Agaricus blazei is an edible medicinal mushroom species that grows wild in various habitats that are conductive to its growth cycle. It is also widely cultivated and used for culinary purposes, sold dried or prepared as a dietary supplement.
The mushroom comes from the genus Agaricus and is related to the common white button mushroom cultivar, Agaricus bisporus. This type, however, is not considered to be high in medicinal value, unlike the blazei species.
This particular selection of agaricus is well-researched and known for its high amount of polysaccharide content, specifically the class of beta-glucans. These are structural polysaccharides identified in the scientific community for their positive influence on immune system function as well as their inhibitory effect against inflammation and tumor growth.
Agaricus is, in fact, up on the list with other chemoprotective mushrooms like coriolus and reishi, commonly used in Japan and China as adjunctive agents in chemotherapy treatment.
Agaricus is also known for its antiviral properties, as well as its immune modulating activity. In some research, extracts of the Agaricus blazei species are shown to have "therapeutic effects against bacterial and viral infection" and were proposed as potential alternatives to antibiotic drugs.
In scientific reviews based on Agaricus blazei, it was also demonstrated to have pharmacological effects potentially useful for a number of diseases, including "chronic hepatitis, diabetes, atherosclerosis and hypercholesterolemia [or high cholesterol]."
Medicinal mushrooms have been used historically as healing tonics as well as dietary food sources for centuries in Asian cultures and are still widely consumed and customarily used in traditional Chinese herbal preparations.
Agaricus, like maitake and shiitake mushrooms, is another choice gourmet variety frequently utilized for its exquisite rich flavor, subtly sweet almond-like taste and meaty texture. Dried or fresh mushrooms are typically steamed or likewise added to cooked dishes and soup stocks to enhance flavor as well as the nutritional value of a meal.
First officially discovered in the late 1800's, Agaricus blazei is not a traditionally used therapeutic variety, but has only just recently been incorporated as such in the last century. Found growing wild in Brazil by Japanese researcher Takatoshi Furumoto, the mushroom was re-popularized in the 1960's as a medicinal edible and further cultivated in Japan where is has been utilized and studied on a larger scale.
Wild and cultivated blazei mushrooms have also been used extensively in Northeast America, where they are sometimes called "almond mushroom." In Brazil the fungi goes by the name "cogumelo do sol" or "mushroom of the sun", in Japan as "himematsutake" and in China as ji song rong. It is additionally referred to as "royal sun" agaricus in many other parts of the world.
Agaricus blazei is an orange-brown gilled fungus from the family Agaricaceae. It is related to the most widely grown and consumed mushroom, the white button Agaricus bisporus variety, also known as cremini or portobella mushroom in its more mature forms. Aside from this strains ability to inhibit aromatase, it is largely void of medicinal properties and has been reported to have a different composition of polysaccharides which include mainly mannogalactans as opposed to beta-glucans.
While the agaricus mushroom frequently goes by the name Agaricus blazei, there has been some discrepancy among taxonomists about the exact species classification.
According to mycologist Paul Stamets and his website Fungi Perfecti, what many regard scientifically as Agaricus blazei is rather a newly classified species, Agaricus brasiliensis. He states, "We are calling it "the Brazilian blazei" as another common name to help in this transition in nomenclature."
For the most part, the general consensus is that the species Agaricus subrufescens, Agaricus brasiliensis and Agaricus rufotegulis are all genetically similar fungal strains that were at some point misidentified as the species Agaricus blazei, but still go by this name. Although the name Agaricus blazei is commonly used to describe all three nearly identical mushroom species, its official taxonomy is an entirely different common edible woodland variety that is far less medicinal.
To date, when most people refer to "Agaricus blazei" they are indeed referring to Agaricus subrufescens, Agaricus brasiliensis and Agaricus rufotegulis, all of which are generally identified as synonymous under the classification "Agaricus subrufescens."
These strains were initially discovered in North America, Florida and later South America. The species Agaricus subrufescens was first reported in the northeastern U.S. in 1893 by botanist Charles Horton Peck. Later in the state of Florida, it was identified by mycologists William A. Murrill, also called "the Mushroom Man." The often used name "Agaricus blazei Murrill" in his honor.
Agaricus brasiliensis is native to Brazil where is was identified growing wild and collected by Japanese researcher Takatoshi Furumoto in Piedade, state of São Paulo, Brazil.
It has likewise been found outside of these mentioned locations in regions such as Hawaii, Philippines, Thailand and Europe.
