Interviewed on NPR, world leading medicinal mushroom specialist Paul Stamets relateshow he came to discover the healing properties of agarikon, an increasingly rare wood conkthat has all but vanished from Europe and now grows almost exclusively in the old growthrainforests of the northwestern United States.
Scientists have known for some time that mushrooms are not plants. Far from it. They aremore closely related to animals and humans then they are to the vegetables we eat. Becauseof that, they are often at risk from the same bacteria and other "bugs" thatcause diseases in humans. Being well aware of this fact, Stamets asked himself howagarikon - a perennial mushroom living for up to 50 years - managed to fight off diseasesso well in the perpetually wet rainforests. It must possess a potent immune system, heconcluded, with potential anti-bacterial and anti-viral compounds that may act asantibiotics for humans.
To find agarikon in the wild, look for something reminiscent of a beehive on the ancienttree trunks of an old-growth forest. (You may view a picture of agarikon through theagarikon-link on this page.) Please keep in mind that agarikon is a rare and threatenedspecies. Do not harvest it unless there's a very good reason for doing so. But by allmeans, bring out your digital camera.
It should be noted that the agarikon Paul Stamets uses is not harvested in the wild. Hegrows his own, and uses it for the extract he produces. A sample of that extract wassubmitted to the Defense Department, to be tested at a top security laboratory in FortDietrich, Maryland. The Defense Department's BIO Shield Program at that location searchesfor cures to biological warfare agents such as smallpox and anthrax.
Several tens of thousands of natural and synthetic "medicines" have been testedwithin the Bio Shield Program. According to John Seacrest, drug discovery supervisorwithin BIO Shield, the agarikon extract submitted by Paul Stamets was one of only a fewagents that tested positive against viruses related to smallpox. While smallpox virusitself is not available for testing (due to it being supposedly extinct and all), theagarikon extract proved effective in inhibiting closely related viruses (presumablycowpox).
Following this discovery, Paul Stamets now has a patent pending on a mushroom-derivedanti-viral drug. One of his financial backers, Boston-based investor John Norris, baseshis support in part on the fact that, as he says, not everyone is able or willing to bevaccinated against diseases such as smallpox.
It's also worth mentioning that Mr. Norris is a former second in command in the FDAhierarchy, and he believes that through his joint venture with Paul Stamets, they couldsoon be selling several hundred million doses of the Stamets agarikon extract to thearmies of the United States, U.K., and Germany.
That may, however, still be a few years in the making. First the product needs to gothrough further exhaustive lab trials as well as gain FDA approval.
Note: The above article is intended for informational purposes only. Agarikon has notbeen approved by the FDA for use as a medicinal. Never use any herbal or mushroom-productfor medicinal purposes unless advice to do so by a licensed medical practitioner.
Reference: Banse, T., NPR Morning Edition, Smallpox Defense May Be Found inMushrooms, August 4, 2005.