bodies.
Polysaccharide extracts of zhu ling are a very useful adjuvant nutritional treatment during chemotherapy. They can significantly improve the quality of life of patients, as well as the survival chances. Cancers of the liver, nose, lung and throat can be treated this way, as well as leukemia.
Aqueous extracts of the mushroom have also been tested against tumours. A number of rats have been exposed to toxic levels of N-butyl-N-(4-hydroxybutyl) nitrosamine. Only 61.1% of the rats who were given the extracts developed bladder cancer, compared to all of the ones from the control group. Tests on 22 patients with recurrent bladder cancer have also shown promising results.
When given to rats, P. umbellatus polysaccharides were found to prevent cachexia, a symptom of cancer that causes extreme fatigue, weight loss and a decrease of muscular mass. This condition is triggered by a chemical produced by cancer cells named toxohormone-L. Some of the steroids found in the mushroom also seem to improve hair regeneration. Small amounts of extracts applied topically make the hair grow for a longer period of time.
Zhu ling is either a saprophytic on buried wood or causes a visible white rot on the roots. It is a parasite of oaks and other hardwood trees. It has a wide range across the Northern hemisphere but remains a rare species. The species is found in the USA in the upper Midwest. In the hardwood forests of the area, it has two periods of growth, between May and June, and later during September and October.
Zhu ling has excellent nutritional qualities and provides a mix of healthy compounds. It is an important source of riboflavin, thiamine, retinol and other vitamins. Consuming it is linked with longevity and a healthy life, while the main medicinal effect is the diuretic one. Like most edible wild mushrooms, it is very rich in antioxidants and the so-called micro-nutrients that are essential for human health. It also provides many polysaccharides, as well as good amounts of minerals like iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
The zhu ling has a powerful woody flavour, typical of wild mushrooms. The very strong taste makes it a useful addition to various dishes. It can be eaten raw but it should always be cooked, in order to prevent the development of allergic reactions. For the same reason, you should only consume a small amount if it is the first time when you eat zhu ling mushrooms. It is never a good idea to try more than one new mushroom species at one time.
Zhu ling mushroom is not known to interact with other drugs. However, it is a good idea to ask for the advice of your doctor before using it. As a general precaution, pregnant or nursing women and people who suffer from acute diseases should not consume it.
When harvesting the mushroom, the main stalk is cut about ¼ to ½ inch above the ground. The species tends to attract a lot of mushroom flies, so be very careful to remove these bugs when picking them. A clear sign that a mushroom is infested with bugs is if a cloud a flies circle above it. Only pick the ones with firm flesh if you plan to cook them.