By Andrea Schaffer | Special to Moonshine ink

Did you know that you have the power to improve your immune health? No shiitake! Unfortunately, the topic of improving immunity has largely been omitted from the mainstream COVID-19 conversation. In the event that you can’t avoid exposure to the invisible virus with masks or physical distancing, how can you prepare your personal defenses so that your immune system responds appropriately to this threat? 

Deliciously, there are foods that can boost your immune system and they are easily incorporated into a healthy whole food diet. Among the most noteworthy and powerful immune boosting foods are fungi.

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Mushrooms are potent healing foods that enhance the immune system by activating natural killer cells and macrophages. They are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, antimicrobial, and antiviral. Mushrooms contain beta-glucan, a polysaccharide compound that can modulate both the innate and adaptive immune response and can even prevent the growth and metastasis of cancer cells. These powerhouse fungi are a robust source of B vitamins, vitamins C and D, selenium, potassium, copper, and many other health and immune fortifying nutrients. 

Mushrooms come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors. In addition to your typical grocery store varieties, the humble button and cremini mushrooms, look for fresh shiitake, oyster, morel, chanterelle, portabella, lion’s mane, and maitake (also called hen of the woods) mushrooms. Locally, many of these can be found at farmers markets (check out Little Roots Farm), health food stores, and the Tahoe Food Hub. You can also seek the expertise of a mycologist and forage for mushrooms in the wild, usually in the spring or fall. A word of caution: Please make sure you are abundantly careful with mushroom identification because many varieties are poisonous. 

Fresh mushrooms are best selected when they are firm and fresh with a plump, dry surface. To store mushrooms, refrigerate them in a paper bag so they do not become soggy. To wash mushrooms, slice off the bottom of the stem and use a damp towel to wipe off dirt. If they are still quite dirty, you can quickly rinse them in water and wipe clean and dry. Avoid soaking in water, as they tend to absorb water and can easily become unappetizingly slimy. Don’t forget to save the stems for a homemade batch of broth! Culinarily, mushrooms can be sautéed, roasted, grilled, or simmered in soups (see below).  

Some mushrooms like reishi, turkey tail, and chaga are most often consumed in dried powder supplement form. These can be taken in a capsule or incorporated into recipes or smoothies. Another popular format is mushroom coffee. Reputable brands of mushroom supplements are Host Defense Mushrooms and RealMushrooms as well as Four Sigmatic or MUD/WTR mushroom coffee. 

Creamy Mushroom Soup with Garlic Thyme Oil

3 Tbsp butter or ghee

1 lb mixed mushrooms (see above for ideas), cut or torn into 1-inch pieces

2 shallots, finely chopped

sea salt

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp thyme leaves

5 cups bone or mineral broth

1-3 Tbsp sherry vinegar
(to taste)

¼ cup coconut cream

Freshly ground black pepper

Garlic Oil Garnish

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp thyme leaves

½ tsp black pepper

sea salt

Heat butter or ghee in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add shallots to pot and sauté; season with salt. Cook, stirring often and reducing heat as needed if beginning to brown, until very soft, 4-6 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and thyme and cook gently for 4-5 minutes.

Add 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Add coconut cream and stir to combine. 

Transfer soup to a blender and purée until very smooth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors have melded, 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and if it needs more acid, add more sherry vinegar, 1 Tbsp at a time.


Garlic Thyme
Oil Garnish:

Gently heat olive oil, garlic, thyme, and pepper in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir gently until garlic is tender, about 3 minutes. Season with salt. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with garlic thyme oil. 

~Andrea Schaffer is a functional nutritional therapy practitioner in Truckee who helps her clients improve their health through food and lifestyle. Learn more at  notjustbroccoli.com.

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