It is one of those mycelium strains that prefers warmer climates and partially sunlit areas usually bordering forested canopy regions. This is perhaps one of the reasons it is often associated with the sun in name descriptions such as "mushroom of the sun" or "royal sun agaricus." Depending on the amount of sunlight, the pigmentation can range from orange, gold, brown or white. Colors can become more prominent when the mushroom is dried.
The younger mushroom caps, approximately 20–70 mm in diameter, sometimes have a squared-off rounded look that will expand and flatten with maturity. The stipe or stem is typically thick and somewhat bulbous at the base. The best time to harvest the fruiting body for medicinal purposes is before the cap starts to expand and release spores.
While Brazil is currently the largest commercial producer of the mushroom, it is interestingly not typically used by most of the Brazilian population. Production is generally focused on the international market as an export product. Other primary growers, like China, also commonly export the mushroom, especially to Japan where it is a well-known and very popular dietary supplement.
It is also possible to home-grow your own agaricus on logs or substrate cakes from mushroom spores, which can be purchase from online suppliers. Temperature is very important for this procedure, however, as it is sensitive to extreme temperatures, normally requiring a range between 77-82 °F (25–28 °C) for best mycelial growth and 71-77°F (22–25 °C) for fruiting.
The fresh mushrooms are known to have a fragrance similar to almond extract due to the presence of certain compounds such as benzonitrile, benzaldehyde, methyl benzoate and benzyl alcohol, some substances also found in almonds.
One of the major health enhancing compounds found in Agaricus blazei mushrooms are its number of beneficial polysaccharides, specifically the highly structured form of beta-glucans.
These are constituents also found in other medicinal varieties and are known for their structural complexity as well as frequency and length of branching side-chains. These features in effect provide for more diverse biological activity and the unique ability to modulate the immune system or regulate immune responses. They are often called "biological response modifiers" or "host defense modifiers" for this reason.
In the published report entitled "The Medicinal Values of Culinary-Medicinal Royal Sun Mushroom (Agaricus blazei Murrill)", in part analyzing the mushroom's effectiveness as an immunomodulating substance, it was noted that "A. brasiliensis contains compounds such as beta-(1→3), (1→6) β-glucans, (1→3)-α-glucans, and protein-polysaccharide complexes, which can enhance in vivo and in vitro cell-mediated immune responses and act as biological response modifiers."
In the previously mentioned review on the A. subrufescens species, it was confirmed that "the extract could exert both immunostimulatory and immunosuppressive effects." This essentially means that, as a biological response modifier, it has the ability to "modulate" the immune system depending on the specific needs of the individual and particular health issues.
This chemical beta-glucan composition is considered to be highly effective in regulating immune response and has been explicitly utilized for inhibiting tumor growth.
In another scientific review of Agaricus blazei Murrill, it was stated that "Of the polysaccharides with immunomodulating capacity, only those which consist of a (1→3)-linked β-glucan backbone with (1→6)-linked β-d-glucopyranosyl units as branches produce complete inhibition of tumor growth. (1→3)-β-glucans from fungi commonly have a tumor inhibition percentage of 99–l00%."
β-D-glucans form part of the cell wall of agaricus and other edible mushroom types. These components are soluble when hot water processed or alcohol extracted which is necessary for human assimilation and nutrient uptake.
Aside from beta-glucans, agaricus also contains a number of other polysaccharides, including alpha-glucans, riboglucans and glucomannans, that also provide health enhancing benefits to immune functions.
In Japan, Agaricus subrufescens (Agaricus brasiliensis) is a popular complementary and alternative medicinal aid used alongside traditional cancer treatments. In a 2011 clinical study based on Agaricus blazei's use as a dietary supplement for cancer patients it was identified that "The most frequently used CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] products were mushrooms (Agaricus 60.6%, active hexose-correlated compound [derived from shiitake] 8.4%, and Ganoderma lucidum [reishi] 6.3%)."
Other medicinal mushrooms varieties utilized as complimentary "adjuvants" in cancer treatment protocols also include the famous coriolus mushroom, otherwise known as turkey tail, as well as the chaga or Inonotus obliquus species.
Beta-glucan branching protein-bound polysaccharides or "proteoglucans" (A-PBP and L-PBP), which are naturally present to defend the blazei mushroom against invasive organisms, can likewise be used therapeutically by humans to fight bacterial and viral infections. These are substances like the polysaccharide-K (Krestin, PSK) found in Trametes versicolor.
In some research extracts of A. subrufescens were identified to protect against bacteriums and viruses that cause pneumonia, meningitis as well as some types of herpes and polio.
Moreover, a sulfated polysaccharide derived from the A. blazei species has also shown effectiveness against the herpes virus and was compared to Acyclovir, an antiviral drug. (Source)
In a study published in the Critical Reviews of Science and Nutrition, it was identified that "soluble NSPs [non-starch polysaccharides], especially mixed-link ß-glucans, lower plasma cholesterol levels and help to normalize blood glucose and insulin levels, making these kinds of polysaccharides a part of dietary plans to treat cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes."
In another study on Agaricus brasiliensis tested on diabetic rats, results indicated antidiabetic activity by promoting insulin secretion as well as the suppression of oxidative stress and proinflammatory cytokine production that improved pancreatic β-cells mass."
In regards to its effect on inflammation, the Agaricus blazei Murill-based mushroom extract, called AndoSan, was shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects in patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. (Source) Water extracts of the mushroom have likewise been studied for their anti-inflammatory actions against osteoporosis.
Agaricus blazei is a source of amino acids and high in various amounts of vitamin and minerals, like B vitamins as well as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
It is also a source of ergosterol, a vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) precursor. This conversion occurs to some degree when the mushroom is exposed to ultraviolet light which causes a photochemical type of reaction, converting ergosterol to ergocalciferol. Ergosterol-containing mushrooms, like agaricus, are sometimes the source of vitamin D used in commercial dietary supplements.
In a published journal article entitled "Photobiology of Vitamin D in Mushrooms and Its Bioavailability in Humans", it was stated that "Shiitake mushrooms not only produce vitamin D2 but also produce vitamin D3 and vitamin D4."
While according to most research "A. subrufescens has long been consumed as a culinary and supplementary food and has not been reported to be directly toxic or carcinogenic to humans", there have been some controversial reports about its potential safety for human consumption.
This is chiefly regarding the raw mushroom's naturally high agaritine content as well as its ability to absorb the heavy metal cadmium.
Agaritine is an aromatic, antiviral compound but is also a proven hydrazine-derivative mycotoxin within the genus Agaricus, which also includes the common white button mushroom.
Agaritine is a substance that is quick to oxidize and degrades rapidly after the mushrooms are harvested. It is also mostly destroyed when heated. Wikipedia sources indicate that, "Agaritine oxidizes rapidly upon storage, however, and is totally degraded after 48 hours in aqueous solution with exposure to air. It has also been shown to decompose readily upon cooking (up to 90% reduction) as well as upon freezing (up to 75% reduction)." (Source)
Blazei extracts, tonics and tinctures are believed to comply within the recommended safety standards, some supplement manufacturers, however, also ensure agaritine testing of their product.
Many medicinal mushroom species are in fact utilized for their ability to absorb toxic heavy metals from contaminated soils as a way to clean up environment hazards. Agaricus blazei demonstrates a high tolerance for the heavy metal cadmium (*). Cadmium is a common pollutant that comes from car exhaust or the burning of fossil fuels which can contaminate agaricus grown near roadsides or industrial polluted regions.
In one Japanese non-organic mushroom extract tested in was shown that "This level of cadmium intake is only 25% of permissible levels in food." Moreover, most cultivated mushroom are grown indoors in a controlled setting which is less like to be contaminated by environmental heavy metals such as cadmium.
We always recommend seeking out higher quality agaricus mushroom products that are preferably organic as well as independently tested for potential contaminants to ensure purity.
Because commercial A. blazei product quality is largely dependent on the substrate is grows upon, it is best to seek out sources that verify standardized percentages of beta-glucans or polysaccharides present or ensure a full spectrum of active constituents. This is to a large extent reliant upon the integrity of the company.
Supplements and powders are usually made from the fruiting body (the whole mushroom) or from the mycelium biomass (the white mycelium filaments produced during its vegetative stage). These following are our recommended agaricus suppliers.
All medicinal mushrooms are therapeutically more effective when steamed or simmered in hot water. This process helps to release their beneficial compounds like polysaccharides and beta-glucans.
Agaricus blazei mushroom is most commonly used for medicinal purposes as a dietary supplement. These are usually prepared using a hot water extraction techniques and concentrating the solution into a dried powder.
It is frequently available as an encapsulated or bulk powder, which can be taken as a capsule or spooned into soups, tonic brews or added to most any shake elixir.
Fresh or dried mushrooms can also be used as a culinary gourmet variety, similar to maitake and shiitake, steamed into sautés, blended into cooked grains and legumes or prepared in soup stocks. It has a rich and slightly sweet almond-like flavor and turns a yellow-orange color when heated.
As with other medicinal mushrooms, agaricus synergistically works very well when blended with other types as an ingredient in recipes or as a dietary supplement. Many brands also offer agaricus in mushroom formulations which often include others like reishi, lions mane and coriolus.